Shabbat set links ceremony, beauty

If, as the great Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, Shabbat, or the Sabbath, is a cathedral of time, a window of holiness at week's end, then this museum-quality cast-bronze Shabbat collection — candlesticks, wine cups, spice box, all on a platter -- surely would be the one we'd raise up at its altar.

Mind you, this nearly 25-pound, seven-piece set is one so fine it deserves to be passed from one generation to the next. But its design, at once poetic and sacred, so speaks to us that merely sliding it off the shelf would signal the sanctification of an ordinary task -- and time -- into something sacramental.

The limited-edition set is a piece of fine art designed by architect Susan Shender, a Highland Park native and the artistic force behind Sukkah Soul, her St. Louis-based enterprise that creates not only sukkahs and chuppas (the veiled canopy central to Jewish weddings), but also a line of Jewish ceremonial objects, including a Hanukkah menorah and a Seder plate.

The Shabbat/Havdalah set, a circular whole composed of triangular parts, a spiral rising from 7- to 8-inches tall, is made using craft methods some 5,000 years old. It takes weeks for each set to be crafted at a foundry in the northern Illinois burg of Oregon, not far from Rockford.

“It's very labor intensive,” says Shender, who adds that she's exploring ways to make a more affordable version. The price of the cast-bronze set: $2,000.

For now, though, we can surely afford to dream.

by Barbara Mahany
Chicago Sunday Tribune
June 7, 2009