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Solar flame sustains Eternal Light

Rabbi Marc Soloway of Bonai Shalom near the solar panel that powers the synagogue's Ner Tamid.In more ways than one, Bonai Shalom’s Chanukah program on Dec. 17 was truly a celebration of light.

The Conservative congregation in Boulder commemorated the miracle of a small amount of oil burning for eight days instead of the expected one day in the Temple in Jerusalem by lighting the menorah.

Bonai Shalom also celebrated light by dedicating its new solar-powered Ner Tamid.

A Ner Tamid is a symbolic eternal light that burns above the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) constantly in every synagogue in the world. It serves as a reminder of G-d’s continuous presence, an exilic symbol of the fire that on the ancient altar never went out.

A light that continuously burns can be a small energy drain, but Bonai Shalom — which already has a national reputation for its green policies and initiatives — has solved that problem by converting its Ner Tamid to one powered by the sun.

A solar panel in the synagogue parking lot goes directly to a battery, which provides enough energy to power the Ner Tamid even during the winter months.

Rabbi Marc Soloway likes the symbolism of solar energy. “The sun is like a Ner Tamid. We are partnering with the sun to create this symbolic spiritual light,” he told the IJN.

“The sun is a life source, a source of light; the sun gives us spirituality.”

The Ner Tamid was a long time in the making, Rabbi Soloway says, made possible through the efforts of Butch Weaver, who obtained a mini-grant from Hazon.

Bonai Shalom’s Ner Tamid is nestled behind a panel of frosted glass etched with a Star of David atop the oak Ark housing Bonai Shalom’s Torah scrolls. The light itself is a compact fluorescent bulb.

The solar-powered eternal light is yet another step the Boulder congregation has taken to live in harmony with the natural, almost idyllic environment in which the synagogue is situated.

In 2007, just three years after Rabbi Soloway’s arrival at Bonai Shalom, the congregation began its “greening” process. A recycling program was already in place, so the next step was to replace all the incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs, and switch over to wind energy. The congregation also began composting its waste.

In 2012, Rabbi Soloway declared that Bonai Shalom was “the first synagogue that has become zero waste.

“We evolved into the community that has taken environmental issues pretty seriously,” he told the IJN at that time.

For Rabbi Soloway the Ner Tamid and its power source are a metaphor. In his blog, he wrote, “We receive energy from the mighty source of power, the sun, to bring the flame of hope and survival, as a perpetual reminder of our physical and spiritual existence.

“Even though, in the grand scheme, one solar panel is negligible, the symbolism is profound and it carries a commitment to a more sustainable Jewish spirituality.”

Larry Hankin may be reached at larry@ijn.com.

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Larry Hankin

IJN Associate Editor | larry@ijn.com

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