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Our new Torah Table!

07/08/2020 01:35:45 PM


Nitza Agam

Several years ago, Or Shalom member and master carpenter, Ken Seidman, came to Rabbi Katie with a passion to create something sacred and useful for the life of our community.  It didn’t take long to decide that the offering should be a Torah reading table, but the actual journey to get from idea to reality has taken considerable time and effort. After years of planning, drawing, meeting, overcoming setbacks and skillful carpentry, we are delighted to announce that the vision is now a gorgeous custom-made wood table waiting for us in the sanctuary!

The table is simple and elegant, with a single abbreviated quotation inlaid on its main surface.  The words, written in an original font created by Vavi Toran, come from the liturgy sung at the close of the Torah service and originally found in Proverbs (3:17-18), “Etz Chayim He….vechol netivoteha shalom….” “She (the torah) is a tree of life … and all of her pathways are peace.”  

Rabbi Katie describes the metaphor of Torah as tree: “It has roots and a stable, enduring core, but also foliage that changes by the season and fruits that nourish us. Each generation is entrusted not just to pass on the same Torah that they receive, but to cultivate the living tree, and encourage fresh growth that guides and sustains us in new circumstances.”

Our new table embodies the living tree idea first of all because of its wooden structure. The wood, from the Hackberry tree, is sustainably sourced from Evan Shively of Arborica, in Marshall. Evan gathers fallen trees from all over California and cuts them into thick slabs the full width of the trunk. It is actually the imperfections that make Hackberry wood so interesting, with its smooth, creamy yellow coloring. 

Adorning the table are images of an olive branch, created by Gary Hauser, that represent the changing foliage of the tree of life. The underside of the tabletop contains twelve brass fittings, reflecting the twelve tribes. The hooks are designed to hold a “skirt” of fabric that changes by the season and with the different generations of Or Shalom. Those fabric skirts will be created in the table’s future, just like the living tree of life that is the Torah and evolves over time. 

Just as the ancient Hebrews carried their holy ark in their desert wanderings, Or Shalom wanted a table that could accompany us wherever we gather to create sacred experience.  Ken Seidman describes the breakthrough that enabled him to design a table to come easily apart and back together. In his research, he came upon an old furniture design--the hutch bench.  Rabbi Katie was inspired by this design and suggested including two long spindles that congregants could hold onto as if holding the poles that held the ark of the covenant.

This Torah table is now part of the promise of Or Shalom for the time that we will emerge from isolation to the joy of gathering in person again. Like the ancient Israelites, Or Shalom’s community continues to learn, to change, to reflect, to find meaning in our traditions to pass on and to create new ways to carry them.


See the Torah Table creation in action.

Wed, February 8 2023 17 Shevat 5783