A New Aron Kodesh, a Torah Ark, for Jewish Life

I began working as a part of Jewish Life in Campus Ministry at Georgetown about one month ago. One of the first stops on the tour of places I had to see was Makóm, the space in the Leavey Center that Jewish Life is lucky to call their home. When I walked into Makóm, the sanctity of the spot was palpable. The beautiful decals on the walls, the shelves filled with Jewish books, the cushions and benches making the space cozy, and most special, the beautiful wooden ark at the front of the space. The story that I then heard about the Ark, made the space and ark even more special.

A parent of a Georgetown alum came to Rabbi Rachel Gartner, Director for Jewish Life, asking what he could donate to Jewish Life in honor of his father. When Rabbi Gartner mentioned that the community really needed an aron kodesh, a Torah ark, this proud29988261065_dc1a694f94_o father was immediately on board. He then commissioned Koji Tanaka, a Santa Barbara, C.A. based wood artist specializing in hand crafted wood art to design and build an ark. Through many consultations with Rabbi Rachel about the meaning, import, and symbolism of the Torah and it’s ark, Mr. Tanaka imagined and designed a stunning Torah ark inspired by the text and imagery of It is a Tree of Life (Proverbs), holding two Torah scrolls, and making Makóm even more sacred. After the passing of Rabbi Harold S. White zt’l who gave so much of his mind and heart and life to Georgetown’s Jewish community, this ark became a way to remember not only the grandfather of a Georgetown alum, but also the work and life of Rabbi White.

The ark holds two scrolls, one of which is a Torah given to Georgetown by the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST).  MST  gives Torahs saved from the Holocaust to communities around the world on permanent loan in an effort to ensure that Judaism is preserved and celebrated around the world.

On the first Shabbat celebrated in Makóm after the installation of the Ark, Rabbi Gartner spoke about the significance of the moment and the ark for the Georgetown Jewish community. After explaining the story of the ark and the Torah scrolls held within it, she asked Mr. Tanaka to share his reflections.  In what was a deeply moving moment for the sixty or so students gathered, Mr. Tanaka began to speak, and was soon overcome by tears.  He explained that his grandparents were interned in camps during World War II, and that he had no idea that this ark, which he put so much of heart into, would hold a scroll rescued from the shoah.  He was astounded that this ark and the Torah scrolls within it would intersect with his life in such a profound way. Needless to say there was not a dry eye in the community. Jewish Life at Georgetown is beyond grateful to have such a significant and gorgeous ark sanctifying our home in Makóm.

We will dedicate the Holy Torah Ark on Friday October 28 before Shabbat.  Alumni are welcome to join students for the dedication followed by Shabbat.

Written by Ronit Zemel, Jewish Life Engagement Professional