Solomon Schechter kids revive art of mosaics

Seen are some of the Solomon Schechter Academy students who collaboratively created a large mosaic depicting the Tree of Life and the Ten Commandments that hangs in a prominent location at the school.

MONTREAL — Solomon Schechter Academy students are reviving the ancient Jewish art of mosaics, head of school Shimshon Hamerman says.

Mosaics are an ancient decorative art form practised as much as 2,000 to 2,500 years ago in which images are created, sometimes complex ones, by assembling and cementing together small pieces of differently shaped coloured stones, glass or other materials. It was used to decorate synagogues and other houses of worship.

Many well-preserved mosaics have  been discovered in Israel, especially in the Galilee and the Judean desert. One of the most famous, found in the Beit Alfa synagogue in the Galilee, is believed to be about 1,500 years old. It is also regarded as one of the most important mosaics ever discovered in Israel. Each of its three panels depicts a scene – the Aron Kodesh, the zodiac and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Often, ancient mosaics show the Aron Kodesh, menorahs, lulavs and other Jewish symbols.

The religious proscription on figurative depiction to prevent even the appearance of idol worship was not strictly enforced, so many synagogues had mosaics with figurine shapes.

At Solomon Schechter, Judaic studies director Chani Cohen’s Jewish art classes in the school’s “SMART floor” recently created their own mosaic with 250 kids from grades 2, 4 and 6 participating. The 4-by-10-foot work now hangs on the ground floor of the school’s main campus.

The students’ most recent collaborative mosaic shows the two tablets of the Ten Commandments embedded in the trunk of a Tree of Life, with a boy and a girl holding hands on either side of the tablets under the shade of the tree. The Hebrew quotation states: “It is a tree of life to all who hold on to it,” “Eitz Chayim hi lamachazikim bah,” words we recite about the Torah after the scroll has been read. The boy and girl holding hands symbolize that “the ways of the Torah are pleasantness.”

Previous large-scale mosaic projects by Cohen and her students have included the emblem of each of the 12 tribes, the seven species of the Land of Israel and the floor of a synagogue from Prague.