Fabrangen was honored to receive a beautiful new ark during the 5765 High Holiday season. The ark was commissioned by Ellen Garshick and Rick LaRue on the occasion of the bar mitzvah of their son Carl LaRue. Below is a description of the ark by Matt Nechin, who designed and built it.
“Ellen Garshick, Rick LaRue, and I started thinking about making an aron kodesh for Fabrangen during 2003/5764 Rosh Hashanah services, when Ellen and Rick were deciding on a gift they could give the congregation to mark the bar mitzvah of their son, Carl LaRue. I knew immediately that I wanted something “soft.” I didn’t want an aron with hard lines, and I wanted something vaguely organic, since that is how I see the essence of Fabrangen.
Arriving at the Design
I started fooling around with various shapes, including cylinders, pyramids, and cones. The problem was that none of the shapes would hold Torah scrolls. I was faced with the plain old box: form follows function.
Then I got two ideas that ultimately led to the final design: I realized that I could use different layers of wood—and different woods—to make the shape less rigid, and I saw that boxes of wood didn’t have to have square edges—that they could be softened by rounding them over.
The next step was to design the front. I have gained some skill as a craftsperson, but I am neither a designer nor an artist. Luckily, my brother, Bob Nechin, a former Fabrangener and a stained-glass artist in Ein Hod, Israel, is both. He sent me six excellent sketches, some too aesthetically simple, and others too complex for me to realize in wood. From those sketches, I took the most interesting elements that I was able to build and combined them to create the aron you see now.
Choosing the Wood
The aron is made primarily of walnut and maple, which are not only two of my favorite woods but complement each other beautifully, allowing contrast to become an integral part of the design. The maple I used is called curly maple. The wavy darker stripes in the wood, when finished, create an effect that makes you think that you are looking into the wood, not just at it.
The ten amorphous shapes on the doors represent the Ten Commandments. The irregularity of the shapes both follows the general softness of the design and acknowledges that even these commandments are still interpreted. Each shape is crafted from a different wood: padauk; cherry; tiger wood; mahogany; pine; canary wood; cedar; purple heart; oak; and lacewood. There is no significance to their order, unless, of course, Fabrangen wants to talk about it!
For several reasons, designing and building the aron has been one of my most satisfying projects. It proved to be a surprisingly challenging project, so it allowed me to grow as a cabinetmaker. The aron is my first foray into Judaica. My on-and-off association with Fabrangen, dating back to about 1976, makes it especially significant to me. Finally, my longtime friendship with Ellen and Rick (which dates from “B.C.”—before Ellen’s trip to China in 1980) made this a truly memorable project. I am happy to have been involved in it.”