In his literary essay titled, "Valley Beth Shalom: The Mecca of Jewish Tradition". Aaron Eberhardt finds himself at the steps of what is alien territory for him; the use of ethos and pathos. In the essay, he observes the Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue's use of ethos and pathos and how if utilized well, can provide a genuinely authentic atmosphere that allows its members to benefit from the practice of Judaism to its utmost level.
"Valley Beth Shalom: The Mecca of Jewish Tradition"
Written By: Aaron Eberhardt
“Shalom khaverim!” or “Hello friends!” These welcoming words are always spoken to everyone entering the Jewish Synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom, no matter the service or holiday. From the moment anyone arrives at this joyful Jewish complex located in Encino, California, multilingual signs are seen hung everywhere to give a welcoming message to any who practice the religion of Judaism. Choosing a location for my English 1A "Alien Territory" assignment was quite the arduous task, but I soon found Valley Beth Shalom to be the perfect fit for two pivotal reasons. One, I was not raised religiously and felt I had no strong biases towards the Jewish faith. Two, I’ve only viewed religion as a way to separate people rather than bring them together and wanted to see if that assumption would be proven correct during my attendance. I would be a true outsider walking into that Synagogue for the first time, especially during a service to celebrate the Jewish holiday “Sukkot.” After considerable empirical research however, I found much evidence to the contrary. As I stepped into Valley Beth Shalom, I felt an instant sense of authenticity and tradition wash over me, truly feeling this Synagogue represented so much of what Judaism stood for. Every specific detail, large or small, of Valley Beth Shalom had been attended to by both the members of the clergy and the architects who designed the Synagogue. It was very clear these professionals utilized Ethos and Pathos to their utmost ability to create a Sanctuary worthy of its members’ love and dedication to the practice of Judaism. With Ethos and Pathos at its base, the Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue provides a genuinely authentic atmosphere that allows its members to benefit from the practice of Judaism to its utmost level.
No matter where one looks in Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, a piece of ancient artistry or text can be seen hanging from the wall, truly showing the Synagogue’s strong use of Pathos and Ethos to display its honored dedication to the traditions of Judaism. This attention to detail gives this Synagogue an unparalleled sense of Ethos because each one of these carefully placed aspects adds credibility to the Synagogue’s representation of Judaism and its long history. These pieces of art, ancient Hebrew passages, and traditional music heard throughout the Synagogue are also a creative use of Pathos, as they instill an emotional connection between the members who attend services, the Synagogue, and God himself. When members see these ancient relics, scrolls, and hear the songs of their ancestors reverberating throughout the halls, they cannot help but feel they are walking into an institution that represents more than just themselves. They recognize the ancient traditions of their religion are being honored because of the methodical display of its culture. And because of that, they feel Valley Beth Shalom permits them to practice their faith to the fullest extent. Throughout Valley Beth Shalom, ethos and pathos is utilized both consciously and unconsciously to the members of the Synagogue. Some of the more obvious ways Valley Beth Shalom uses Ethos and Pathos to create this feeling of authenticity is by placing intricate stained glass windows throughout the Synagogue and its Sanctuary.
Above the entrance to the main hall of Valley Beth Shalom sit beautifully designed stained glass windows with an ancient Hebrew passage etched across them. The passage reads in Hebrew, “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad.” Which in English translates to, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” This passage is part of a principal prayer in Judaism called the Shema and many observant Jews consider this prayer to be the most integral part of any Jewish Shabbat service. By choosing to showcase this particular passage in the stained glass windows for all the members to see, the Synagogue had established itself in the minds of its members because it further reinforced the strong ideals of what many practicing Jews consider to be the major principle of Judaism. Once the members have fully entered the Synagogue, the vibrant colors of red, pink, blue, and green from the stain glass windows shine down onto the floor, their intention seemingly to shine the light of God’s message onto the visitors themselves. These colorful beams of light can greatly add to the divine atmosphere of the space and unconsciously add to the already immersed emotional state of the members. These stain glass windows however are just one method used by Valley Beth Shalom to instill credibility and an emotional connection into the eyes of its members so they may worship the most effectively.
Before the Synagogue-goers even enter the Sanctuary where the services take place, soothing Hebrew chanting can be heard from inside, adding a calming holy aura to the air which adds to their emotional connection, thus illustrating a strong use of Pathos. Incidentally, Ancient Jewish songs have been a long-lasting tradition passed down throughout the ages of Judaism, they both add to the genuine atmosphere of prayer and help bring the people of the Jewish Community together. In addition to visuals, music is one of those elements that either consciously or unconsciously adds to the experience. For example, when walking into a dentist office, grocery store, or other public area, many do not take immediate notice of the music playing over the speakers, but they may soon find themselves swaying to the music or singing along without a second thought. Thus, the music unconsciously added to the mood of their experience. Much like that experience in these common public areas, this Hebrew chanting reverberating throughout the halls of Valley Beth Shalom demonstrates a strong use of both Pathos and Ethos as it adds a crucial component to how the members feel upon entering the Synagogue. The members will have heard or sung these songs for as long as they have been practicing Judaism and they know singing them in traditional Hebrew rather than in English is monumental in keeping their ancient traditions alive. This traditional music however only represents a small sample of Valley Beth Shalom’s use of Pathos and Ethos to create this optimal atmosphere, with plenty more to be observed.
With the sounds of ancient Hebrew songs in their ears, upon walking into Valley Beth Shalom’s Service Sanctuary the eyes of the members are immediately drawn directly to the front of the room, where items that illustrate one of the strongest examples of Ethos and Pathos of Valley Beth Shalom stand. At this methodically placed focal point of the room are two vast windows to the left and right side of a wooden altar, and behind that altar, sit two large clear ark doors with Hebrew inscriptions engraved across them. The two large windows allow plenty of natural light onto the piercing white walls of the spacious Sanctuary, leaving no shadows to be seen. Only two dimly lit candles by each side of the altar supply any additional light. The two clear ark doors behind the altar are distinctly the focus of this room, as the withered wooden beams of the ceiling flow directly downward to them. The pews of the Sanctuary are also arranged to form a distinct “V” shape with its point aligning directly towards these ark doors. As Hebrew is read from right to left, the inscription on the right ark door reads I-V and on the left, VI-X. These inscriptions represent the Ten Commandments of the Torah which are the most significant guidelines and instructions to the Jewish people of how to properly worship their God to his fullest. Having this elaborate presentation of the Ten Commandments creates a powerful visual connection between the members attending the services and these important guidelines, adding a strong sense of Ethos and Pathos to the Synagogue itself. Having the members spend the entire service looking up towards these ark doors also allows an unconscious message to be delivered to them stating, “You are always beneath the laws of your God.” Not all sanctuaries are organized and constructed in such a manner, but this meticulous design of the ark doors and what they represent allows the members of the church to create a more resilient and emotional connection to their God and his teachings.
The traditional dress code of Valley Beth Shalom also help add a strong sense of Ethos to the Sanctuary by adding a clearly defined formality to the authentic atmosphere and its inhabitants. All men entering the Sanctuary are required to wear slacks, a pressed dress shirt, polished dress shoes. Additionally, Yarmulkes are worn on their heads, as well as an intricately decorated woven cloths draped over their shoulders called a tallit. Many women wear the same attire, though some wear ankle length long dresses. No one is permitted to enter without adhering to these strict guidelines because they have long been traditions of proper Jewish practices. Administering these strict wardrobe guidelines emphasizes the ethos of the Synagogue as they keep all members dedicated to a strong standard of traditional worship practices that have been passed on by their ancestors. This proper practice of Judaism meant sticking to a very specific dress code especially for the individuals performing the ceremony. The Rabbis and Cantors also adhere to this strict dress code with the addition of traditional robes inscribed with Hebrew lettering and passages. These customary robes add confidence to the members of the Valley Beth that those individuals presenting these religious services are undoubtedly qualified and ensures them they are receiving the highest quality of services possible.
One of the most impactful ways the staff of Valley Beth Shalom are able to establish ethos and pathos to create the most ideal Synagogue for worship is by performing the services entirely in the traditional Hebrew language. Many Synagogues only perform a small portion of their Shabbat and other Holiday/Festival services in Hebrew and recite the rest in English. Because Valley Beth Shalom conducts all of their services in Hebrew, they are able emphasize that their standards of creating the most authentic and genuine space for its members exist in order benefit them with the utmost opportunities. This factor makes it absolutely necessary for their members to attain the highest comprehension of the Hebrew language to truly benefit from these services and therefore creates the most ideal and effective environment for them to practice Judaism. By requiring the utmost comprehension of the Hebrew language, they provide their members the opportunity to dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to Judaism and in the native tongue it was meant to be communicated. By presenting these services in Hebrew, the members have solid confidence and belief that their practice and dedication to their faith of Judaism is being presented in its purest form, gifting them the most effective method of worship possible.
Ultimately, because of its well built up use of ethos and pathos, Valley Beth Shalom provides the most genuinely authentic atmosphere for those who practice Judaism in Los Angeles because. This particular Synagogue provides a space that upholds the strongest of Jewish traditions and customs by surrounding its members with faithful music, artistry, clothing, and devotion to its staff and members’ comprehension of the ancient Hebrew language. These characteristics provide the members of Valley Beth Shalom the distinct opportunity to strengthen their connection with God and fully benefit from the highest standard of Jewish practices performed. I may have walked into Valley Beth Shalom as a complete outsider of Judaism, but I left with a greater understanding and appreciation for its ability to bring its members together with mutual love and respect for each other’s beliefs in the most authentic Synagogue around.
Aaron Eberhardt reigns from Anchorage, Alaska, but found his way to Los Angeles in search of a career in the film industry. Here, he met his beautiful wife, Megan, adopted their fur baby Samwise Gamgee, and recently welcomed to the world their son, Peter. He enjoys a nice bike ride to clear his head, singing and dancing in any musical that will cast him, and spending quality time with his friends and family. He is now going back to school to become an elementary school teacher and looks forward to filling the heads of children with endless knowledge of the Marvel Universe.
PCC Inscape Magazine, housed at Pasadena City College, is following Coronavirus protocols. At this time our staff continues to read submissions and publish web content.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.