Ark bridges gap for young and old

Rashi School official Matthew King and NewBridge resident Carol Clingan are dwarfed by a century-old ark she recovered. Rashi School official Matthew King and NewBridge resident Carol Clingan are dwarfed by a century-old ark she recovered. (Linda Silverstein/Rashi School)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2010

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DEDHAM — Carol Clingan gazed at the wide, mahogany ark looming before her and admitted that it was a struggle not to cry.

She can hardly believe that the 96-year-old religious artifact she rescued from a former temple in Gardner will again hold sacred Torah scrolls, this time at a Jewish school where the students will share the traditions of their elders.

Remembrance plays a huge role in Judaism, Clingan explained during an interview on the new campus of the Rashi School in Dedham. So when she looks at the ark, she said, she thinks about the Daughters of Israel at Temple Ohave Shalom.

The women in the working-class town in Central Massachusetts raised the money for the handmade ark, and then donated it to their new house of worship in 1915.

Then Clingan remembered the generations that prayed at the ark for eight decades, before the congregation weakened and eventually dispersed.

The ark had been forgotten for 15 years when Clingan, vice president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston, came across it while researching Massachusetts Jewish history in 2008.

“Every time I called a place that had died, I’d ask what happened to the ark,’’ Clingan recalled.

“Some were sold. Others chopped up. But when I talked to someone in Gardner, it was amazing when they said, ‘It’s still there.’

“When I saw the ark, I told my husband I had to have it,’’ Clingan said. “I wanted it to be someplace I could come to. And I also wanted a chance to reexperience a little bit of that congregation.’’

She purchased the ark, then donated it in the name of her parents, Isadore and Eve Isenberg, as the centerpiece of the sanctuary at the Rashi School.

Rashi is a K-8 Jewish Reform day school that began in 1986, and the facilities that open in September will be its first permanent home. Perhaps more significantly, the school will share a campus, and a philosophy, with NewBridge on the Charles, a Hebrew SeniorLife residence where Clingan and her husband, Eldon, moved last year.

Though the 82,000-square-foot school is separate from the senior housing complex, generations of children and adults will have many chances to interact.

“We are preparing our students for the future, but this ark brings to them a sense of their past,’’ said Rabbi Ellen Pildis, the school’s spiritual leader.

The ark is a key element in a Jewish sanctuary, a holy cabinet that holds the Torah scrolls.

It has doors as well as an inner curtain, and during certain prayers, the doors or the curtain may be opened or closed. In the Gardner ark’s elaborate carved detail are the Hebrew words that mean: “Know Before Whom You Stand.’’

This spring, students at the Rashi’s campus in Dedham celebrated the holiday Shavuot, commemorating the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

“We are taught that all the souls of Israel stood before Sinai together,’’ said Pildis. “This ark brings with it the spirit of all who prayed in front of it, making it a sort of Sinai moment for Rashi.’’

For Emily Nadel, a 13-year-old from Newton who graduated this spring from eighth grade at the Rashi School, it was also a kind of Moses moment.

“We can see the Promised Land,’’ she quipped in reference to the new facility, “but we can’t get there.’’

But she noted that other students, including a younger brother, will benefit from attending the new school and growing close to NewBridge residents.

She and her classmates had taken part in activities with NewBridge residents to help them become better acquainted.

Former Lexington residents Fay and Julian Bussgang said they can’t wait to be closer to their grandchildren, who are Rashi students, and share daily experiences with them. “After school, they can just hop on over,’’ Fay said. “That’s really why we moved here.’’

Sybil and Dick Gladstone, who have lived at the SeniorLife complex for almost a year, have similar feelings. Granddaughter Sharon Clevenger is Rashi’s middle school rabbi.

“We have six grandchildren, and we look forward to having them at the school,’’ said Dick, who recently celebrated his 91st birthday.

The Gladstones’ daughter, Susie Schub of New Jersey, said she rests well knowing her parents are surrounded by family. “I feel blessed every day,’’ she said.

So does Adrienne Frechter, who is Rashi’s director of marketing and admissions.

“We live in an age-segregated society,’’ Frechter said. “But there is so much we can learn from each other.’’

As with the ark, she said, the intergenerational interactions between Rashi and NewBridge symbolize the dimensions of Jewish continuity.

While the children at Rashi will learn in new, state-of-the-art classrooms and explore the rolling meadows of the campus, they will also learn about the traditions and values that are an integral part of Jewish life, directly from the older generation, Frechter said.

“The ark will be the one and only ‘old’ thing in the school — put into use by a new generation nearly a century after it was first constructed and used by an immigrant population in their worship services,’’ she said.

And that, Clingan stressed, is what she hoped would result, a blending of “old and new,’’ and why she searched so many communities before she hit the jackpot with Gardner’s ark.

Standing recently in the ark’s new home in Rashi’s beit midrash, or house of study, she recalled the legacy of those long-ago worshipers in Gardner, and of her parents.

“It’s so meaningful to me,’’ Clingan said, her voice nearly trumped by emotion. “Memory is so important in keeping things alive.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@

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