October 2015 Our Ark of Memory

During Rosh HaShanah BAJC dedicated our new portable ark, which was built in honor of Faith and Abe Schuster. The English word “ark” comes from the Latin arca, meaning a box or chest. Our new ark is a box — but an exceptionally beautiful one! In Hebrew an ark is called Aron HaKodesh – basically, a holy cupboard. The original ark which held the Ten Commandments is Aron HaB’rit, the covenant cupboard. (In English it’s the Ark of the Covenant – Raiders of the Lost Cupboard just doesn’t have quite the same ring!)


What lives in an Aron Kodesh, a holy ark? Memory. The first ark, Aron HaB’rit, carried the Ten Commandments—the primary instructions for the Jewish people. Our ark holds our Torahs – the first five Books of Moses, which contain the Ten Commandments plus the rest of the 613–the rules that are the map for Jewish life. The Sh’ma is in there: Listen up, Yisrael, Adonai is our G-d, Adonai is One! The stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs are in there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel – and of our first great leaders, Moses and Aaron, and our first prophet, Miryam. The rulebook of Leviticus is there, and the moral instruction of the Book of Deuteronomy – including the great passage that we read on Yom Kippur, “See. I place before you a blessing and a curse. Therefore, choose life!”


Our new ark also carries BAJC’s communal memory. It was made to resemble the permanent ark in our shul. That ark, designed and donated more than thirty years ago by Marvin Neuman in honor of his parents, once lived at the West Village Meeting House, where our new ark will now live.Our new ark shares some design features with our permanent ark. It’s adorned with Hebrew letter/numbers representing the Ten Commandments) and a Tree of Life. It carries the memory of George Newton and Bob Perrone, the artisans who created our stationary ark, along with the memory of Jason Breen, the artist who built the new ark.


Jason, who worships in our space on Sundays with the West Brattleboro Quaker fellowship, has spent a fair amount of meditative time in our shul looking at our old ark and he met with me to talk about the ark. We talked about the unusual font on our stationary ark – copied, I learned, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and about measurements and the parochet  (curtain). This ark carries Jason’s attention to detail and his respect for halachah  (Jewish law) and minhag (Jewish custom). The new ner tamid (eternal light) that rises from this ark carries also the memory of a local craftsman, glassblower Robert Burch from Putney, who made it to go with this particular ark.


The new ark carries the memory of our long and happy history with the congregation of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. Once again the good folks of All Souls have made a place for our holy cupboard to live. The ark carries the friendship that has existed between our congregation and the West Brattleboro Quakers who share our space on Greenleaf Street,  Jason and his family among them.


It carries the memory of Michael Knapp’s energy in making it come into being – for while Jason’s attention and skill created it, it took the word of Michael to make it so. It carries the love and respect of all the many, many people people who donated to help it be built. Like the Israelites who brought their gold and silver, purple and blue thread, and acacia wood to help make the Tent of Meeting, members of the BAJC community, former members, and friends, have given generously to build this ark. It carries also our love for our community, our good memories of BAJC services and celebrations for decades past.  Most of all, this ark contains our memories of Faith and Abe Schuster, in whose honor it was built. It carries all our kavod for Faith and Abe, two of BAJC’s own avotv’imahot – forefathers and foremothers. We will remember them and everything they have given to our community when we use this ark in our High Holy Day and b’nai mitzvah services for decades to come.


Our new ark contains all of this. It will remember with us. Indeed, it will remember beyond us. L’dor VaDor, from generation to generation, of BAJC members, this ark will continue, as strong and as elegant as the Ark of the Covenant was in its time (perhaps – dare I say – more elegant?). This ark will remember with a plaque to Faith and Abe– but even more with the very cells of the wood it is built of, with the prayers that will be said before it, the songs that will be sung in its presence, the hands that will open and close it, the hopes and dreams that will be expressed or held silently in its presence.  Kol Hakavod to everyone who made this ark come into being. May we and our new ark go from strength to strength.