Minutes of Meeting

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Date: February 13, 2005

Location: Alumni Hall RM 101

Topic: Considering Sacred Space

Speaker: Dr. Burt Saidel

Host: Renate Frydman

Dear Friends of the Dialogue, 

            On February 13, 2005, Dr. Burt Saidel gave an audio-visual presentation concerning wood working projects he and some friends designed and built over the years.

            His first projects began when he started work on items for his home.  Along with Burt at that time was his “helper”, David his son around four years of age.   Through the years the home projects became so professional that friends asked them to create objects for their homes. This led to Burt’s offering to make the Ark for the new Temple Israel on Riverside Dr.  The beauty of that creation was the trajectory for designing and building, along with his “God-Squad”, the portable arks, Torah reading tables, a beautiful Chupah which has been taken apart and rebuilt in different cities across the U.S.A. for weddings, and sacred items for different Christian Churches here in Dayton.  He even made a pulpit rail for Grace Methodist Church and the Communion Table for the Church of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox).

            Neal Gittleman’s podium that is at the Schuster Center was a special request by the conductor himself.  

            And now for Burt!  For all who were present, as one of our members so aptly put it, Burt was the message of the evening.  His humility was clearly present by his constant references to the “God-Squad” and their contributions.   During his talk Burt told the audience that the he and his friends call their work “Sacred Spaces.”

            His love for people and especially and his love for David (of Blessed Memory) was touching, shown through anecdotes relating to David, rabbis, ministers, priests, and even to a rabbi who asked Burt to build a child’s coffin. Burt attributes his inspiration for new works to his son.  He therefore signs all of his works with “Burt and David.” The twenty-four hour need for the coffin caused Burt to stay up all night to finish the project.  He dramatically while showing the coffin referred to it as  The Sacred Space.

            It was stories like these that made Burt such an inspiration to all of us.  Without preaching, I, for one come learned from him what it meant to “walk the walk.”  Thank you, Burt! Oh, yes, did I tell you…Burt loves women! 

            Shalom, Eileen Moorman

Tribute to Burt Saidel, published in Living Judaism; Chabad of Greater Dayton, Dec 2003, page 5.

A Master Craftsman    by Eric L. Friedland

~ Dr. Burt Saidel and buddy Harold Prigozen with their masterpeices for Chabad

Last Shavu’ot I had the singular pleasure of coming back to worship amid the congenial folk at the Chabad Center of Dayton.  There was much to enhance the joy of the Festival: the quality of kavvanah, the excellent preaching, the warm esprit de corps, and the Kiddush hospitality.  There was something else: the “beauty of holiness” (hadrat kodesh).  In the sanctuary are the unique ark and the handsome bookcases, skillfully handcrafted by Dr. Burton Saidel, the latter with their stylized portrayals of the Temple Mount atop them by the ever-prolific, gifted Joan Marcus.  These artistic works have the effect of regularly uplifting the soul of the worshipper, not only by virtue of the talent of their creators but also by dint of the knowledge that they each are mi-nidvat ha-lev, i.e., stemming from generosity of the heart.

It dawned on me as the Shavu’ot service was coming to an end that I needed to find out more about Burt Saidel’s varied creative efforts.  To be sure, I have known Burt and Alice and the other Saidels ever since I came to Dayton over thirty-three years ago, but without ever really having had the opportunity to explore seriously the range, depth and motivation behind the work of the artist.  An interview two weeks later in their home on lush green Nottingham Road helped to fill in the gaps.

Over the years before their son David’s tragic death during a bicycle trip in Greece, both father and son collaborated with exceptional devotion in the design and execution of several woodcarving projects.  The turn to religious artistic craftsmanship occurred notably after David’s passing in 1992.  Burt alludes to the inspiration continually provided by his firstborn in all of his subsequent artistic endeavors.  I was to learn in the course of our wide-ranging conversation that it was Irving P. Bloom, formerly rabbi of Temple Israel, who shortly afterwards gave Burt his most fitting Hebrew name: Bezalel.

As will be recalled, Bezalel was the chief architect and builder of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the forerunner of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, and all the accompanying appurtenances, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the lampstand (menorah), and the two altars.  The several later chapters in Exodus surrounding Bezalel (be-tsel El = in the shadow of G-d) and his activity describe him as being divinely inspired, and both him and each of his helpers as “wise of heart” (hakham lev).  As one listens to Burt speak lovingly of his departed son in relation to his ongoing artistic work, one can’t help wanting to extend the image and seeing the light of his life as indeed “dwelling in the shadow of the Almighty (be-tsel Shadday)”  (Psalms 92:1).

While continuing as a loyal patron of the arts, Burt is very much the ardent practitioner.  He is able to write lively reviews of artistic events in the Greater Dayton community for his regular column in the Oakwood Register, while in the process of creating an ingenious new podium for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra in the brand-new Benjamin and Marian Schuster Center of the Performing Arts in downtown Dayton.  As a token of friendship with the Christian community, Burt fashioned a table as one of the furnishing in the magnificent Greek Orthodox Church next to the Dayton Art Institute.  In all his prodigious creative activity, Burt continually mentions his indebtedness to his youthfully octogenarian friend and indispensable team-mate, Harold Prigozen (renamed, again by Rabbi Bloom, Oholiab, after the biblical Bezalel’s right-hand man).

There is not a single synagogue in Dayton and neighboring towns that does not possess examples of Burt’s original artistry, from arks (Beth Jacob Synagogue, Chabad, Temple Beth Or and Temple Israel) to a reading desk (Beth Abraham Synagogue) and a one-of-a-kind display case in the shape of a broken Star of David (Temple Beth Or).  Before Chabad moves from its storefront quarters behind the Centerville Dorothy Lane Market to the former Unitarian Fellowship in Oakwood, we will see more of Burt’s prodigious handiwork in the new shul on Far Hills Avenue.  A life-long committed Reform Jew, Burt Saidel has consistently adhered to a central Chabad principle, an overflowing love of all Jews (ahavat Yisrael) – that goes in tandem with his love of humanity and of the arts.

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