When Stan Averbach and his wife, Bunny, joined Shir Ami back in the mid-1990s, his initial impression was that the synagogue and its grounds were breathtaking in every way.
“It was gorgeous, inside and out, and the grounds were well-groomed — except for this weed patch behind the synagogue,” said Averbach, of Warminster, Pa. “To me, it was like wearing a nice suit but not combing your hair.
“I found myself thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion that it would be a mitzva to fix it up.”
And so, the seeds were planted — quite literally — for what has evolved into the Stan Averbach Biblical Garden, which was formally dedicated during a ceremony held the Sunday before Rosh Hashana at the Reform synagogue in Newtown, Pa. (The garden actually was dedicated in October 2010, but the formal ceremony was held Sept. 25.)
About 100 congregants joined the celebration, along with a large contingent from the congregation’s religious school.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Averbach, who attended despite recent health problems.
During his remarks, Shir Ami’s Rabbi Elliot Strom had a suggestion for the students on hand.
“This beautiful garden is here because of this man,” Strom told them, motioning to Averbach. “He has said that he wants to enjoy the garden himself, but mostly he wants the kids to be able to enjoy it. So go up to Stan and tell him, ‘You did a wonderful thing.’”
In the early years of developing the garden, Averbach worked closely with former congregant Jules Hyman. Their idea was to fill the plot with trees and plants indigenous to the Land of Israel and the Middle East. The garden is home to a variety of trees, including oaks, willows, and poplars and those bearing figs, apples, and apricots.
For more than a decade, Averbach has had assistance in cultivating and maintaining the garden, but for the most part, he said, “It’s been my baby.”
According to Joshua McCoy, Shir Ami publicity chair, Averbach’s efforts were appreciated by congregants long before the recent dedication.
“We feel so fortunate to have the garden on our grounds,” said McCoy, a Yardley, Pa., resident. “It’s such a tranquil setting, a place where people can pray, meditate, reflect, or just relax.”
A sculpture — that forms the Hebrew letters shin and an ayin, for “Shir Ami,” and now bears a plaque formally dedicating the garden in Averbach’s name — stands at the head of the “Pathway of Life.” Interspersed throughout this walkway, which winds through the garden, are bricks and pavers that have been dedicated by congregants and inscribed with their names. The bricks were physically placed along the pathway by members Ilene Moss, John Myers, and Janis Jacobs. Jacobs is the immediate past president of Shir Ami and coordinator of both the “Pathway of Life” and the dedication ceremony.
“This,” Jacobs said, surveying the surroundings just prior to the ceremony, “is our way of thanking Stan for his many years of hard work.”
She pointed to a brick bearing the names of Stan and Bunny Averbach along with a simple, yet powerful message: “They made our garden grow.”