Sacred Spaces: Visiting Temple Rodef Shalom in Waco, Texas

Temple Rodef Shalom in Waco, Texas
The external facade by day.
Image source: Heimsath Architects blog, Ben Heimsath.

Sacred Spaces #2

A Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Synagogue in Waco, Texas

By Kyle Desrosiers

Recently, I attended the Friday evening Shabbat service at the only Reform Jewish shul in Waco, Texas. It was a sticky, rainy evening as I pulled into the parking lot, and there were more cars than I anticipated. Because the evening was dark and wet, I did not get a good look at the external fa├žade, however I did enjoy admiring the synagogue's interior. Temple Rodef Shalom is currently housed in a building built in 1961. Its mid-century modern architecture has an A-frame sanctuary and concentric adjoined halls containing classrooms. The floor-plan forms a Star of David, centering around a foyer which showcases antique Judaica and a memorial plaque for former members' Yahrzeits (memorials of their deaths).

This building is the third that has housed Rodef Shalom since the late 19th century. It was commissioned by the Houston architectural firm McKee and Kamrath and designed by associate architects Bush and White. The latter were students of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The mid-century modern design certainly reflects Wright's school with its dark-toned wood siding, which creates an organic feel. Additionally, it uses strong geometric shapes like triangles and rectangles. The sanctuary, shaped in a triangular prism, is designed to echo the tents that the Biblical Hebrews once built in the wilderness.

Torah ark inside a Jewish synagogue Temple Rodef Shalom in Waco, Texas
the Torah ark

The inside of the sanctuary utilizes rich earth tones. The holy ark, which houses the Torah scrolls, also utilizes a sleek triangular shape, features Jewish symbolism, and is crowned with the two Ten Commandment tablets.

I learned of this fascinating structural complexity from the Temple Administrator, who was kind enough to give me a tour and answer questions. Everyone in the congregation was incredibly warm and welcoming. Rodef Shalom is indeed worthy of such a rich and meaningful architectural legacy. The congregation is Waco's oldest and largest Jewish shul. Though there is not a large Jewish community in Waco, the congregation often seeks to engage with the community at large in endeavors of interfaith cooperation and service.

Jewish synagogue interior architecture Temple Rodef Shalom in Waco, Texas
In the foyer at the star's center.

The Shabbat service itself was uplifting and calming. Because the synagogue is currently between rabbis, the service was led by a lay member of the congregation; a Baylor University professor. After a service of prayer, a sermon, and song (there was not a Torah unrolling at this particular service), we all gathered for a Shabbat Blessing. The Kiddush prayer was said over wine, which was shared among the crowd. Likewise, the Motzei prayer was said over Challah bread, which was broken and shared. Everyone wished one another "Shabbat Shalom" (a good Shabbat).

synagogue interior in waco, texas featuring mid-century art deco modernist designs
Note mid-century modern elements.

I cannot think of a better way to end the workweek. Though I am not a follower of Judaism, I would like to integrate the concept of a day of rest and resetting into my life. This practice of sharing a communal Shabbat is refreshing, at the intersection of sacredness and practicality.

Shabbat Shalom!

Previously featured on Sacred Spaces:

Sacred Spaces #1: Thanksgiving Square, Dallas, TX


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