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Meaning Behind the Etz Chayim Logo

The Etz Chayim logo represents  the name of the congregation -- a “tree of life”, a metaphor for the Torah. The Hebrew under the tree says "Congregation Etz Chayim." The Etz Chayim logo was adopted without regard to a species of tree. It was important to the founders that it have roots because the education program for young people was called Shorashim which means "roots". Judy Eichler, a graphic designer and an early member of Etz Chayim, created the logo. 

In the Jewish tradition, you can create your own commentary about the logo and how it applies to Congregation Etz Chayim. Here are two interpretations.

The Lone Cypress
Roger Margulies, a congregrant and website designer, selected the website picture of the iconic "Lone Cypress" in Monterey for the current website image because a cypress tree has always reminded him of our logo and our congregation: proud, compelling, and tenacious against the relentless coastal environment. The Monterey Cypress grows naturally only in Pebble Beach and Point Lobos. The natural habitat is noted for its cool, moist summers, almost constantly bathed by sea fog. 

Standing on a granite hillside off California's scenic 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress is a western icon, and has been called one of the most photographed trees in North America. The tree is located between Cypress Point Golf Course and the Pebble Beach Golf Links, two of world's best-known golf courses. Possibly as old as 250 years, the cypress has been scarred by fire and has been held in place with cables for 65 years.

Cypress trees are among the oldest types of tree in the world, dating back over 150 million years to the late Jurassic period. They include the tallest and largest trees in the world, the coast redwood and the giant sequoia, respectively. They are long-living trees and are able to endure harsh climates, poor soil, flood waters and otherwise poor growing conditions.  

Story of the Oven of Aknai
At the 2013 Annual Meeting, Abra Greenspan, directory of learning gave a dr'ash about the logo. The image speaks deeply to the values of Etz Chayim and to ideas about Jewish education and living Jewishly. Unlike the Tall Tree of Palo Alto which stands tall and in a straight line from earth to sky, the Etz Chayim tree leans slightly and its branches reach out to protect all that is below it.  It is like a Sukkat Shalom, a sukkah of peace, an image of embracing and sheltering. Underneath the branches of Etz Chayim, all of our children and families should feel safe to explore Judaism and their place within it.

When Abra looked at the base of the tree, she was struck by how animated and alive it appears. This is a tree that moves!  And not just when the wind stirs the leaves in its branches. 

The Talmud contains one of Abra's favorite stories about a tree that moves.  It is a foundational story that explains the project we Jews have been engaged in for over 2000 years—what does it mean to live a Jewish life? You can click here for the complete story of the oven of Aknai and what is pure and not pure.  

In the story, a new type of oven is brought before the Sanhedrin and the rabbis debate whether or not this oven is susceptible to ritual impurity. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus argues that the oven is ritually pure while the other rabbis, including the nasi Rabban Gamaliel, argue that the oven is impure. When none of Rabbi Eliezer's arguments convince his colleagues, he cries out, "If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, this carob tree will prove it." At this point, the carob tree leaps from the ground and moves far away. The other rabbis explain that a carob tree offers no proof in a debate over law.  

When none of Rabbi Eliezer's arguments convince his colleagues, he cries out,  Rabbi Eliezer cries out, "If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the stream will prove it." The stream begins to flow backwards, but again the other rabbis point out that one does not cite a stream as proof in matters of law.

Rabbi Eliezer cries out, "If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it." The walls of the study hall begin to fall, but are then scolded by Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah who reprimands the walls for interfering in a debate among scholars. Out of respect for Rabbi Joshua, they do not continue to fall, but out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer, they do not return to their original places.

In frustration, Rabbi Eliezer finally cries out, "If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it." From Heaven a voice is heard, saying, "Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?" Rabbi Joshua responds, "It [the Torah] is not in heaven" (Deuteronomy 30:12). He responds in this way because the Torah, which was given by God to mankind at Sinai, specifically instructs those who follow it that they are to look to the received Torah as their source and guide.

The Torah says, "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe" (Deuteronomy 30:12-14) 

R. Natan met Elijah and asked, What did The Holy One think?  The Holy One laughed and said, “My children have defeated me!

This is the moral of the story and something that you can remember when you look at the logo:  The answers do not come from heaven.  We must engage in the hard work of studying and learning and interpreting and examining the vast and rich legacy of our texts and traditions in order to identify and determine how we live Jewishly.

Indeed, this is what we we do at Etz Chayim!