The Story of our Stained Glass Above the Bimah
Written by Sharon West, MD
With contributions by Bob Birk and Adamm Gritlefeld
G-d Speaks to Adamm
Sometime in the late 1970’s Adamm Gritlefeld was at a social gathering when suddenly he felt like he was encased inside a glass dome. He heard nothing from the room around him. Without warning, he heard the Voice of G-d, which spoke to him in a thundering tone, reminiscent of the Torah reading that describes the Voice of G-d when he spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai. He had no trouble recognizing this Voice. It said, “Meet me at noon on Friday.”
Adamm was not a stranger to super-natural occurrences as he had had experiences, some confirmed by others, with ghosts and other apparitions, but there was no mistaking that this was the Voice of G-d. Not knowing where he was supposed to have this meeting he mentally asked, “Where?” The Voice came back, “At University Synagogue, noon on Friday.” Then just as suddenly as he had heard His Voice, It disappeared, and the glass dome disappeared. He heard all the social clatter of the room again.
Adamm’s Response and Advice
Throughout the week, this meeting weighed heavily on Adamm’s mind. On Friday, he had to go to a location distant from the meeting place, but he hurried back to be at the synagogue on time. As he was driving back to the meeting, for some reason this important deadline left his mind. He almost passed the correct entrance, when quickly he remembered the meeting and was able to safely enter the entrance leading to his destination. He arrived at the synagogue at exactly 12:00 noon. He waited patiently in the sanctuary for about 30 minutes, and nothing happened.
Not sure of what to do next, he decided to leave. When passing the synagogue office he decided to inquire if he could speak to the Rabbi. Rabbi Freehling was very welcoming and interested when he offered his story. After Adamm relayed his story, he asked the Rabbi for his opinion or an explanation of why G-d would have him be there, and then not tell him anything. The Rabbi answered that he had just been reading a book about people who experience the Voice of G-d in their lives. He suggested that G-d wanted to see if Adamm would show up. Adamm thought, “IT’S G-D! OF COURSE I WILL SHOW UP!”
He explained to the Rabbi that he is a stained glass maker, and suggested that maybe his profession had something to do with his having heard the Voice of God. The Rabbi told him about a synagogue couple who was commissioning a stained glass window to honor their daughter who had been killed in a traffic accident. Adamm asked if he could compete for the commission. The Rabbi told Adamm that he thought the commission had already been awarded, but after seeing how determined Adamm was, he gave him the contact information.
Later, Adamm talked with an old friend who was a priest. Father Ed suggested that since he had not tried to contact G-d, and the communication was unprovoked, it was indeed authentic. Later Adamm decided that G-d wanted to know that Adamm would listen, and that indeed there had been a reason for the contact.
Creating the Window
The window in question was a tall, narrow rectangle, about 2-3 feet wide and 9-12 feet tall. The subject was to be a Tree of Life. When Adamm sat down to design the window, he first drew a rectangle in the proper proportions. Then he closed his eyes for inspiration. Soon his hand began moving as if directed by another without his input. It became a tall, stylized sycamore tree with the Torah set in a blazing background. The colors were warm yellows, ambers, reds, and oranges. There were no stars and cosmos as in the final window. Adamm’s drawing was not selected. The awarded design was by one of Adamm’s former students depicting Jacob’s Ladder.
So Adamm was left with his Tree of Life design. He proudly kept the diagram for the window. Later, the Jewish Community of Ojai, then known as Temple K’hilat Ha’Aloneem (Community of the Oaks), purchased a church that is now our synagogue. It had a large gap in the wall at the front that had been a baptismal font in the area that is the Bimah. Through member Hallie Katz, the Temple contacted Adamm, whom Hallie knew to be a stained glass designer and artist. The idea was to create a stained glass window design to fill the gap at the front of the sanctuary.
Starting with his original design, Adamm, Hallie, and another member conceived of using a California live oak tree for K’hilaat Ha’Aloneem (Community of the Oaks) instead of the sycamore tree. For the Torah section, Adamm wanted a passage that would honor his parents. Rabbi Mark Borovitz, CEO and Senior Rabbi of Beit T’Shuvah, recommended the Torah section from Exodus, Chapter II, the placing of Moses in the bulrushes. The Rabbi suggested this passage as the self-sacrificing expression of parental love.
Adamm created a new design featuring elements of his original diagram along with the more recently developed ideas and created the stained glass window to fit the gap in the wall. He donated the window to the Jewish Community of Ojai in the name of his parents.
Fabricating the Window
All the fabrication was done in Adamm’s studio in Santa Monica. Fabricating the window took about three weeks after the design was drawn. The glass for the window is by Uroboros Glass from Portland, Oregon, a company that finally closed because of environmental regulations. The glass used for the stars came in 8 x 12 pieces, 1” thick. Adamm broke and faceted them so that they break up and scatter the light. He hand painted the Torah section. The glass paint is composed of ground glass and a pigment combined with gum Arabic. It is then fired in a kiln at 1250 degrees Fahrenheit so that it fuses with the base glass. It will never chip or fade. Adamm fit the window to the space on the wall of the Bimah, which is wider than it is high. He then installed the window into this space shortly before Rosh Hashanah.
View from the Sanctuary
The light from the Bimah that illuminates the Tree of Life window is always turned on, as is the Eternal Light above the ark of the Torah scrolls. The placement of the window allows congregants to see the Tree of Life throughout services and from all parts of the Temple.
Adamm’s Interpretation of the Window
An interpretation of the window by Adamm is that it depicts the presence of G-d and the Creation. The open Torah scrolls express the ultimate parental love in the passage from Chapter 2 of Exodus when Moses is laid down in the bulrushes to be found by pharaoh’s daughter. The tree is a stylized California live oak tree.
It seems that the classic battle between the spirit of good and evil was working in an effort to prevent the making of this stained glass window. When Adamm’s focus was blurred by the spirit of evil, he almost forgot to take the freeway entrance to the synagogue, which would have caused him to miss the 12:00 noon meeting. At the last moment, the force of good took over, and he remembered his appointment, which ultimately led to the creation of this very symbolic and beautiful window.
Past, present, and future are always visible to G-d. In speaking to Adamm, I believe that G-d was preparing him to create this window with the prominent California live oak tree for the congregation of K’hilat Ha’Aloneem. Tree of Life is also a symbol for the Torah.
Miracle of G-d Speaking to Adamm
This window was ultimately the direct result of a miraculous event, G-d speaking to Adamm. In Exodus, from The Five Books of Moses (the Torah), G-d spoke to Moses at least 57 times. The significant aspect and source for interpretations of the window is the miracle of G-d speaking to Adamm.