San Francisco artist Aimee Golant has shaped the copper pieces that will eventually sit atop a Torah; the shiny foot-tall figures have clear, sweeping forms. The Torah crowns are letters — Japanese letters.
“For a Jewish group, the crown might be a little jarring because it’s not Hebrew,” said Golant, who creates metalwork Judaica out of her home studio.
Golant’s work isn’t just for Jewish audiences. She also sells her Judaica to non-Jewish clients who appreciate the symbolism of the objects, and she recently spoke at the Unity Spiritual Center of San Francisco about mezuzahs and tzedakah. At that event, she sold out of mezuzah scrolls, and the congregation invited her to lead its first Passover seder next year.
“If having a mezuzah reminds them to love kindness and be grateful and they’re not Jewish, I don’t see that as watering down,” Golant said. “I see that as sharing light.”
In addition to creating the Judaica and jewelry she produces for sale, Golant has been putting a lot of energy lately toward a personal project that highlights interfaith connections. “Art for Prayer and Peace: A Bridge to Oneness” is a planned three-room installation filled with art objects and religious symbolism from the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Japanese spirituality. Golant refers to the design of one of the rooms as a “religious mash-up.”
She envisions the space as a place for worship and contemplation, hopefully situated in a busy public area like Golden Gate Park. In addition to using objects and symbols from different religions, her plans for the space include a Sanskrit fire temple and a memorial for the Holocaust and other genocides. Golant, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, hopes her project will inspire peace and understanding between people from different backgrounds.
“It’s meant for people who have been touched by religion both positively and negatively, people who question the existence of God, people who are spiritual seekers, people who are atheists,” she said.
Golant funded the first stage of the project, the Torah crowns, through a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $30,000. Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco has agreed to let her put the crowns on its Torah and take the Torah to speaking engagements while she builds public interest in the installation. She has secured a fiscal sponsor and now accepts tax-deductible contributions for “Oneness”; she hopes to turn “Oneness” into an independent nonprofit.
The project “is definitely going to be something that happens over the course of my life,” she said.
The two Japanese characters that top the Torah form the sound “shin,” which refers, in Japanese, to the divine. Golant traveled to Japan a decade ago and was intrigued by hearing “shin” in a spiritual context that didn’t refer to the Hebrew letter. She later made jewelry with the Hebrew shin on one side and the Japanese shin on the other.
In the Japanese tradition of folding a thousand origami cranes to invoke a blessing, Golant recently held an open house at her studio and invited guests to write down how they would heal the world, then fold the paper into a crane. Their origami will eventually be included in the “Oneness” project. Golant will continue to invite members of the public to fold cranes at her events in order to engage them in the project. She imagines that when people are able to step into the rooms of her installation, they will have a powerful experience.
“Religion is something to me that’s meant to be practiced in the physical,” she said. “The act of stepping through a gate — stepping through a door with a mezuzah — I feel like it’s more effective as an experience rather than just something I make and people look at to appreciate.”