A striking new “parochet” (Torah ark curtain), designed by local artist Gail Ungar and painstakingly appliquéd by nonagenarian Sunny Pickering, has become a focal point of the sanctuary at Shaare Torah Congregation.
The parochet, commissioned by Shaare Torah members Susan and Eric Safyan in memory of Susan’s father, Rabbi David Lieber, depicts the burning bush in colored silk. It took Pickering more than 18 months to finish the project.
Lieber, who died in 2008, served for 29 years as president of the University of Judaism, which was renamed American Jewish University in 2007.
Ungar is an art teacher for kindergarten through sixth grade in the South Allegheny School District and works as a freelance illustrator.
A member of Congregation Poale Zedeck, Ungar was contacted by the Safyans to work with them on a design for the parochet, tying in the colors of the stained glass windows of Shaare Torah’s sanctuary.
“They told me what they wanted, and I was able to translate it,” Ungar said. “It was a great opportunity. It was so nice to be able to do something that the community I live in will get to enjoy.”
Pickering, a local fabric artist who is not Jewish, said this was her first project for a synagogue.
“It took me a long time,” she said of her creation of the parochet. “The people at the synagogue were very patient. I have to give them a lot of credit for that.”
On a valance above the depiction of the burning bush, Pickering and her daughter, Lorraine Bansavage, embroidered and appliquéd Hebrew letters, spelling out the verse from the second half of Micah, 6:8. The translation:
“Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your God.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)