Ralph Kaplan Mosaic: A Celebration of Life

For those who were unable to join us at the dedication of the community-wide mosaic, I am sharing my remarks in this issue of Ha’Ikar.

Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and NY Times journalist, wrote:  “Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live…” (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, 2000)

The first line merits repeating: Life is made up of moments, small pieces, of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. Of course, Anna Quindlen wrote this metaphorically, but as we stand here today to dedicate our breathtaking community-created mosaic, we are both pausing to celebrate the life and legacy of Ralph Kaplan, zichrono l’vracha, as well as taking the time to admire the collective beauty of small individual polished tiles that have come together to form an incredible and inspiring image.

As Quindlen says, we lead busy lives and we are consumed with answering one more email, sending one more text, or making one more call. We don’t realize that we spend our days looking down like this – we miss the beauty around us, whether it is the colors of the sky or the song of a bird. But on Friday, as I stood inside that doorway, I saw one of our faculty members approaching the building like this – . And as she followed the path along the railing, she continued to gaze upwards, and she even paused before entering. Once inside the building, I said, “I watched you come into the building and I loved what I saw.” She said, I just couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It’s so beautiful.”

As a kindergartner left school Friday afternoon, she looked up and said to her mom, “That’s my mosaic, I worked on the waves.” She will remember her small part when she graduates, and she will remember it when she comes back ten and twenty years from now. Cohen Hillel will continue to be the thriving Jewish day school that Ralph loved and supported.

Our mosaic brings to life in sparkling and vibrant color Ralph’s passions: family, Israel, education, and the North Shore Jewish community. Last summer, when Ralph’s immediate family came together to brainstorm with Josh Winer, the artist/mosaicist who is here with us today, we talked about Ralph’s life, the people he held near and dear to his heart, and the values that guided his decision making and his work ethic.

The mosaic’s theme is l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation as we see Ralph and Harriet and subsequent generations of families and teachers giving and receiving blessings as we traditionally do on Friday nights and at other special occasions such as bnai mitzvah and weddings. As many of you know, every Friday at our school Kabbalat Shabbat, all students receive a traditional blessing for health, happiness, and protection from a parent/grandparent or teacher. In the mosaic, our students are at the center – pictured – working, exploring and learning with and from each other. There are two waves, warmly lapping at the edge, to pay homage to the North Shore where future generations of Jewish children will grow up and hopefully attend Cohen Hillel. The outer border represents the rhythm and flow of the Jewish year and each of the 16 sections represent different seasonal Jewish holidays with specific emphasis on Israel. We see Rosh HaShana at the top in the fall with Yom Kippur and Sukkot – moving clockwise you will find Chanukah and Tu B’shevat observed during winter. In the spring, you see the Pesach seder plate, Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s memorial day) and along side the flower of remembrance are joyful Israeli folk dancers in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s independence day). Lastly, you see summer holidays such as Tisha B’av when we lament the destruction of both the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, along with a lesser-known Talmudic holiday, Tu b’Av, a celebration of love, which has gained popularity in Israel today.

It’s fitting that the last section is one about love because so much of it went into this project. I had the privilege of working on a section one afternoon when there were close to fifteen members of the Kaplan family all laying tile together. The love and respect for one another was palpable. On a different day, I was at school late one evening as an alumni couple came to work on the mosaic with several of their friends. The love between them and for this school was evident as they reminisced through the hallways. Our students, faculty, and parents, grandparents, board members, and trustees experienced the power and pull of working on the mosaic. Each person can look up and see how their individual tiles came together and coalesced into this magnificent piece of art. On behalf of the entire Cohen Hillel family, we want thank the Kaplans, Mishkins, Moores, and Selbys for saying yes to this idea, to this process, and to today – this moment – this small glittering piece of mica in a long stretch of gray cement. The Cohen Hillel family and community will love and appreciate this moment and its permanent legacy for many, many years to come.