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” How Awesome is this Place….”

 Remarks from the

Dedication of the New Beth El Building

 Bonnie Cohen August 7, 2013

In 1950, a group of men marched our Beth El Torahs from the Balch Street JCC to the new Beth El building on Hawkins Avenue. The people who gathered that day included holocaust survivors, veterans of World Wars, and many who were the first members of their families to become American citizens. The people in the room that day in 1950 could not have imagined our lives today connected by the internet and attached to our cell phones. Nor could they have imagined a woman leading services and being counted in a minyan.

And yet, as different as our lives are today, there is a common thread that binds us together. In times of joy, and in times of sorrow, we are drawn together, to be surrounded by people who share that common thread. It’s not the building on Balch Street, or the building on Hawkins or even this new building that draws us together. It’s the connections we’ve made, the personal stories of caring for one another- that is the most important lesson of our Torah.

The Rabbis teach that there are three pillars of our faith: studying the Torah, praying together and doing good deeds. And to accomplish those things in a beautiful place makes them even more meaningful. That is the concept of Hiddur Mitzvah – to beautify the commandment.

God gave Moses detailed instructions to build a portable sanctuary so that He could dwell among the people. It was not just the work of the talented craftsmen that made that portable sanctuary beautiful. It was the workers generous spirit and team-work.

That same spirit is present in this room today. Your generous and willing spirit to answer every call for help, to get your hands dirty,  to open your check books,  and to support an idea, that few of us thought possible a few years ago.

The choices we made for this sacred space were respectful of one another and inspired by a reverence for God’s creations. We tried to make environmentally conscious choices wherever possible and we honored all who came before us by re-furbishing our treasured artifacts. From the Merkaz room that includes our congregant’s handmade tiles, Paula Newman’s stunning Ner Tamid, the mosaic artwork created almost entirely from recycled glass- this was a project of thoughtful and communal efforts.

I tried to make the artwork luminous and uplifting. The donor wall illustrates the seven days of creation and sheltering wings still emerging from the background just as we are still emerging from the transformation of our move. And the ark wall, is a pillar of light, a tree of life reaching to the heavens.

Thanks are due to so many people whose names are listed in the program. But I want to especially thank SteveBotnick, our own Beth El Bezalel, who had the vision and  expertise to make this happen in our community. To my husband Randy for all of his help and support  and to Jason and Roger Boltz, who contributed their extraordinary talents to make this place a beautiful jewel box. And to Andrea, the most dedicated and devoted President.

I also want to express my most sincere gratitude to my Uncle Jay Nusbaum (of blessed memory). Before he passed away, he asked me to promise I would create something beautiful for Beth El.

For his blessing, and for all of you whose names are etched on the wall of blessings, it is my hope and prayer that you continue to cherish and strengthen the common thread that brought us all here today. You are the true blessings of our congregation.

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Garden Art with Jewish Roots

IMG_0326 Gan HaOr Plant signs (1)

“Beth El is a Synagogue that is growing- literally”
( that’s what a recent article in the Cleveland Jewish News says about us!)

It’s hard to believe how much has happened at Beth El since February. Just a casual comment at a lunch with friends has turned into an amazing, revitalizing phenomenon called “‘Gan ha’Or”, Beth El’s Community “Garden of Light”. With the  incredible perseverance of Ellen Botnick, Andrea Steinberger and a crew of talented dedicated volunteers , the garden is coming to life. The beds are built, filled with rich  soil and planted with a few  early crops. More planting will be done in May.

Now it’s my turn to add some garden art with Jewish roots, of course ! I’m told we’re the first Synagogue to have a community garden in Northeast Ohio and I’m guessing we’re the first community garden anywhere with Hebrew and English plant markers.

Dick Rossen made all the wooden plant markers with  recycled wood from the exisitng play structure that was located in the garden area. He routed out all the English lettering and I  painted the Hebrew words. The Academy students will be painting and decorating the signs next week. The confirmation class is helping make the mosaic sign to hang in the garden as their class gift.

http://www.ohio.com/news/92648294.html Check out the Akron Beacon Journal article about the garden

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Planting For Peace

The first mosaic panels are complete!

The Eighth Grade Class from  The Lippman  School along with teachers Sarah Greenblatt and Karen Halpern worked in my studio yesterday to  finish their mosaic panels to take to Israel next Wednesday. They will be the first students to share their  mosaic art with students of the Western Galillee.

The students are going to be able to give their mosaic art to the people who I will be working with during my Artist- in- Residency in early June. This is the beginning of a yearlong sharing process with the students of the Western Gallilee . The end result will be a  permanent mosaic installation in our JCC in Akron.

A very special THANK YOU to Susan Jablon of susanjablonmosaics.com for  a wonderful generous donation of ALL the gorgoeus glass tiles for the JCC project

Artist’s Statement for Planting For Peace Project

I am involved in planning a community garden at our Synagogue to raise fresh produce for a local hunger relief organization.  So the “seed” of an idea for the Israel Artist- in- Residency started to germinate from that project.

I remember a powerful poster for peace in the 70’s showing a flower placed in the barrel of a rifle. I thought that the “flower” was the perfect universal symbol for peace. From one single seed, nurtured with love and sustenance, a seedling will sprout and grow into something beautiful and miraculous.

The message of the artwork is the idea of partnership and sharing.  We will be able to share artwork with kids in the Western Galilee and those kids will be able to send their artwork back for us to enjoy in our own JCC.  Written dialogues, videos, pen pals, friendships, websites, and of course PEACE are all possibilities!

It will be a wonderful opportunity for members of our community to share artwork, ideas, hopes and dreams; flowering mosaics all planted together for a vibrant colorful mosaic mural of peace.