Gates of Heaven Synagogue

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Gates of Heaven Synagogue
Historical marker
The Ark inside the synagogue

Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven) has been the name of two Jewish congregations in Madison, Wisconsin. The first, dating to the 19th century but no longer in existence, built what is now the eighth-oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States. The second congregation, dating to 1989, is the sole Reconstructionist congregation in Madison.

The First Shaarei Shamayim[edit]

Madison's Shaarei Shamayim congregation was founded in 1856 by Jewish immigrants from Germany.[1] In 1863, they built a synagogue that was designed by August Kutzbock, a recent German immigrant, in the Rundbogenstil style, a nineteenth-century German form of Romanesque revival.[2] Kutzbock also used this distinctive style for the Pierce and Van Slyke Houses in the adjacent Mansion Hill district. The building now ranks as the eighth-oldest surviving synagogue building in the United States. The Panic of 1873 forced the lease of the building to a Unitarian congregation,[1] and in subsequent years it was repurposed to house the Women's Christian Temperance Union, other churches, and a funeral home.

Modern Use of the Building[edit]

Gates of Heaven Synagogue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and in 1971, thanks to the efforts of local citizens, the building was purchased by the city, restored, and moved to James Madison Park.[3] Now located at the corner of Gorham and Butler Streets, the Gates of Heaven building is used for concerts, weddings, and other gatherings.[4]

Since the early 1980s, Hannah Rosenthal has led High Holiday services at the site, with jazz musician Ben Sidran and vocalist Lynette Margulies providing liturgical music. Sidran's album Life's a Lesson contains selections from these services.

In January 2008, with an average temperature of -10 degrees F outside, The Midwest Beat used the space to record their first full length record, At the Gates. Later released on Dusty Medical Records,[5] the entire session was recorded by Kyle Motor using an Otari MX-5050 half-inch tape 8 track machine.

Beginning in September 2011, Madison Minyan, an independent partnership minyan began using the synagogue building for monthly Friday night Jewish prayer services.[6] Starting in April 2014, the Minyan added monthly egalitarian services as well, meaning the building is now used for its original purpose at least twice a month.

The Second Shaarei Shamayim[edit]

The modern Shaarei Shamayim congregation was formed in 1989 by attendees of Rosenthal's High Holiday services.[7] Since 2008, the modern Shaarei Shamayim congregation has shared the 1952 First Unitarian Society Meeting House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.[1]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "In New Space, Madison’s Shaarei Shamayim Comes Full Circle" Andrea Waxman, Jewish Chronicle, September 25, 2008
  2. ^ "Rediscovering Jewish Infrastructure: Update on United States Nineteenth Century Synagogues" Mark W. Gordon, American Jewish History 84.1 (1996) 11-27
  3. ^ Gates of Prayer - Madison Parks
  4. ^ Gates of Heaven Celebrates 25 Years in James Madison Park
  5. ^ THE MIDWEST BEAT At the Gates LP
  6. ^ Madison Minyan website
  7. ^ Phil Haslanger, "New Era Begins for Unitarians and Jews", The Capital Times, 2008-09-17 [1]