A Tree of Life

Leaves are already beginning to fall outside my office window — even before they have turned.  They fall because we have had another dry summer, another series of parched months.

They are dying before their time.

Every summer, as the Jewish Year ends, I sew new leaves of many colors onto our congregational
chuppah.

I started making the chuppah many years ago. For months I did nothing more than pull threads to make fringes on both ends. My first designs did not satisfy. I discarded one based on the sefirot. I removed a second try at the same theme. Finally, I discovered an abstract tree-of-life menorah on the Internet and used that as my inspiration.

The chuppah features, at this point in time, twenty green-gold-orange-brown leaves. There are two for every one of the nine years we’ve existed. The year I was ordained as a rabbi, I sewed on one brown and gold leaf from the same material I used to make my tallit for the ordination ceremony. This past year, I sewed on an extra leaf for the smicha I received as a spiritual director.

All the others are meant to represent the children of Temple Or Olam. Every year, two new new leaves. One for the boys and one for the girls. Every year there were new children.

I sewed this year just after a baby naming for our newest member: Anderson Storch Everhart.

I sewed, thinking about Anderson’s heritage. One side of his family goes way back in North Carolina’s history. Jonas, Anderson’s father, was born and raised first Lutheran, then Methodist.

Shannon, Anderson’s mother, comes from Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Her grandmother, interned at Auschwitz Birkenau, managed to hold on to life with a fierce, lion-like determination. After the war, Shannon’s gentle grandfather spoke about the Shoah. At every opportunity, he asked people to love – not to hate.

Jonas and Shannon named their child Ariel, lion of God.

I chose the fabric for the boy’s leaf thinking about Ariel – about our people’s losses and our fragile gains. Our gains are – in my community – supported by many individuals who are not themselves Jewish but who are lovingly committed to our synagogue and our goals. I cut and appliqued the leaf for the girls and thought of Kalilah, who also joined us this past year.

Kalilah dances at every service. Her hands lift and fall with regal delicacy. She is carrying heritage of many kinds in her richly dark hair, in her almond eyes, in her slim, tall body.

Our children are the most eclectic mix I could have imagined for such a small congregation. Asian, African, European. Though they are being raised Jewishly, their parents include people who are Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists. The families I serve are as varied as the leaves on the trees in my backyard. Gold, orange, red, pale green, purple.

I sewed the leaves on our chuppah wondering what I would do when we suffer our first loss. Perhaps I would sew a leaf at the bottom of the design, a fallen leaf for us to remember a loved one by. 


Someday, our chuppah will feature a veritable explosion of leaves at the top of the tree for all our children, all our years together. Would I begin a soft, small pile of leaves at the bottom of the chuppah to remember our lost loved ones?

How could any one chuppah contain so much love and hope, so much sorrow and grief?

I prayed over the chuppah this year. I prayed that when we hold it above our Torah at High Holy Days and gather under and around it that we will be blessed with all that it represents: Our 
diverse people and open community. May we in turn, bless, and may our blessings rise like warm air to help hold our chuppah high above us.

In the face of all that has happened, after parched years and early death, we have grown back. We are, now, a tree of life.

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6 thoughts on “A Tree of Life

  1. Having seen this chuppah only once, I don’t remember the tree. Is it on the top, facing the heavens to remind God we are still here? Or underneath to remind ourselves why we are here? You have two trees: one to rise above and protect, one to be caressed by hands.

    I am making my own pile of leaves right now, a fax to sell off the remains of my business. That little pile of leaves will soon be swept up and gone, and we will all move relentlessly forward to new ventures.

    • You can see the tree from both sides — one side in all its colors, the other in outlines of many colors.

      Here’s to new ventures. 🙂

  2. “How could any one chuppah contain so much love and hope, so much sorrow and grief?” How could any one *person*? How could any one *people*? If the chuppah is truly representative of our community, then I think it has to convey all that we are and all that *makes* us who we are. Surely we’re as much a product of the sorrow as of the dancing. Maybe the one just makes the other all the more beautiful and meaningful.

    And what was I saying earlier this week about standing in the presence of the Whole? It seems to me that if it’s only the (pretty) pieces of our community we’re celebrating, then we’re missing the point.

    All this is, of course, a roundabout way of saying that I think the fallen leaves are integral to the design. =)

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