Biblical meditation garden blooms after 4-year genesis

While flora filled the Garden of Eden after six days, human effort takes somewhat longer. Nonetheless, Congregation Beth Am’s Meditation Garden miraculously sprouted biblical blooms after just two months of intense activity — and four years of dormancy.

Featuring a Star of David shape filled with the plants of ancient Israel, a fountain surrounded by benches and a Torah sculpture created by Menlo Park sculptor Martin Katz, the Los Altos Hills synagogue dedicated the garden Nov. 22. Some 150 congregants attended the ceremony.

Describing the garden as a sacred symbol from its genesis in Eden to the “Song of Songs” and beyond, Senior Rabbi Janet Marder said the garden “speaks to us, above all, of love and devotion, a gift to ourselves and generations to come.”

Congregants Maddie and Jeffrey Carmel saw the garden to completion, with gifts and help from Beth Am Women, the synagogue’s art committee, the 50th anniversary committee and several congregants. Begun shortly before Rosh Hashanah, the garden was finished in a matter of weeks.

Maddie Carmel, a member of the art committee and an interior designer, designed the flagstone Star of David shape. Her husband, a physician and “the gardener in the family,” researched and selected the plantings.

The 37 flora include an etrog tree, pomegranate, fig, olive, grape, date palm, and a couple of dozen herbs, as well as medicinal plants and flowers.

As Carmel tells it, the garden project had foundered for four years — until the art committee learned that member Martin Katz wanted to donate his “Moebius Loop Torah” sculpture. That sculpture — which features a scroll and the Hebrew words “Breisheet” and “Yisrael,” the first and last words of the Five Books of Moses — needed a home.

The hillside behind the Beit Kehillah, where Torah study meets, “seemed like a natural fit for the sculpture.” But Carmel was not pleased with the original plans for the garden. Nor did she like the “big slab of cement” that was there. So they started “with a clean slate. … The vision was to create a tranquil place where people would come to meditate and where teachers could bring their classes.”

With a second gift from Beth Am Women and other donations, and the help of landscape designer Danna Breen, contractor Greg Berlin and Beth Am facilities manager Dean Oja, the garden grew.

Katz tells his own story. In April 2006, the idea of creating a bronze “Moebius Loop Torah” came to him. He approached the head of the art committee and was told the sculpture would have to be approved by the synagogue board and a couple of committees. The Brooklyn native, a retired pharmaceutical scientist, said to himself, “fuggedaboudit.”

In April 2007, while Katz was recovering from surgery, Marder visited him at Stanford Hospital and he told her about his idea. The rabbi seemed enthusiastic and asked him to prepare a proposal. So he did.

The 80-something sculptor was beaming at the morning dedication. “After 40 years of membership, I’m thrilled to give this gift to Beth Am. May it bring solace and shalom to those who contemplate it.”

Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent is a writer and editor living in Palo Alto. She can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.