Each month, the current Yarhrtzeits are highlighted in our Tree of Life: Sculpture by David Mallin • Stained Glass by Anita Wigton.
The artists chose to illuminate themes and images important to the Jewish community of Southwest Colorado. The wooden spindles that hold the parchment of the Torah are called Aytzay Chayim, in English, translates to "Trees of Life". Mallin chose this name for the concept because the Gardenswartz family wanted to honor the memory of Lester (also known as Buzz) and Hazel Gardenswartz who started the first Jewish Congregation in Durango a century ago. The trees in the sculpture are aspens because an entire aspen forest can grow from one root, much as the Jewish people grew from the root of Abraham and Sarah.
From the esoteric teachings in Judaism, the mystic Kabbalistic "Tree of Life," ("Sephirot" in Hebrew), has three columns that represent Divine Attributes. The column on the left represents Severity and includes the attributes of glory, judgment, and understanding. The center column represents Clemency and includes the attributes of the earthly kingdom, foundation, beauty, knowledge, and the heavenly kingdom. The column on the right represents Mercy. Its attributes include eternity, greatness through mercy, and wisdom.
In a sacred manner, and with the help of two Cohanim, (high priests) Mallin cut three standing dead aspen trees in the Lime Creek area north of Durango to use as the main columns of the Sephirot. Most of the cross branches were cut from the aspens that are on the south, west, and north sides of the synagogue campus. The carved cedar panels on the bottom represent the forest floor and all that grows there. Various items are inlaid into the panels to express the relationships between the roots of the forest, the roots of our people, and the roots of Native peoples who lived here before us. The inlaid items are as follows; (starting from the bottom left) granite with pyrite from Animas Mtn. Above it a pot shard from this area, a barite crystal from the Grand Canyon, a turquoise stone representing the trading that went on between the Gardenswartz family and the Dine (Navajo people) in the area. Near a smaller aspen trunk (center) is a mountain shaped amethyst cluster. On the center right is a sparkling pyrite cluster that symbolizes the Burning Bush. Next to it is a Colorado Plateau sandstone shaped like a man (Moses).
The carved cedar panel on the far right has a piece of turquoise from New Mexico. Next to it is a stone from Hermosa Creek. Above right is an older pot shard from this area. Left of the old puebloan shard is a pot shard "To elevate the souls of those who have passed by honoring their memory." from Cesaria, Israel. Above it is a large quartz crystal.The Hebrew word, "CHAI" (LIFE) is carved through the wood behind the quartz, so that light shines through, thus illuminating the word. The planes of the crystal refract the light from the luminous word, "CHAI " changing the letters to double images, as life changes from one plane to another in death. The engraving on the brass plaque states that the Gardenswartz Families dedicate this Yahrtzeit Wall to the loving memory of Jerry and Lorraine Gardenswartz's parents.
The beautiful stained glass that Anita Wigton crafted also contains pertinent symbols: The setting sun and autumn sky represent the natural ending of physical life. Forked pink glass further up represents our "Animas " (Soul) River, reflecting the colors of the beautiful autumn sunsets in the San Juan Mountains. The twelve pieces of sparkling silvery glass set within deep blue swirling patterned glass plates represents the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the night, in the desert, where the "Shechina" (Divine Presence) illuminates the Tabernacle. It is Anita's stained glass, illuminated behind the trees , that makes it seem like you are looking into a real aspen forest.
On the opposite side of the sanctuary is an ark (carved box) which contains the congregation's Torah. Above it hangs the "Ner Tamid" (Eternal Light), glass light fixture that represents the sacred olive oil-burning candelabra that illuminated the biblical Tabernacle and King Solomon's Temple. David Mallin constructed this ark many years ago, using many of the same kinds of materials that are found in the new "Trees of Life" sculpture. Anita Wigton constructed the beautiful Ner Tamid in 2004. She also used some of the same stained glass materials from the Ner Tamid in the stained glass panels of the "Trees of Life" wall. By collaborating on this Yahrtzeit Wall, Wigton and Mallin's art bring together sacred space from North to South. From life, knowledge and light... to life's autumn, honoring those who have gone before us. Sadly, Lorraine Gardenswartz passed away just a few days after the Yahrtzeit wall was completed and installed. The first brass aspen leaf that was engraved and hung on a branch of the "Aytzay Chayim" (Trees of Life) was for Lorraine Gardenswartz.
(Tree of Life Donated by Jerry and Lorraine Gardenswartz, Stanley and Sally Gardenswartz, and Judy Lotwin)