SPRING HILL — Last month, Temple Beth David unveiled and dedicated an art project that was begun by members a year ago — a mosaic measuring 4 feet high and 8 feet long that adorns the outside of the synagogue.
"As a rabbi, I am always looking for ways to both bring together and extend our Jewish community," Rabbi Lenny Sarko said. "This project did both."
Sarko conceived the idea and asked temple member Barbara Blavatt, a retired art teacher with a master's degree in art education, to design the mosaic. She did a series of sketches that were presented to the temple's board. After a favorite was selected, Blavatt did more sketches so the colors could be chosen.
Joel Zara helped Blavatt fabricate the piece. Frank Rosenzweig handled the installation. The work of placing the tiles was done by congregants.
"Being able to establish and maintain a Jewish presence in the county has always been important to our community," Blavatt said. "I think that the rabbi really wanted something to beautify the outside of the building and something that could be understood by anyone who came by to visit."
Sarko gave additional reasons for the project.
"It gave the opportunity for people who are not always active at the temple to be part of something special at the synagogue, while at the same time it would provide multiple opportunities for congregants to interact with each other in a very positive way," the rabbi said.
Sarko said the Judaic approach to art dictates that when a physical object is needed to fulfill a commandment, such as the biblical tabernacle commissioned by God in the time of Moses, it needs to be as beautiful as possible.
With this foundation in mind, Temple Beth David embarked on a project to create a piece of art that would beautify the congregational building, with the understanding that Jewish art should not only engage the viewer on an aesthetic level, but also in an emotional, intellectual and spiritual capacity, he said.
"The concept focused on was the Jewish principle that mitzvot (ethical acts) must not only be thought of, but done," Sarko explained. "This is exemplified by a Hebrew line from the Shema prayer set and placed at the top of the art piece: 'In order to remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.' "
The mosaic has the Torah scroll as its centerpiece. The words within the scroll are some of the mitzvot.
"By starting them small and having rays of light move up to a larger word, it makes it seem as if the word is coming out of the Torah," Sarko said. "This exemplifies that these words are not just to be read but to be done."
At the middle top of the piece is an eternal light, or ner tamid.
"An eternal light hangs above the ark in the synagogue. Our sages interpreted the ner tamid as a symbol of God's eternal and imminent presence in our communities and in our lives," Sarko said.
At each edge of the art piece, there are two lit candles that represent the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat.
"Shabbat involves two commandments: to remember the Sabbath and to observe the Sabbath," Sarko said. "The lighting of the candles marks the beginning of Shabbat for us individually and communally — a time when we can set aside all of our weekly concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits."
The Torah scroll is wrapped in a prayer shawl. The fringes at the bottom of the shawl are reminders of the mitzvot, defined within the Shema prayer.
Blavatt said she thinks the piece has captured the rabbi's concept. And she is pleased that the congregants were able to take part in its creation.
"Anybody that wanted to place a tile was able to do it," Blavatt said. "What thrills me on a personal level is to be able to be of some service to the community, particularly my Jewish community, and be able to create something that will far outlast me. That's what I told the congregation. When you are no longer here, your children, your grandchildren will be able to say (my family members) put tiles in this, and when I was little I put tiles in this. I think that's very significant."