Couple brings Judaism alive by enriching home with Judaica

Adele Lieberman is emphatic. She and her husband, Mark, are not collectors.

True, their Menlo Park home has enough Judaica to put most synagogue and Jewish gift shops to shame. But collecting is a state of mind. And the Liebermans don't have it.

"We have a rule," says Lieberman. "We have to use what we have."

And so they do.

Display cases have no doors. Seder plates are easily lifted from their wall mounts. Everything is accessible, touchable, usable. Only one item is enclosed in a glass frame — a large ornate silver yad inlaid with stones and reproduced from the original Polish model. But without a Torah in the house, there isn't much need for a yad.

Even the front door hints at the Jewish home beyond. The door, which the Liebermans designed, is paneled with 10 square windows representing the Ten Commandments. To the right is a colorful, modern Israeli mezuzah.

Mounted vertically on the wall in the foyer are seven poles, each about 5 feet tall and wrapped in multicolored electrical tape, with the center one slightly wider than the others. These Southwestern-style poles came from Santa Fe, N.M., and, although they were not intended to be Jewish art, Adele has fashioned them into a menorah.

"I try to integrate non-Judaic materials Judaically," says Lieberman, the former principal of the Hebrew schools at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City and Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. "You have to make Judaism alive for children and your audience."

This philosophy extends to Liebermans' seder table, around which she scatters ceramic frogs, plastic insects and wooden camels.

The Liebermans' collection (you should pardon the expression) contains Judaica from around the world, and includes an oversized copper Moroccan seder plate hanging at the entry to the kitchen and a mirror-backed Chassidic chanukiah.

The Liebermans' living- and dining-room area is open and light, with two walls of picture windows and skylights above. Judaica is displayed atop bookcases, on shelves, tables and walls, yet the home feels uncluttered, warm and comfortable, reflecting the Liebermans' personalities.

Take the silver tzedakah box that sits in the foyer on built-in triangular shelves filled with interesting items. Lieberman and her husband put money in the box every Shabbat. When the box is full, they donate the money to a Jewish charity. Consistent with the concept of tzedakah, the box is never locked; those who need money are free to help themselves without compromising their dignity.

Many pieces in the house have sentimental value. There's a silver menorah that looks like a train; Lieberman calls it her "choo choo chanukiah." She picks up a silver etrog cup with two lovebirds perched on top. She and her husband bought it for their wedding anniversary.

An unusual silver, bronze and glass yahrzeit candleholder is one of the first pieces the Liebermans purchased, in memory of their parents. "We both lost our parents very early," Lieberman explains.

One of their few antiques — most of the pieces are reproductions — is a silver wedding ring. Lieberman opens the top, showing where the bride's father was supposed to put her dowry of diamonds.

Amoung the art, a Grandma Moses-style painting by Sholom of Safed, purchased in Israel, depicts the 10 plagues.

A Moroccan chanukiah with eight troughs to hold oil and wicks hangs on the wall of their bedroom.

On the wall of the study are four rough-textured metal mezuzot designed by the late Judaica designer Helen Burke, who taught art at Camp Swig.

On a shelf in the living room is a rough, rectangular Spanish tzedakah box with Hebrew on its face. A former Hebrew teacher, Lieberman recognized that the Hebrew was incorrect, which is why she wanted this box.

The Liebermans also have an assortment of haggadot filling much of a bookshelf. Most are in English, but there are also some in French, Spanish, Russian and other languages.

The oversized "Song of David" Haggadah by David Moss is open on a book stand. Filled with intricate cutouts and pictures, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Several pages are bordered with micrography, minute Hebrew writing that wraps around into designs. On the coffee table is a Holocaust Haggadah by Yonah Weinrob and David Wander. Pictures of burning prayer books, suitcases and other images from the Holocaust are offset by depictions of freedom.

A facsimile of the Barcelona Haggadah is displayed on another shelf. This Haggadah, a replica of one in the British Museum, dates back to the 14th century; its colorful illustrations are highlighted in gold. Nearby is a ceramic seder plate painted with images from the Barcelona Haggadah.

Alongside the "Song of David" Haggadah is a statuette of a yeshiva student wearing a yarmulke and studying. This statuette, by the Spanish sculptor Lladro, is one of the few pieces the Liebermans did not buy themselves. Adele inherited it from her mother.

Among many kiddush cups is one of Venetian glass that the Liebermans had made in the Venice ghetto. On it are images of animals symbolizing power, bravery, speed, strength and lightness.

Lieberman — petite, energetic and warm — picks up each piece as she tells where it comes from and a little bit of its history. She cherishes each item, not only for its intrinsic beauty but for the part it plays in the couple's lives.