By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Students, teachers and family members have been working ferociously at Akiba Academy since last week to create a memorial mosaic mural in time for eighth-grade graduation June 5.
This mosaic will commemorate the late Larry Lampert — father of Akiba eighth-grader Jessica Lampert — who died of a heart attack in 2011.
Once finished, the 12-by-8-foot mosaic mural will be framed to resemble Torah scrolls. Its images will illustrate the hopes, dreams and promise of Israel, explained Rena Fruchter, the project’s artist in residence. When completed, it will be installed in an Akiba prayer sanctuary.
The project was brought to Akiba by Jessica Lampert’s grandparents and their daughter Naomi Pollard. Akiba students ranging from preschool to eighth grade have joined Jessica Lampert and her family, staff members and other parents to help work on it.
Tanya Lampert — Larry Lampert’s mother and Jessica Lampert’s grandmother — said it is fitting this project is being completed at Akiba, a school very important to the Lampert family.
“This mosaic will be a permanent thing keeping Larry alive — that is basically what this is all about,” Tanya Lampert said. “His love was for his children. He was a very devoted father and husband. No one expected he was going to pass away so quickly.”
The memorial also is significant because Jessica Lampert is about to graduate Akiba’s eighth-grade class and will be the last member of her family to do so. (Her brother Jacob graduated Akiba in 2012 and her brother Zachary did so in 2013.)
Tanya Lampert said her son “got a real kick” out of his children attending Akiba.
Rena Fruchter, a former art teacher and arts integration director at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockwall, Maryland, was contacted by Tammie Rapps, Akiba head of school, in February about directing the project.
“I met (Tanya Lampert) back in Maryland before I started the project — she was the one who gave me input about what would be nice to have on the mural,” Rena Fruchter said. “They wanted a joyful peaceful theme. A Jerusalem theme.”
Rapps said the project is important for more than one reason.
“Art speaks to children at every age and it is a powerful medium for teaching,” Rapps said. “A mosaic is an opportunity to take something shattered and make it whole again. It is something the community can come together to rebuild. It’s very powerful.”
Tanya Lampert and her husband Albert Lampert, both from Silver Spring, Maryland, formally hired Rena Fruchter for the job, and arrived in Dallas to start work on Friday, May 20.
At that point, Fruchter said at least 35 hours of work had already been put into the mural — with volunteers abounding.
“There are students from preschool through middle school working here,” she said. “The kids and the staff and the faculty are really putting their hearts and souls into this. … I have been here some evenings with family members and friends for who knows how many hours.”
Fruchter said she expects the project to be completed later this week.
“There have been parts of this that have been a challenge,” she said. “But so much of it felt so right. Working with a community to whom someone’s memory brings joy and excitement is right up my alley.”
Jessica Lampert did not immediately wish to discuss the project with a Texas Jewish Post reporter. But Fruchter said young Jessica has been hard at work on the mural.
“She is terribly into it,” the artist said. “I think there is a bittersweetness to it, but also a pride in the fact that this is coming together to do something — and it commemorates her father’s life. She has been an active and happy part of the project.”
Tanya Lampert said she and her husband were impressed by the progress on the mosaic when they first arrived in Dallas from Maryland.
“This was our first look at it and we were overwhelmed with the scope and the fact that the whole Akiba community of children and parents had all been involved,” Lampert said.
Rapps said there was a special night last week during which only members of the Lampert family came to work with the artist.
“That was a real special time for them,” Rapps said. “They felt they were doing something wonderful and making a difference with this memorial.”
Melissa Lampert, meanwhile, said it is very important to remember that the mosaic is in honor of her late husband and her three children.
Melissa Lampert said elements of that mosaic remind her of the trip she and her late husband took to Israel a few years ago.
“It was our last trip together,” she said. “Our dream was to go back there with our kids.”