Lights for a
solar-powered ner tamid.
“Every synagogue has at least one ner tamid, a symbol of God’s
eternal presence…. Ironically, a significant percentage of the power
needed to maintain this symbol is derived from oil that originates
in the Middle East. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if this symbol
were powered from the sun?” he wrote in CJ magazine.
“As the symbol of God, the ner tamid should be powered by something
practically eternal – the sun,” he told me in an interview. “This is
an opportunity to create a symbol around which the community can
gather for environmental purposes.”
Sixteen congregations have purchased the solar ner tamid kits, which
cost about $1,000, he says.
Temple Etz Chaim
in Thousand Oaks, California was one of the first. With the
replacement of a 50-watt bulb with a brighter but more efficient
LED, the monthly electrical cost for the ner tamid dropped from $6
to “zero or close to zero," according to a FJMC press release.
But much of the
power is in the symbolism, according to
Richard Spiegel of Etz Chaim. But he doesn't underrate that
"The ner tamid does not use a lot of energy compared to the rest of
the many lights in our temple," he says. "But a ner tamid is by its
nature symbolic. It reminds us of a divine presence that is always
with us especially in times of darkness. The ner tamid is the light
of learning or of faith. Today the importance of renewing our
covenant with the earth is especially important and the fact that
our light occupies such a prominent place in our sanctuary is very
The ner tamid may be only the first change Etz Chaim is making. With
sunshine so abundant in Thousand Oaks, the congregation is looking
into roof solar panels to power the entire synagogue campus, Rabbi
It's a hopeful sign, much as the eternal return of the sun is
a hopeful sign. Still, how hopeful should we be? What will the world
be like at
the next Birkat Hachamah, in 2037?
For now, along that
imagined ellipse, as the sun draws close to its beginning,
celebrants will try to get themselves back to the Garden, or maybe even a
couple days before the Garden. Going back improves the chances of
going forward, Rabbi Weiss says.
“It's the chance to go back to the innocence and purity of the Garden of Eden and to
gain strength from it to fix things," he says. "We’ve
broken the world a lot since then.”
2009 by David Holzel