Congregation Gates of Prayer

109 Weeks Street


Every Building Has a Story

A religion’s place of worship has always served two primary functions. It is, most importantly of course, a monument of praise to that religion’s faith, but it has also become a way to exhibit said religion’s identity as a community. Congregation Gates of Prayer is a source of pride for the Jewish society in New Iberia. It is the first and only Temple in the city and the place of worship for about thirty families in the area.  Before the construction of this Temple in 1904, the twelve or so Jewish families present at the time worshipped within the Masonic Hall down the street. Eventually, with assistance from the Gentile community, funds were allocated for this small, brick Temple. This generosity was in response to previous donations by Jewish families for the construction of houses of worship for other denominations. Because of this, Congregation Gates of Prayer continues to be a symbol of the ongoing good ties between the Jewish and Gentile communities.

The Temple celebrated its first official service in 1904, following a small dedication ceremony for the building. This service was led by student rabbi Julian Miller from Hebrew Union College. Congregation Gates of Prayer continues to use the student rabbi services to this day, having had a permanent rabbi only twice in its history and then for only one or two years. After its initial construction, the building remained unchanged until 1950 when a hall was erected behind the main temple. This hall acts as the location of religious celebrations and community gatherings and also contains several classrooms used for Sunday school. To this day, the Temple continues to hold services for the Jewish community in New Iberia.

 

 

If Walls and Windows Could Talk

The architecture of Congregation Gates of Prayer is a testament to simple beauty. Its style is based primarily on the Arts and Crafts movement, implementing the characteristic brick walls and triangular roof. However, its magnificent, arched, stained glass windows are contrastingly Romanesque. The two styles are combined in such a way that creates a unique impression of classic beauty. The structure has remained relatively unchanged except for the small flat-roofed building attached to its back. This building shares the main temple’s brick walls, but lacks the stained glass and roof that are the highlights of this design. Other notable points are the white cornerstone, which commemorates the completion of the Temple in 1904 and the beautiful wooden doors that mark the entrance to this building.

 

 

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Front of the Temple. Notice the stylistic rose window and characteristic stucco roof.

The ark is the focal point of the temple and contains three holy Torahs. It is topped with a copy of the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

The Torah is the Holy Scripture of the Jewish faith. It cannot be touched by human hands, so readers keep their place with the silver yad.

 

Making Headlines

On Sept 11, 1897, there was an article in the Weekly Iberian concerning a lawn party hosted by Mrs. Leopold Levy. The purpose of this party was to raise funds for the construction of Congregation Gates of Prayer. The party is described as a fantastic cultural event not only for the Jewish community but the entire New Iberia population.

 

References

“The Jewish Entertainment.” The Weekly Iberian11 Sept. 1897: 3. Iberia Parish Library. Microform.

Lahasky, Steven. Personal Interview. 19 Apr. 2011.

Miller, Haley. Congregation Gates of Prayer Photos. 2011. Photographs. Private Collection. Haley Miller and Don de Mahy.

“New Iberia, Louisiana.” Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities.The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute Southern Jewish Life. 2006. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. <http://www.msje.org/history/archive/la/new_iberia.htm>.