San Francisco's Sherith Israel To Become Seismic-Safe

san francisco sherith israel

Near The Dead Sea fault, can Israel’s home synagogues withstand the next big earthquake?

The San Francisco Chronicle announced that the Sherith Israel synagogue, completed seven months before the 1906 earthquake that ravaged San Francisco, survived that earthquake with minor bruising. However, this “remnant of Israel” built for Jews who flocked to California during the mid 19th century gold rush does not meet present day seismic codes.  Hence, the eight-sided building topped with a 120foot high dome and described by architect Kurt Schindler as a “box with a hat,” is undergoing structural surgery. This, along with the slew of high-profile earthquakes on the radar and burgeoning buildings such as the Burj in Dubai makes us question the Middle East’s vulnerability to such natural disasters.SanFrancisco Sherith Israel

Despite its unflattering nickname, there is every reason to protect Sherith Israel.  Not only has the building paid some historical dues, clocking in at 105 years, but the interior is breathless:  yawning arches, intricate frescoes, and 89 Tiffany-style glass windows contribute to its sacredness.   Nonetheless, because sacred sites also need reinforcement, ELS Architecture and Urban Design will “drill through the stone and brick walls to insert steel rods and grouting.”

Known as center coring, this is one of many techniques that NASA advocates to strengthen buildings.  Medium sized buildings additionally require shock absorbers to protect against the sideways motion that can damage buildings.  These are “usually bearings made of alternate layers of steel and an elastic material…” called base isolators.  NASA further suggests that skyscrapers need “to be anchored deeply and securely into the ground…[and] a reinforced framework with stronger joints than an ordinary skyscraper has.”

San Francisco Sherith Israel

Israel’s home synagogues are also vulnerable to earthquakes given their proximity to the Dead Sea fault.  (Turkey and Iran are among’s top 15 most vulnerable countries, and Iran’s capital, Tehran, lies in an especially active seismic zone.)  In 2007, Dr. Ron Avni of Ben-Gurion University was among several scientists who began issuing alerts that a major earthquake is due and that Israel is inadequately poised to deal with it.  In January, following the deadly earthquake in Haiti, the Association of Contractors and Builders appealed to government to make the necessary changes to existing codes.  Otherwise, “a million homes and hundreds of public buildings could be destroyed should a destructive earthquake hit the country,” reports Built-in-Israel.

map dead sea fault

Image courtesy of the Geological Society of America

Finance is cited as a major cause for the failure to strengthen Israel’s buildings, but the recent scandal involving top Israeli government officials forces us to wonder whether money is all that government lacks. Meanwhile, we wait under potentially lethal roofs while the earth’s crust rumbles below us, hoping that a sudden spike in the Richter scale will not leave us in ruin.

:: Story Via San Francisco Chronicle

Learn more about other environmental hazards in the Middle East:

Mega Urban Developments In Gulf Region A Natural Disaster Waiting to Happen

Regional Environmental Hazards and the Red-Dead Peace Conduit

Strategic Solution’s Floating Gas Pipes Could Avert Red-Dead Environmental Catastrophe

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