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Celebrating 60 Years

What happened when 14 Temple Beth Am women spent 2000 hours together 46 years ago?


by Erika Michael and the 60th Anniversary Committee members

In 1972 our sanctuary was located in the East section of our present day social hall. Our community had around 200 members and Rabbi Hirsch was our spiritual leader. I emphasize spiritual leader, because we are a congregation of leaders. One of our multi-talented leaders, Erika Michael, Chaired the Art Committee. The Committee determined that our former sanctuary needed something to make it feel warm, to allow the eye to linger on symbols of sacred values, and, at the same time, to bring like-minded members and even non-members together to bond in fellowship and purpose.
To fulfill this vision, Erika designed a large needlepoint tapestry depicting: The Lion of Judah, The tablets of the Law, The Seven-Branched Candlestick, The Burning Bush and The Tree of Life with twelve branches representing the twelve tribes. She then gathered 14 women (two of whom were not Temple Beth Am members and one who was not Jewish), who spent a total of 2000 hours on the needlepoint, turning the vision into a completed tapestry. The tapestry was made up of sections, which were joined together to create one large piece that fit behind the ark. The inscription on the left says, “The Bush Burns” and on the right, “The Tree of Life”.
The original project took over two years to complete and hung in our sanctuary for 20 years until 1992, when construction began on our current sanctuary. The tapestry had been designed to fit behind the ark in the original sanctuary.  It did not fit in the in the new configuration. Erika returned to the project designing a central panel with an inscription chosen by Rabbi Hirsch from Amos 5:24: “But let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream”. In 1997, the revised tapestry was once again hanging in our synagogue.
As we honor our past, we honor those intrepid artists-Erika Michael, Olga Butler, Hilda Asia, Lora Dunbar (a Southern Baptist friend of Erika’s), Iris Jaffe, Millie Kleinman, Kate Kogen, Helen Luchs, Gretel Motulsky, Myra Olds, Jeanette Schreiber, Paula Wenig (Erika’s Grandmother who lived in New York City), and Erna Zechner. Judith Silverman worked on the center panel with the inscription above from 1992 through 1997.  As we envision our future, we should ask ourselves, how will we contribute to the beauty of Beth Am? I challenge you to look at the tapestry located on the South wall of the K’hilah Center lounge and see the past that created our present.