Art has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember in many different mediums. Stained Glass was introduced when my grandfather retired and stumbled upon it as a hobby, and it quickly became an obsession that he was planning on turning into a business venture. We all joked growing up that we lived in â€œglass housesâ€ as our homes quickly filled with the incredible one of a kind pieces of work he taught himself to create. Each of his four children and their spouses became proud owners before he decided to do large stained glass pictures for each of his grandchildren on their Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
The picture above was given to me on my Bat Mitzvah. Being a Cohen, he couldnâ€™t stop at just making a beautiful piece of art, but each piece of glass was imbued with meaning and Torah. He would sit and talk for hours about the hidden meaning that went into each piece but refused to write it down, stating that every person should get their own version of what the piece meant to them.
Honestly, I couldnâ€™t possibly remember what he told me on my Bat Mitzvah day as we sat on the couch together for hours and hours (probably not that long, but I was 12 and wanted to be out with my friends, and my grandfather could talk). But hereâ€™s what I did take away from this.
The main focus of the picture is a path that divides into 3 branches. The 3 branches signify a Lulav. The bird with the yellow stomach perched on the fountain represents an Etrog, a symbol of endurance, persistence, and oneness. The two trees in the forefront of the picture represent Hadassim and Aravot. Together the four make up the four species that are used on Sukkot. The Etrog, which has both a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent, represents Jews who have achieved both knowledge of Torah and performance of Mitzvot. The Lulav, which produces appetizing fruit but has no scent, represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are deficient in Mitzvot. The myrtle leaf, with its strong scent and lack of flavor, represents Jews who perform mitzvot but have little knowledge of Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform the Mitzvot. We bring all four of these species together on Sukkot to remind us that every one of these four kinds of Jews is significant, and that we must all be united.
A father escorts his young daughter on the path that leads straight ahead to guide her and show her the way, the â€œDerech Hayashar.â€ At the top of the path is a building that represents the Bais Hamikdash – representing our hope that it will be rebuilt soon. It is a replica of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin, my fatherâ€™s & grandfatherâ€™s alma maters, and the school that Grandma Cohen (my namesake) supported & served lunches at from the day it opened.
Flanking the upper path on either side are 2 rows of 5 trees – to symbolize the 10 Commandments, the foundation of our Torah. The ten stones that line each of the paths to either side symbolize the ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The fountain itself is shaped like a Kiddush cup â€“ overflowing to represent a â€œKos Shel Bracha,â€ a blessing to you that your life should constantly overflow with the Divine Blessing. The overflow starts with wine and turns into water. Wine symbolizes a completed and accomplished human life. It starts off as a substandard product, grape juice, which equals childhood, immaturity, but must go through fermentation (symbolizing struggle and the challenge of evil), and only then does it become the superior product, wine. We drink it on occasions where we have passed a certain fermentation process (marriage) or at times, like Shabbat, which represent the final product of human life, the World to Come.
The etchings on the cup are little huts to symbolize the shtetl in Poland where my great-great grandparents came from; the teardrops falling from the wine are tears of sorrow over the Holocaust and leaving their families behind in the shtetl.
My grandfather tried to incorporate water into each picture he created, as water is the very essence of life symbolizing the Torah, which is the core of Jewish life. Water is a basic building block of life, and obviously we couldnâ€™t survive without it. But because it is so fundamental, we often fail to remember just how precious it really is. Celebrating it is not commonplace, just as itâ€™s not obvious to rejoice in all the things that are common and part of our everyday existence. Family, friends, our habitual routine, the seemingly trivial.