storytime with gary

gary shares the stories behind some of his favorite pieces

The Tale of Raiders of the Lost “Closet Ark”


It started with a phone call from a previous client, Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester. I had done some smaller projects for the synagogue, including outdoor benches, a mobile desk for the security guard, and a sign housing.  Rabbi Goldsmith was ready to move on to bigger and more serious things.  He was looking for a secondary sanctuary that they could use for small, intimate services in their multi-purpose room.  His idea was to have pieces stored in a closet in this room that they could take out and use to quickly construct a small sanctuary area.

Well, we took the idea of having a sanctuary in a closet to a whole different level!

The “Closet Ark” looks like any other closet when it’s closed, but as soon as you open the doors, you know you’re looking at something VERY different.  Inside, there is a built-in single-scroll ark, a storage unit with four raised-panel doors, dedicated lighting (including a pull out ‘eternal light’) and expandable panels – mounted to the inside of the closet doors – that provide an expansive background that transforms the area. All of the lighting is low-voltage LEDs and controlled with a switch plate located inside the left-most cabinet door. 

The closet sits between two large windows that face the woods surrounding the building. It was too beautiful an environment to hide. To retain the outside awareness, I repeated a flame motif that was found in the synagogue’s main sanctuary and provided see-through cutouts on the background panels.  Through these flame windows, light enters the area and the congregation can enjoy the view.


And on the Seventh Day I Created The Sanctuary Collection


In biblical terms, Congregation Emanu-El’s “Closet Ark” begot the “Sanctuary Collection” at Larchmont Jewish Center!

LJC’s request for proposal called for a suite of mobile components that would be usable in a variety of rooms in their location. The suite consisting of an Ark that could hold up to 5 scrolls, a leader’s lectern, and a reading table. An important consideration was that the ark unit needed to look appropriate (and not empty) if it was only holding 1 scroll.  The leader’s table needed to be movable by the reader, who preferred to move about during his lectures. All pieces needed to be relocatable, had to fit beneath all of the door frames in the building, and needed to blend into multiple environments.

My solution consisted of an ark made up of individual cabinets with large long doors to reveal the contents.  The cabinets were mounted onto three custom-made rolling metal frames: One that held three cabinets, and two others that held one cabinet each. This allowed any configurations of 1 – 5 cabinets, depending on the number of scrolls they needed to use, and never looked empty or vacant. A modern latticework of metal provided a beautiful background, as well as providing support for the cabinets and a modern-looking ‘eternal light’. Each of the cabinets had individual LED spotlights to illuminate their contents.

The reading table provided a large surface on which to spread out the scrolls during services. Its legs were made of the same latticework as the background of the ark units and folded up so that the entire stand could fit neatly on a custom rolling cart that both stored and mobilized the unit. An interchangeable panel of tapestry not only offsets the mahogany with beautiful color, but is functional, as it provides a tactile surface to prevent the scrolls from slipping down the sloped front of the tabletop.

Lastly, the leader’s lectern provided a large slant top reading surface that opened to reveal storage for books and pointers.  The unit picked up the beveled edges of the ark cabinets as well as the metal from the backgrounds.  The entire unit was mounted on wheels to allow the “roving leader” the freedom to move about his congregation.


The Gift of Giving – Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester’s Tzedakah Box


Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester is a beautiful Reform Synagogue in Rye, NY. The architecture is modern and bold with a blend of deep Mahoganies, Oaks and Cherries, throughout. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to design and create a number of pieces for the Congregation and always look forward to working within its inspirational space.

The Congregation’s leader is Rabbi Howard Goldsmith, who is, in many ways, as creative and modern as the architecture itself.  Rabbi and I have collaborated on a number of highly innovative and creative pieces for the synagogue and its education center. I’m always amazed at how much artistic awareness, creativity, and out of the box thinking Rabbi Goldsmith provides. We create extremely well together.

When Rabbi Goldsmith called me regarding building a Tzedakah box (charity box) for the synagogue, the objectives were clear: No ordinary “box” would do. Nothing off-the-shelf would capture the message of the space. It had to reflect the essence of the architecture and be undeniably Congregation Emanu-El’s.

We quickly arrived at the idea of modeling the box itself after the synagogue’s unique ark: A modern, monolithic, free-standing, hexagonal cabinet, with the flames reminiscent of the burning bush cut out on its front and sides. In many ways, it is the “calling card” of the Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester.

Rabbi also wanted an inspirational backdrop for the box that would include Tzedakah in Hebrew, key words of giving, and a passage from the sixth book of the Jewish canon, written by the prophet Micah. My original thought was to raise the words from a backdrop that reflected a wall in the sanctuary that separates the choir from the congregation. The Rabbi expanded on that and suggested it reflect the pattern of the window behind the ark.

We launched our design. I chose Mahogany for the box and Curly Maple for the majority of the backdrop. We decided to reflect the pattern of the windows with a metal string inlay, cut into the backboard.

Based on this initial conversation, Rabbi Goldsmith provided the design on the left. Using an image of the wall onto which the box would hang and tracing a photograph of the windows to layout the inlay, I created the mock-up on the right.  We presented these to the donor, and were given the go-ahead to create!

Construction was straight forward. Several small considerations were added to the design for continuity, stability, and security. The mechanism for securing the donation box inside of the outer shell was finalized and tamper-resistant techniques were applied. Installation was quick and easy.

Construction was straight forward. Several small considerations were added to the design for continuity, stability, and security. The mechanism for securing the money box inside of the outer shell was finalized and tamper-resistant techniques were applied. Installation was quick and easy.