By Stacey Dresner
NORTHAMPTON – Just in time for the Festival of Lights, Beit Ahavah, the Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, will celebrate the installation of its brand new solar-powered Ner Tamid with a dedication, dance party, and fundraiser, on Dec. 8, the first night of Chanukah.
Beit Ahavah’s new ner tamid (the eternal light which hangs above the ark holding a synagogue’s Torah scrolls) will be powered by a new solar panel. This ner tamid reflects the congregation’s dedication to environmental sustainability and Rabbi Riqi Kosovske’s long vision of creating a portable, solar-powered Eternal Light as an inspiring model for a sustainable community in a spiritual home and tikkun olam, repair of the world.
The plan to create a solar ner tamid at Beit Ahavah began around four years ago. The congregation, which rents space at the Florence Congregational Church, uses a portable ark which is wheeled into the church’s sanctuary for Beit Ahavah services. For years, the congregation has not had a ner tamid at all, due to the physical constraints of using and storing the portable ark.
“When I arrived a little more than five years ago, there was no eternal light and I immediately started thinking about it, just how could we put a light in because it is such an important and beautiful symbol,” Rabbi Kosovske said.
But it was important to Rabbi Kosovske that Beit Ahavah be able to obtain not just any ner tamid, but one that was environmentally sustainable.
“I am very inspired by the Jewish environmental movement,” she said. “Rabbi Everett Gendler put out a call in the 70s to use the eternal light as a symbol for protecting the earth. In ancient times the light in the temple in Jerusalem was powered by olive oil, a renewable source. Today we have switched over to these fancy electric lights in our synagogues. But when you think about it we are using fossil fuels, so how is that really a symbol of eternal light when we are causing damage in the process?”
Gembler had suggested synagogues use solar power to light their ner tamids, something some environmentally conscious temples have done over the past couple of decades.
Obtaining a solar powered ner tamid became Beit Ahavah’s goal.
At an annual meeting at the synagogue three years ago, Kosovkse challenged the congregation with the idea of creating a solar powered ner tamid. Member Josh Abrahms, a solar builder who installs solar panels volunteered to work on the project and he created a mini-prototype. “At the time we thought it would be a simple project, but it was not simple at all,” Rabbi Kosovske laughed.
Over the next three years, they worked through how to fund the project, getting the permit, getting the church to approve it, working with a contractor who could wire the light. And as things happen, the project got put on the back burner as the congregation worked on other projects.
“The truth is, our synagogue, like other congregations in the valley has been struggling for the last number of years financially, and in just sort of figuring out where we stand in the Jewish community — how to create a sustainable institution at a time when we are economically challenged,” she said. “The idea of what an eternal light can symbolize is that it symbolizes sustainability with renewable energy. The board last year really galvanized around this idea of creating a solar ner tamid.”
At first they thought this would be a good time for a fundraiser for the congregation, but Rabbi Kosovske soon saw there was a bigger picture.
“We quickly realized it was a chance to invite members of the congregation to become more engaged with the values that brought them to the congregation in the first place – Jewish values around community and caring for the earth and finding a way for Judaism to be a light in their lives always,” she said.
Last spring they applied for an incubator grant from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and received $5,000 for the project. Since then, Josh Abrahams designed project, building the solar panel that is now installed on the church’s roof and designing the battery pack that is needed to power the actual light. The stained-glass lamp fixture surrounding the LED bulbs was designed by Jewish artists Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz of Shelburne Falls.
The project was a congregation-wide affair. Abrahms brought the solar panel into the Sunday school and students signed the back with magic markers. And fifty congregation members went on a field trip to see a member’s “field” of solar panels in a move to educate everyone environmentally.
The actual ner tamid lamp will be unveiled at the celebration led by Rabbi Kosovske on Saturday, Dec. 8 from 7-11 p.m. The family-friendly celebration will feature a musical ceremony and a menorah lighting for the first night of Chanukah. The dance party will feature live music from Klezamir and festive holiday food and desserts donated by the Mamaroneck, NY Beach and Yacht Club.
Beyond the celebration, Rabbi Kosovske wants the installation to be about Jewish values.
“It is making the connection between the core value of Judaism which is protecting the earth and using the symbol that we have had around us since the time when Jews were wandering the desert of this continual light that should keep burning, and tying those two ideas together with the real issue that we have in the world today. Showing that Judaism and Jewish issues are really relevant to the issues that are facing the world right now and that we actually have all the tools we need to take care of the earth.”
The installation of Beit Ahavah’s ner tamid will take place on Saturday, December 8, 7 – 11 p.m. at 130 Pine St. in Florence.
For more information and to RSVP: contact (413) 587-3770 or firstname.lastname@example.org visit www.beitahavah.org.
The event is free and open to the public but donations to Beit Ahavah are welcomed.
Children are welcome and on-site childcare will be available.