‘Every tree pleasing to the sight’
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‘Every tree pleasing to the sight’

A 'biblical garden' grows in Teaneck in memory of a lover of beauty

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Cedars stand in front of ancient-looking stone. photos by Andre Limone

Really, it all depends on how you look at things.

Until fairly recently, you might have glanced at Congregation Beth Aaron in Teaneck and seen only a fairly small patch of lawn. One corner would have seemed to be nicely planted, but the rest was ordinary suburban scrub. Not many possibilities there, a reasonable person would have assumed.

But people with vision see things. (By definition!)

Bonnie Eizikovitz, who is a member of the Orthodox shul, and her friend Shelly Leffel both had an eye for beauty. They both would look out for ways to make the building that housed their community look better. When Leffel died suddenly about five years ago, “I thought it would be most fitting to upgrade the landscaping and dedicate it to him,” she said. “It would continue his legacy of the beautification of Beth Aaron.”

With the enthusiastic approval of his widow, Aviva, and their three children, Eizikovitz spearheaded a committee that raised the money for the garden. The shul’s building renovation held up the project for a few years – that original nicely planted corner was completed before the renovation began – and it is now almost done. Only the sod remains to be put in place.

So far, so good. A nice story about remembering a friend by bringing more beauty to the world. But by itself – where’s the story?

Enter Andre Limone.

Limone’s Italian-born grandparents moved to Teaneck, where they farmed 85 acres and opened a fruit stand; he grew up here and lives here now, as does his son. He is deeply involved in the community; among many other commitments, until recently he sponsored a Little League team, and he served as its coach when his son played on it. Both his children graduated from Teaneck High School. His family’s fruit stand grew into Limone’s Farm, a fruit stand, nursery, and catering business that closed last year. But the other part of the business, the landscape and design part, the part that owns his heart, continues to flourish.

Limone is a serious Christian; born Roman Catholic, he now worships at the Calvary Chapel in Passaic, a church that takes Bible study seriously. He knows the Tanach. He stood on the lawn at Beth Aaron, “and I felt inspiration,” he said. “It was one of the most beautiful times I ever had designing anything. It felt very special, working on God’s house.

“I felt honored that people were trusting me with working on God’s house.”

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Five small rocks represent David’s ammunition in the Elah Valley.

He read, he studied, he looked at photographs, and then he set up the garden at Beth Aaron to reflect biblical passages. The rocks, the plants, and the shapes of the beds and the paths evoke the stories and the terrain of Israel.

To the right of the building, two graceful trees stand sentinel. They are cedars, like the cedars of Lebanon that provided wood for Solomon’s Temple, Limone said. They are sinuous; their branches wrap gracefully rather than pointing straight out or down, and their leaves weep. They look simultaneously “sad and solid,” he said; they remind him of Jewish history, often tragic but unstoppable. In front of them is a Japanese maple; it is an unusual green variety, because he wanted it to blend in with the rest of the garden. Aesthetics do not take a backseat to storytelling in this garden. They enhance it.

In another part of the garden, the wonderfully named winged euonymous stands in for the burning bush (and it is often called by that name), because in the fall this summer-green shrub “gets red, red, red, red, red,” Limone said.

The Jordan River is represented by a winding path between river rocks – the rocks came not from the Jordan, but from Pennsylvania, but they have been worn by water. There are larger rocks there, too, 12 of them, each a slightly different color and shape, but all clearly similar. They represent the 12 tribes who crossed the river. “When Joshua crossed the Jordan, God told him to take out 12 rocks, to remember that God got them across the river, not man,” Limone said. Near them is a perennial palm, one of the few kinds of palm that can flourish here despite our northeastern winters.

Looking at the challenge presented by the sliver of land separating the main walkway from the more accessible one, Limone took inspiration from the Elah Valley, “where David slew Goliath.” It is a small space, so it is a miniature, but it is designed with groups of five small stones. They represent the five stones David took for his slingshot, although he needed only one.

“The highest point of the landscape is the entryway, right by the doors,” Limone said. “We have skyrocket junipers pointing to heaven there. I call it Mount Moriah,” after the place where God called on Abraham to bring Isaac as a sacrifice.

To its left is the section that had been planted before the building renovation. It is green and shaded, protected from the sun. It is a peaceful place, “a place to heal,” Limone said. He calls it the City of Refuge.

The garden is full of color at this time of year; among its flowers are two roses of sharon. It is shaped in an arc, opening out toward the street. “It’s a hug. It’s God’s embrace, reaching out,” Limone said.

“I didn’t force it,” he added. You can’t force such things. “When the craftsmen were building the first temple, they said the spirit of God came upon them, and they were able to do amazing things, things they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.

“I think I felt some divine inspiration, or at least energy.

“And it was absolutely fun. It was an honor, and it was fun.”

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