Reprinted with permission from Shalom Magazine Chanukah/Winter edition 2023. Please see full magazine at www.ShalomMA.com.
By Barbara Miller
Chanukah 5783 will be an extra-special time to gather and celebrate at Beth El in Sudbury. This year, the congregation celebrates 50 years of lighting a very special outdoor Chanukah menorah. This one-of-a-kind stainless steel and bronze menorah was designed and crafted by artist DovBer Marchette in 1972. Marchette was a synagogue member and Sudbury artist-in-residence at the time. That fall, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner asked Marchette to create a menorah for Chanukah, which was only a few months away. Marchette began sketching.
Beth El has a tradition of congregants stepping up to bring beauty into our midst. And they have, in building a menorah, crafting the ner tamid and mezuzot, a portable ark, woven talitot, even a continuously used gender-neutral prayer book which has been in use (with occasional revisions) since 1978 right up to today.
During Chanukah 2020, I interviewed DovBer on Zoom about building the menorah. This project provided a much-needed opportunity to schmooze during the pandemic. And a few audience members were in attendance for that first lighting in 1972! Ahead of the presentation, I lit the menorah at sunset. The shamas is approximately 6 feet high. I recall returning it to position with an outstretched arm, on tippy-toes.
The shamas is the only light requiring a candle. The other eight lights are fueled with oil. During the past 50 years, each night a different group kindles the lights. It can be cold, windy, snowy, drizzly, unseasonably warm, framed in a snowdrift or darkened by the new moon closest to the winter solstice. They show up — as do committees, school kids, teens, staff, clergy, families, even the Mahjongg Club.
The creation of the menorah is a wonderful story, not only about the design concept and materials, but about everything, from DovBer immersing in Torah study, gaining inspiration from Bezalel, to the significance of the metal tubes that are built to signify return, as in return to the Temple.
During the weeks before our presentation, I was in touch with the Marchettes to review the material. Every time we spoke, I learned something new. DovBer had built the menorah at a metal fabrication facility of someone he met at the beach the previous summer, and they donated the materials. By the time he was done, they enjoyed working with him so much that they offered him work. He took it as a compliment but declined the position. There was a metallurgist from MIT who told DovBer that it wasn’t possible to weld together two particular metals. DovBer found a way. (He never heard back from the metallurgist after he let him know he made it work.)
When we spoke earlier during the day of the presentation, I found out that the first time the congregation gathered to light this unique menorah, it was lit inside the building, in the sanctuary! The decision was quickly made to relocate it outside in front of the building. It has remained there ever since the second night of Chanukah in 1972. It continues to hold a unique place in the congregational landscape, both ritually and visually. This menorah stands poised and ready for celebration at Beth El, year after year, dor v’dor.
Barbara Miller serves on the board of Congregation Beth El Sudbury of the Sudbury River Valley. DovBer Marchette continues to exhibit his art; learn about it at dovbermarchette.com.