Strangers in a Strange, New and Wondrous Land
The Berman-Brenner Family Sculpture Garden Comes to the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley
When Temple Beth-El recently sold its 73-year-old cherished home, it felt like one more bittersweet chapter of Diaspora in the history of the Jewish people: the 118-year-old Temple congregation had to leave behind yet another Anatevka and find its next shtetl “somewhere else.” At least for the sculptures, that somewhere else is now firmly planted in the warm and welcoming embrace of the Jewish Federation.
Temple was beloved by my family, who contributed not only their resources but gave of themselves endlessly to help the congregation thrive. When Janet Berman died in 2018 at 99, she had been its longest-serving member; I, too, grew up at Temple, and though I have lived away for decades, my membership continues our legacy for over 100 years. And our former building always felt like a second home to me, in large part because my mother, as longtime house co-chair (among my parents’ many capacities) – along with so many other devoted members – took care of Temple as if it were everyone’s second home. Not to mention that my mother was one of Temple’s most prolific decorators! She brought to the building and landscaping her (I am biased, of course) elegant taste – and meaningful art. And I, immodestly, take credit for helping with some of that.
The Berman-Brenner Family Sculpture Garden was born because my mother wanted to close out a fund at Temple she had established in 1969 in her mother’s memory, and asked me to create something special by which to remember Florine Brenner.
I almost immediately conceived the idea of the Sculpture Garden – not only to pay tribute to my grandmother (and grandfather, Herman Brenner, who died in 1949), but because my father, Bernard Berman, had recently passed away (in 1998), and my mother and I were already thinking about something to commemorate his life, as well. Mom was thrilled that a sculpture garden would not only honor our loved ones, but serve the congregation as a peaceful refuge and beautiful public focal point for the greater community.
My parents also had a very special love for the work of the Federation and contributed to its programs – so where better for the sculptures to have their new home? Where better to preserve the meaning, the continuity, the heart, the soul of my family’s bequest than in the heart of the verdant, sweeping campus of this important institution – an oasis where all Jews, and all peoples, can visit and reflect and take part in its soulful, and joyful, programming and activities?
My artistic inspiration for the Sculpture Garden came from one line in Gates of Prayer: “Can a people disappear and be annihilated so long as a child remembers its parents?”
I hope all who visit these sculptures will think of their own parents – and think of the heart that is the Jewish people: We remember – and, somehow, we continue – from generation to generation.
My thanks to Temple Beth-El, and to the Jewish Federation, for giving The Berman-Brenner Family Sculpture Garden its new home, and its new heart.
Pamela L. Berman