Bronze, Himalayan salt globe
I was blessed and honored to be asked to work on this project for the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has been my favorite city in the world since I was nine years old, living in northern China while my father was teaching there. I later had the opportunity to live in Hong Kong on my own while I was in college, and my passion for the city only deepened. So when a group of my landsmen approached me to make them a centerpiece for a shul in HK, I plotzed to say the least.
The leadership of UJC were redesigning and rededicating their space, and a web search had turned up the ner tamid that I'd designed for Etz Hayim in Arlington, VA. At first they were interested in something similar, but I suggested that they had their own story to tell and asked if they'd let me propose an original design. They agreed, and together we found the story that created this amazing piece
Hong Kong has also been called Dragon City, because the tip of the peninsula attached to the mainland is called Kowloon (九龍, literally "nine dragons"). The city also sits at the mouth of the Pearl River, which did in fact have a thriving pearl harvesting tradition prior to heavy industrialization in the region. Chinese dragons are typically depicted chasing a flaming pearl, so that made a perfect motif for an eternal flame in the City of Nine Dragons.
China has a long tradition of bronze vessels going back to the Zhou Dynasty, so we decided to cast the body of the ner tamid in bronze as a tribute to that history. The body is in the shape of a flame, polished to a lustrous shine on the inside to reflect the light of the lamp and coated to prevent against tarnish. I left the outside of the flame rough to indicate movement and gave it a green patina as an even more explicit nod to the Zhou Dynasty bronzes. The three interwoven licks of flame at the top of the piece are an abstract reference to the Hebrew letter shin (ש), which when shown by itself represents God by the name Shaddai (The Mighty One). The pearl here is a globe of Himalayan salt, which has been coated with polyurethane to prevent it from shedding material. When the light inside the globe is turned on, the peach-orange glow is beautifully reflected by the polished bronze interior of the flame.
Unfortunately, as of this posting the UJC has yet to install the ner tamid in their synagogue space because the global COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely delayed their dedication ceremony and the congregation (like many others across the world) are currently conducting their services via Zoom. For now, the only pictures I have are of the ner tamid hanging against the backdrop of my back yard (which is shamefully overgrown as I completely gave up yard maintenance while I was working to complete the sculpture). God willing, the pandemic will end soon and the congregation will be able to meet in person again, and the ner tamid can be an eternal flame that is a light for generations of their families. When it is finally hung in the synagogue, I will update the photographs to show it in its proper home.
The last pictures here are my initial sketches for the piece; as you can see I took the Zhou Dynasty bronze tribute a bit too far in one of them. I love the elegance of what we came up with in the end, and am humbled to have been a part of a project that allowed me to combine my Jewish practice with my personal history in China and Hong Kong.