A special piece of Judaic art has more to it than meets the eye. Design is driven by the geography of the synagogue, Jewish tradition and meaningful phrases from the Bible.
The client chose the main phrase of the parochet (Love Truth and Peace) and a stylized representation of a tree of life out of several optional designs.
The main design concept is based on paper-cuts, an art form that was popular with Jews in Eastern Europe and North Africa. Poor Jews who could not afford expensive embroideries for the synagogue, would make art from the cheaper and more readily available paper. As paper is not a very sturdy material, most of these artworks did not survive. I endeavor to preserve their spirit in quilt art.
The parochet is made of hand-painted cotton, with the green and brown colors reminiscent of the surrounding Galilee, and the blue living water motif reflecting the Eshkol water reservoir near Hannaton. The fabric is mottled, both to create an impression of sun shining through the leaves and to contrast with the very stylized design.
The tree of life is a very popular motif in Jewish art. I use it often in my art and find that it lends itself to different styles and interpretations, so I never tire of it. It is especially significant as a symbol of the Torah:
"She is a tree of life for those who embrace her, and whoever holds her tightly will be joyful." (Proverbs 3:18)
Why is the Torah compared to a tree of life? According to Abraham Ibn Ezra, the phrase “tree of life” returns us to the source, to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Had Adam and Eve eaten from it, they would have lived forever. After the sin, this option was destroyed and fixing it (making a “tikun”) is done by holding to the Torah. A man who holds to the Torah fast, connects to the source of life, to the point we lost as a result of the original sin.
The Tree of Life has many different artistic interpretations. In the Hannaton ark curtain, it is a miraculous tree which roots are springs of living water.
The Ramban teaches that the well (or the spring) signifies the Temple, and the living water coming from it - the sacred spirit.
The comparison between Torah and water expresses the basic necessity for the existence of life. As there is no life without water, there is no life without Torah. The commandments, worship of the Lord and spirituality are living water, a must for our lives.
The tree on the parochet has seven main branches and seven main roots, like the Menorah in the Temple. The branches of the tree bear figs and grapes (“Instead, each man will sit in the shade of his grape vines and beneath the shade of his fig tree” Micah 4:4) and pomegranates. Pomegranates are mentioned often in the Bible in various contexts, one of the most pertinent of which is decorations of the Temple and the Temple Priests’ robes.
The main phrase of the ark curtain is “LOVE TRUTH AND PEACE” (end of Zachary 8:19)
"This is what the Lord of the Heavenly Armies says: 'The fasts that occur in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months will be joyful and glad times for the house of Judah, replete with cheerful festivals. Therefore, love truth and peace."
It isn’t easy to find Truth and Peace in coexistence. In many people they are mutually exclusive. A peaceful person may choose to overlook truth to maintain peace, and a truthful person may often cause strife with his truth. The ability to combine the two together is rare and praiseworthy.
The phrase “Love truth and peace” in Hebrew, contains the letter Shin in a central position (Haemet vehaShalom ehevu). I chose to give it a special meaning as the symbol for the name of our Lord (El Shaddai). El Shaddai appears in the Torah six times, and once in the book of Ezekiel. Shaddai (without “El”) appears several more times in the prophecy and in Biblical poetry.
This parochet was commissioned for kibbutz Hannaton by the Ende family in memory of Rabbi Joseph Tzvi Ende and Zehava Ende (nee Finkelstein).
Hannaton is a kibbutz of the Masorti (Conservative) movement. You can read more about it here.