Tree of Life shtender back at Schultz Rosenberg Campus
Photo: Courtesy Noah Greenberg
The Tree of Life shtender, displayed and designed by artist Noah Greenberg, at his studio in Tzfat, holds tefillin, tzedakah, shofar and etrog boxes, a Mincha siddur,  a lulav holder, Megillah, a Seder plate, omer counter, challah board, Kiddush and Havdallah sets and a Shabbat candelabra. 

Holy, now whole 

By Deb Silverthorn

The shtender, a sacred and functional piece of art, is back home at Akiba Yavneh Academy, with help from Ron Romaner, the son-in-law of benefactors Howard and Leslie Schultz. 

“The shtender is an intricate sculpture, an elegant piece of furniture and a treasure chest of all the ritual objects of Jewish practice,” said Howard Schultz, who purchased the shtender as a 40th anniversary gift to his wife Leslie, of blessed memory. Together they donated it to the Jewish community in 2003, with the Schultz Rosenberg campus as its home base. “I’m so grateful for its repair and return home,” he said.

Named the “Tree of Life” shtender, it is used as a lectern for study and prayer, and was created by artists David Moss, who later became the spiritual architect of the Schultz Rosenberg campus, and craftsman and artist Noah Greenberg.   

Moss and Greenberg began conceptualizing a shtender 50 years ago, wanting to add depictions of ritual objects to the shtender’s representation of the pillars of Jewish life, prayer and study. Tefillin, tzedakah, shofar and etrog boxes, a Mincha siddur,  a lulav holder, Megillah, a Seder plate, omer counter, challah board, Kiddush and Havdallah sets and a Shabbat candelabra are all carved into the wood, along with motifs of the plants and trees of Israel.  

The Schultzes’ daughter, Jaynie, saw one of the Moss/Greenberg shtenders at a program in Houston and, when she asked who’d designed it, was thrilled at the familiarity. Moss also had created a ketubah which her maternal grandparents, Bella and Hy Vile, received as a gift from their children in 1974. 

Greenberg, from his studio in Tzfat, now directs the Kesher Tefillin project helping Jews create their own kosher tefillin. He worked by telephone and teleconference with Ron Romaner, Jaynie’s husband, who was closely educated in the shtender, and Jeramy Bede, a Wylie-based artist and custom furniture designer, to make repairs to the piece earlier this year.

“There is so much detail, especially in the omer counter, which was a challenge, but I walked Jeramy through the repairs and he was amazing,” said Greenberg, who originally carved each of the pieces, then traveled to Italy twice a month, and China once a month, for years supervising the detailed workmanship. “It took us 10 years to make the first shtender and many years to make the other 100 or so which are now around the world.”

Romaner, who had been searching for two years for the right person to make repairs to the shtender, met Bede at a birthday dinner for mutual friend Holly Kuper, whose children attended Akiba Academy.

“There was nothing straightforward about these repairs. There was quite a bit of damage and it was like a jigsaw puzzle. The hinges and lids of each component, the mechanical and artistic work and the requirement to be sure each piece was back in order was intense,” said Bede, owner of Signature Fine Furniture. He spent more than 60 hours working on the piece, as much a feat of engineering as it was design and sculpture. “I learned so much during the process and am proud to have been of service. It’s quite a treasure.”

Now that it has been returned to its proper space, middle and high school students will be trained by Romaner as docents on the shtender, able to use and teach about its many parts and pieces. 

“The shtender is a fantastically beautiful piece of art,” said Rabbi Yaakov Green, Akiba Yaavneh Academy’s head of school. “The Torah is the center of our hearts, the Beit Midrash at the center of our campus and this shtender sits in the center of this space. We’re thrilled the shtender, and our Akiba Yavneh Family, are all back on campus.”

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