Garden is a Little 'Promised Land' for Us

by Geoffrey Katz

Gan Or Shalom, the garden at Or Shalom Synagogue, is a container for our lives as Jews. Have you noticed that everything you do happens somewhere? In your kitchen, in the park down the street, architecture and landscape are the containers we create for ourselves collectively in which to carry on our lives. Sometimes we create for ourselves personal landscapes -- either individually or as a group. These are called gardens. That’s why the garden at Or Shalom is truly a garden: because it is designed to meet the needs of the Or Shalom community and in doing so manifests our beliefs and values as a group.

And that is why Gan Or Shalom -- the Garden of the Awareness of Peace and Wholeness -- is also precisely a Jewish garden. When the Jews, after about forty years of wandering in the wilderness, stood outside what was to become the land of Israel and was then known as Canaan, God pointed out to Moses that Moses would not be entering “the Promised Land” but everybody else would, under the leadership of Joshua. Now why? You’d think that after leading the Jews for so long Moses would get to go in with the Jews, get settled, and finish his days sipping Pina Colada at a beach on the Mediterranean. No, sorry. It wasn’t going to be that way: it would be many years before the Jews were in any shape to sip drinks. Though they would get to partake of the milk and honey.

Moses didn’t need to sip Pina Colada. He had already achieved an inner integrity (points out Kevin Solomons), an internal “Promised Land”. In the standing silent prayer we read “Yismach Moshe bmatanat helkoh”, Moses rejoiced in his place and being, a conscious-awareness of life and spirit. But for the Jews entering Canaan, it was their task to settle, establish community, build relationships, earn a living (points out Michal Mivasair) . . . And aren’t these activities/efforts that we do too in our own day? For the Jews under Joshua, the “Promised Land” was the specific piece of real estate in which to build their lives as Jews.

And that is what Gan Or Shalom is too: it is the place in which we carry out our lives as Jews. We use the garden for shmoozing on a Shabbath afternoon after davenning (praying), with plate in hand. We use the garden for running around and around (generally those of us under the age of 13). We go there to contemplate, for quiet discussion, for heart-to-heart talk with our friends, for classes. Gan Or Shalom is a little “Promised Land” for us. Because this garden has this symbolic Jewish content, it is precisely a Jewish garden.

The design had to address safety and security issues in addition to the issues about the way we use the land. The plant material was chosen to represent the internal debate of Jewish particularism versus universalism. Building a Jewish garden here and now is a contradiction to the essentially complete destruction of 500-800 years worth of Jewish courts, gardens, streets, etc. in Eastern Europe, northern Africa, and elsewhere.

Gan Or Shalom - dedicated October 23 1998 in memory of Lisa Nemetz
(and in honour of Bnei Mitzvah of Daniel Wosk and Zoe Hassal
 and in honour of Lesley Stalker, who loves gardens)


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