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May 2012

04/27/2012 03:41:25 PM




Dear B'nai Jacob Family,
As we approach the celebration of our congregation's centennial, we will place more about our history in forthcoming bulletins.
Our Aron Kodesh, our holy ark, is our sanctuary's focal point and the channel of the congregation's religious worship. We are including its history, as well as a description of its message.
The ark is a sanctuary's focal point and the channel of the congregation's religious worship.
At B'nai Jacob Synagogue, the ark is also a work of art - an elegant and eloquent portrayal of the history of the Jews - intended not just for the congregation, but all Jews. The ark was commissioned by Melvin Krel and Marvin Crell, brothers who survived the Holocaust, in memory of their parents, Simon and Hannah Crell.
The ark was designed by Lee Bleifeld. Bleifeld relied on symbols from that history to tell the story on four doors that front the ark, seemingly held up by a menorah and framed by a mural of Israel.
Each of the doors tells a part of the story that blends into the next, a dependence which depicts the Jews reliance on other Jews. Every Jew is a part of the whole people.
Because Hebrew is read from right to left, Bleifeld's design starts on the right and at the beginning with Bereshit (which means in the beginning in Hebrew). The menorah, patterned after the one taken from The Temple by the Romans, is circular to indicate perfection. Light shines from the menorah, separating the dark smoothness of the sky and shows how G-d separated the dark by the light from the earth. The earth is indicated by circles with dots in the center, which reflect perfection of the firmament.
The Star of David, worn by Jews during the Holocaust, is in flames that join the light of the menorah, going up to G-d. The star is wrapped with barbed wire and as it uncoils, it becomes a vine and then a grapevine with a lush growth of grapes indicating Israel, its growth and prosperity. Joshua's spies came back with grapes which showed Israel's fertility.
Light rays surround the menorah, separating dark from light, ignorance from knowledge, reaching out and becoming Jacob's ladder. Reaching up from the ladder are 12 tents for the tribes of Israel. Up and down the ladder are the angels who bring happiness and sorrow and the tears of joy and sadness.
The centerpiece of the ark is the shofar, a ram's horn which has served numerous important roles in Jewish history. The horn has been used to communicate and call their flocks, as a trumpet in times of war as in Jericho until the walls tumbled down. The shofar was sounded atop Mount Sinai when G-d revealed Himself, speaking to the Children of Israel and giving the Torah. It has announced Shabbat and major holidays, calling people to worship as part of the high holidays, and is the last sound of Yom Kippur.
On the last door are the two tablets from Mount Sinai and a depiction of the Western Wall, the place in Israel most holy to Jews.
Complementing the ark is the mural, a scene of Israel and Jerusalem, the City of Gold. The earth tone colors toward the top represent the desert changing into the blue of the fertile Mediterranean Sea. In the middle in gold leaf is Jerusalem. Smoke and fire in a column are coming out of the center of Jerusalem, recalling when Moses was guided by G-d as he led the Israelites out of Egypt and goes up to another representation of the 12 tribes, providing both physical and spiritual connections. The City of Gold is enveloped by a circle done in blue, like the blue and white flag of Israel. The circle indicates G-d's protection and Jerusalem is Israel's for eternity.
A menorah appears to be the structural support for the ark, and penetrates the ark, its light holding up the law. The light of the menorah is an essential meaning of the ark. In its way, given the mural, the menorah can also represent light to the Jews in the Diaspora.
To Bleifeld the entire work is a shofar itself, a call to the congregation to come to prayer.
At first, the ark was to have been a vertical structure, with one big door. But that would have meant stacking the Torahs. So Bleifeld went to a horizontal design and quickly realized that one door would be impractical.
The ark is made of Indiana cherry. Bleifeld used 400 pounds of clay for the sculpture of the doors and the molds. Working with a laboratory in New York, he was able to develop a terra cotta polyurethane stain that matched the cherry.
Just as challenging was a 12-foot-high by 16-foot mural, which Bleifeld had to paint in sections because his studio was too small. The ark is 45 inches high and 10 feet, 6 inches wide.
How thankful we are to Melvin Krel and Marvin Crell and their families and to Lee Bleifeld for this amazing gift to our synagogue, and for the vision they had to create it.


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