Founded in Bend five years ago, Temple Beth Tikvah has grown in quantity and spirit. The synagogue started with 40 member families and now has almost 70. They’ve affiliated with the Union of Reform Judaism, provided social, cultural and educational opportunities for their close-knit community and look forward to working with Johanna Hershenson, their first resident rabbi (see story next page). And, thanks to a few members’ vision and contributions from the congregation, they are creating a stunning new addition to Oregon’s Judaic treasures.
“My friend of 50 years, Ted Rosen, is the trustee of an estate with many Jewish artifacts,” says Gerald Greenbach, who was among the temple’s founding members. “He lent us a magnificent Torah from the old country. We were sitting in a coffee shop one day and thought, ‘We need a beautiful ark for our Torah.’ ” After consulting with the synagogue board, Gerald searched online, but the examples he found left him cold. Instead, he asked architect and fellow congregant, Lawrence Schechter, to design a Torah ark just for the temple. “I grew up in San Francisco where there were some beautiful arks,” Gerald says. “This will not take a back seat to anything in this land. Every member of the congregation will be proud.”
Lawrence Schechter understood that a stock design wouldn’t work. “I realized we needed something that reflected the culture of our own community,” he says. “I meditated and the symbols became clear.” His design and fabrication document explains: “The overall shape of the ark follows the natural form of the 80-year-old Black Walnut tree that was sustainably harvested … The design incorporates straight lines that spring from a braided border as a stylized Tree of Life. The lines merge and spread upward to form the outer upper arms of the Star of David and become branches that sprout leaves of light, lit from within the ark. Two additional branches imply the nine flames of the Hanukkah menorah.”
Lawrence’s wife, Lorraine, directs a committee that is creat- ing banners to position behind the ark so the congregation isn’t distracted by the stained glass windows in the United Methodist Church in Bend where they rent space. Ceci Capen, a talented local potter, designed and donated a Ner Tamid, the eternal light that hangs above the ark. “I made seven different pieces,” she says. “It was trial and error. I wanted it to be perfect.” As of this writing, two local cabinet shops are completing the project. Rabbi Hershenson was set to dedicate the Torah ark during her first Friday Shabbat service at Temple Beth Tikvah on July 26, 2013.
“It is gorgeous, and the design is both simple and profound,” Rabbi Hershenson says. “It has the designer’s interpretation of the Tree of Life, which becomes almost hands holding the Star of David. The lines symbolize this kabbalistic notion of the need for balance. Wherever people gather, they come with different experiences, and they intersect and build a community. The Tree of Life reaching up represents that.”
Temple Beth Tikvah Welcomes Rabbi Johanna Hersheonson
When Rabbi Johanna Hershenson saw an opening at Temple beth Tikvah in bend, she knew she was ready for her next adventure. born in Washington, DC, and raised in Maryland, her 18-year rabbinic career has taken her to Los Angeles, Alaska, New Zealand and even the Czech Republic. She arrived June 19 with her husband, two teenage daughters and a well-traveled Australian shepherd, and looks forward to working as the young congregation’s first resident rabbi.
“I’ve been fortunate,” she says. “I’ve been in interesting and exciting places. In New Zealand, I did an adult learning project that led to partnering with my husband to make a documentary film called ‘A Torah Tale.’ We traced the journeys of a Torah scroll and the last living Jew from a rural Czech town. It’s been quite an adventure. I led services and did a lot of teaching in Prague.” She has applied to the bend film festival, hopes to work with the Portland Jewish film festival and enjoys leading lectures and informal discussions about her research.
“Temple beth Tikvah is thrilled and excited to have a new rabbi with the experience, knowledge, leadership and warm personality of Rabbi Johanna Hershenson moving to bend to be part of our congregation and community,” says beth Tikvah President Mark Schindel.
Of her move to bend to serve the Central Oregon community, the rabbi says, “I have had the joy of working globally; now I look forward to living and teaching within a single community. I want to get acquainted with each and every member of our congregation. I like knowing people well enough to call on them to share their talents and skills to enrich the community at large. On a personal level, my family loves the outdoors and we are excited to live, work and play in this beautiful area.”
She earned her bA from university of Wisconsin, Madison, with distinctions in history, Hebrew and Semitic languages, and History of Culture. She was ordained by Hebrew union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1995, where she received a master’s degree in Hebrew letters.
“I’ve had a fair amount of experience in congregational life, and to be part of an organization at the beginning and work with the people who have started it is a special treat and exciting,” she says. “How often do you get to start from the beginning?”