Healing Garden protects Reddings sole synagogue

"They had strong suspicions that we were likely to be the next target," said Jim Mark, the synagogue's vice president. "They said, 'You'd better take some safety measures.'"

In late November congregants, joined by members of other faiths, brought trees, shrubs and flowering plants to create a "Garden of Healing" that provides a place of serenity — and keeps visitors from driving onto the grounds anywhere but through the main gates.

The garden of rosemary, bamboo, coffeeberry, coyote bushes, rock roses and other foliage serves as a tribute to freedom of worship and a bulwark against intolerance, said Judith Fallick, the synagogue's president.

Beth Israel does not have a resident rabbi. East Bay Community Rabbi Zari Weiss drives out to the synagogue twice a month to conduct services.

"We're a fairly small congregation," Mark said.

Before coming up with the plan for a garden, congregants bandied about ideas, nixing such prosaic possibilities as chain-link fencing, according to Fallick.

Mark said, "I was for a wrought iron fence, originally," adding that he is glad the congregation did not go with his option.

Beyond providing a solution that was practical and beautiful, the creation of the garden symbolizes a show of strength that crossed religious boundaries.

"It was terrific," Mark said. "We had between 200 and 300 people bringing trees and flowering plants, and this was the interfaith community."

Limestone rocks weighing 500 pounds — "We had to use heavy equipment" — and placed at 4-foot intervals prevent cars from driving through the garden and up to the building.

"Sometimes we Jews aren't very practical about our own safety," said Mark, who has lived in Redding for 18 years. However, although there are only 200 Jews in the community of 150,000, "I feel comfortable here."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.