Kneses Tifereth Israel is a classic example of 1950s synagogue design that reflects the growth in American Jewish life in the post-war era when more than 500 synagogues were built throughout the United States.
Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was one of the leading American voices for Modernism, first as head of the Museum of Modern Art's architecture and design department in the 1930s, and subsequently as a leading architect. Kneses Tifereth Israel was his only synagogue design. He undertook the commission for no fee as a public atonement to the Jewish people for his pro-fascist activities in the 1930s.
In its adoption of a Modernist style, the Port Chester congregation reflected the movement at the time to develop new themes and forms appropriate to the contemporary synagogue.
Johnson designed the Torah ark (of English oak decorated with bronze Hebrew letters made by Ibram Lassaw) and other furnishings including a number of bimah chairs of English oak. The letters affixed to front of the ark doors compose four Biblical acrostics, which translate: "God is one and His name is One / The Fear of the Lord is the Prerequisite to Wisdom / Shun Evil and do Good / For This is the Whole Man." The numerical value of the letters adds up to 613. In 2006, when Kneses Tifereth Israel decided to renovate the sanctuary, the Lassaw and Johnson suite (with the exception of the menorah sculpted by Lassaw) was sold to The Jewish Museum.
Ibram Lassaw (American, b. Egypt, 1913-2003) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1913 to Russian Jewish parents, and came to the United States in 1921. Lassaw is best known for his open-space welded sculptures in bronze, nickel silver, and other alloys. He worked on the Federal Arts Project of the Public Works Administration and served in the army during World War II. A founder of the American Abstract Artists in 1936, he is most closely associated with Abstract Expressionist sculptors Seymour Lipton, Herbert Ferber, and David Hare. Among post-war artists, Lassaw was the one to maintain the most consistent theoretical basis for his art, drawing on such intellectual sources as Taoist and Zen teachings and the psychology of Jung.