A shul pergola for Dad

At my father’s funeral back in March, I observed that much of who I am as a person is due to my father. He was a man of many talents, strong in interpersonal skills, analysis of situations, and of perennial positive outlook. Further, he was a person who enjoyed doing things with his own two hands. He would change a flat tire, install different types of hardware at home as-needed, teach us about outdoor living skills including camping, fire-building, trees, animals, and all types of water sports and on and on.

One of his finest hands-on activities was working with wood. He reveled in selecting, cutting, drilling, sanding, and beveling wood in the pursuit of all types of projects. With a limited set of tools and, other than a power drill, all of said tools being human-powered, he taught us all the details about design, precise measurement, wood selection, and finishing.

Each of his children received from him a set of tools when going off to college. This meant that he was sort of “passing the torch” to each of us – he exulted in seeing us continue to design, create, and build. Whether it was with wood, metal, ceramics, or glass, the lessons he taught us continue to resonate to this very day.

The strictness of carpentry carries over into a lot of areas of life. Most of all, safety as being around power tools requires care and respect. Being around saws and files and screws and nails can turn dangerous. Advancing to more complex machine tools (table saws, miter saws, drill presses, sanders and grinders) each provide the ability to advance a project and bring additional potential for danger. Dad instilled in each of his children the desire to create and design along with a strong dose of care and mindfulness.

This brings me to a recent project for our outdoor minyan in Brookline. After suffering many catastrophic failures of many kinds of portable canopies over the last three months, we suddenly had the need for a canopy that would provide the requisite shade for the reading of the Torah every Shabbat, Monday, and Thursday.

With only 48 hours to deliver a working pergola, I felt as if I was channeling my father’s focus and ferocity in designing and creating a structure. The design had to be simple, reasonably inexpensive (he liked inexpensive), consistent in architecture with the theme of a Jewish place of worship and (if we were lucky) portable just in case in needs to be moved (no embedding the pergola posts in concrete footings!

The pergola in-place at our outdoor minyan space at the Maimonides School.

As you can see in the picture, the concept became a reality. With the help of a neighborhood teenager who loves everything Jewish, the final structure, built in my backyard, was carefully labeled piece-by-piece, taken apart, transported to our Maimonides School location, carried through the building and out to the courtyard, and then reassembled in-place.

The structure, a testament to the pleasure my father, hk”m, took from his carpentry and woodworking skills and to his intense focus on activities that involved the Jewish community, bears witness to his legacy in deep ways. The two Magen David symbols bring a Jewish flair to the pergola while simultaneously providing important geometric bracing and the two taller segments, rising above the angled canopy area, attest to the desire that the words of the Torah, chanted beneath four times a week, will be heard in the heavens and that, somewhere out there, my father is hearing those same words and smiling as he sees what kind of impact a parent can continue to have on his or her child.

For me, reciting Kaddish many times a day only makes the pain and separation from my parent harder. The stark reality of the loss and its finality have a deep psychological effect. I hope that, in some way, this pergola, designed and built with him fully in-mind will provide for a continuing ascension of his neshama as the year of mourning continues. May his memory continue to be as a blessing.

About the Author
Jesse, a Ph.D. chemist/materials scientist, originally from Elizabeth, NJ, completed a 35-year career as a technologist at Verizon Communications where he retired as an Associate Fellow. He lives in Brookline, MA , where he attends the Maimonides Kehillah, built and manages the Boston Eruv, teaches a weekly Daf Yomi shiur, serves as the High Holiday Baal Tefilah at Congregation Kadimah Toras-Moshe, and is working to complete Semicha through Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim. He and his wife, Brenda, are parents to three and grandparents to twelve. He enjoys Torah study, radio-control modeling, skiing, sailing, tennis, woodworking, writing, and volunteering.
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