Our new ner tamid, “Forest Dawn”

Forest Dawn, by Idelle Hammond-Sass. Photo by Patrick Young

AARC has a new ner tamid/Eternal Light to grace our aron hakodesh, the ark that holds our Torah. Two years ago, during Yom Kippur 2016, AARC then board chair Margo Schlanger gave a talk to the congregation about our need for a ner tamid to join our other community-made sacred objects: ark, Torah table, tapestries, yad, and Torah cover. Thanks to the artistry of congregant Idelle Hammond-Sass, we were able to welcome the new ner tamid during the High Holidays.

“In considering creating a ner tamid, or Eternal Light, I wanted to visualize how to use light as an emanation, coming from an unseen source,” Idelle wrote in her artist’s statement. “Before the sun rises, the light begins to glow and illuminate the world.”

Idelle in her studio.

Like the AARC logo, most of our sacred objects include images of trees and leaves. Idelle continues, “My ideas began with leaves and branches, but as the work progressed, these became backlit bare trees flanked by fold formed panels of copper etched with branch stencils. The light offers hope, the promise of a new day and the world being born anew, and of rekindling our connection to divine presence.”

To create our ner tamid, Idelle had to take into account some technical peculiarities. As Margo wrote two years ago,  “Our ark travels; it lives in our closet at the JCC, and comes out for our Torah services. So how could we have a ner tamid?” In addition, our new ner tamid has to work with our particular ark, made by Alan Haber, of cherry wood, in the dimensions given in the Torah. So the ner tamid Idelle created is very portable (with a beautiful storage case made by her husband Dale) and uses a battery powered LED light that can be on for several hours, but switched off for storage. Its dimensions and arched shape fit perfectly atop our ark.

We are very grateful to the AARC members who have helped fund this project: Margo Schlanger and Sam Bagenstos, and the Bramson and Gombert families, who contributed in celebration of their sons’ upcoming bar mitzvahs. Support for this project also comes from the Nancy Denenberg Fund, a memorial fund established in Nancy’s memory, which honors her creativity, and love of beauty.

In honor of our congregation’s new ner tamid and Rosh Hashanah being the symbolic “birthday of the world” during which we often teach the Torah’s creation story to the young people, Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg wrote a story for the Children’s Service that connects the ner tamid with the primordial light.

Detail of Forest Dawn, photo by Patrick Young.

by Clare Kinberg

In the beginning of the beginning, there was nothing at all, there wasn’t even nothing, there was nothing before nothing. There was tohu vavohu, unformed emptiness. Except in the emptiness, there was one thing: there was the power of creation, there was the potential of creation. In this story, that is called God.

And according to the story, the very first thing that the power of creation said was “let there be light, yehi Or. And there was light, vayehi or. This was a very special light, because it was before the sun was created, and certainly before fire or electricity or batteries. It was the first light. And with the first light, everything could be seen, from one end of the universe to the other. Everything was light.

On the second day, God  divided the light and separated the waters of heaven and the waters below heaven.

On the third day of creation, the waters on earth scrunched up together, and dry land appeared on earth.  And the first light sparked the growth of grass, flowers and trees and fruits and vegetables. And here’s the amazing thing: In each blade of grass a little bit of the first light was hidden.

On the fourth day, the power of creation gathered the first light together and formed the sun and moon and stars, lights that could be seen and used. They are of the first light, but they are only part of the first light.

On the fifth day of creation, God created fish and birds and hid a little bit of first light in each one. And the fish and birds filled the oceans and the sky with sparks of first light.

On the sixth day of creation, God used all of the remaining first light to create millions of animals, dogs and cats and cows and deer and antelopes and monkeys and humans. Each is filled with first light, hidden within our bodies.

On the 7th day, on Shabbat, the power of creation took a rest and noticed how beautiful everything was, how each animal, plant and stone and river and ocean was its own self, yet if you looked closely you could see that bit of first light shining through.

Now all of the first light is still in us and around us, and it is called the Hidden Light, or ha ganuz.

The hidden, first light was God’s first creation, everything is made from it, and when we remember this story, we remember that we are all part of one another. This is a good thing, so there are many lights in Jewish tradition to remind us of the first light. One of these is the ner tamid, the lamp of the eternal light that we keep above the aron hakodesh, the ark where the Torah is kept. Our congregation just last night received a new ner tamid, made by an artist member of our congregation Idelle Hammond-Sass. For her, the first light in the forest reminds her of the first light of creation, and so she made a ner tamid called Forest Dawn Shachar b’yair. Look for it next time you attend an AARC Torah service.