Jewish Ark Portal With Symbolic Landscape

Joanna Pinkerton, designer
Rabbi Pinchas Aloof, consultant

The Jewish portal represents the Ark of the Covenant, a cabinet located on the synagogue wall indicating the direction of Jerusalem. Housed inside the Ark is the Torah, the scrolls containing scriptures that are the foundation of the Jewish faith. The jeweled Crown at the apex of the Ark is the Crown of the Torah. However, in this Ark it is also the Crown of Creation that represents the importance of humanity in creation. Human beings, represented by the inscriptions "Adam" and "Eve" seen on the crown, are obligated to be the caretakers of creation and to practice ecological responsibility. Two golden Lions of Judah stand at the top of the Ark supporting the Ten Commandments, laws given to Moses by God instructing followers how to live in peace. Each of the Ten Commandments is symbolized by one of the first ten characters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Eternal Lamp, representing the shekinah (eternal glory) of God, hangs as a pendant from a menorah (a seven branched candle holder).

The wood of the portal columns represents cedar from Lebanon, which was used by King Solomon to build his temple. The cedar columns are decorated with the Hebrew names and agrarian symbols of the twelve months in a year. Each month represents a new season or a cycle of rebirth and corresponds to one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The limestone bases of the portal columns are carved with a Star of David design from the rampart wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. The six points of the star represent the six days of creation with the flower in the center representing the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of rest.

A spiritual glow from the Eternal Light illuminates the scriptural landscape of Isaiah 11:6- and Micah 4:3-4, a place of peace and perfection. The hills of Judea representing Israel are seen in the distance. The lion and lamb rest together in the spirit of wisdom and understanding. Two fruit bearing trees growing in the desert are the fig tree and the olive tree, symbols of peace and victory. Olive oil is also used for its healing properties and for sacrificial offerings (Lewington, 105-107,162). The grape vine is a source of Sabbath wine and a symbol of goodness and gladness. Due to destruction of habitat by urbanization the huge white blooms of the iris lortetii are only found in four small populations in Israel. The Israeli government is committed to protecting the few iris that remain. (Moore, 173).

The endangered male lesser kestrel perches in the fig tree with its mate soaring in the sky above. Palestinians and Jews have worked together to protect the kestrel as its numbers have rapidly declined due to loss of nesting sites and urban development. In the last 52 years, the species' numbers have gone from 3,000 pairs to around 400 pairs today (Copans, 46-50). The mountain gazelle is a very small animal, measuring 24 inches tall at the shoulders. Less than 30 animals were counted in 1980. The species is endangered due to urbanization, oil drilling, the effects of war and illegal poaching (Grolier, Vol 5, 47).

Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.
Who is strong? One who rejoices in his portion.
Who is honorable? One who honors others.
The world is sustained by three things: by truth, by justice and by peace.
It is not your duty to finish the work;
But neither are you at liberty to neglect it.

Wisdom and Ethics from Pirkey Avot,
courtesy of Rabbi Aloof