NEWS-Davis Lapidus teaching

Rabbi Micah Lapidus leads a bit of text study during the dedication in the central classroom space, which can seat about 80 students in five rows. – All Photos by Michael Jacobs

By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

A new outdoor classroom at the Davis Academy will serve as a sanctuary in multiple ways, Rabbi Micah Lapidus said during the dedication of the space at the Davis Lower School on Monday, April 27.

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A beech tree is at the center of the sanctuary treehouse, which sits near the bottom of the hillside space.

With plants selected to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, the space is a wildlife sanctuary. Set at the back end of the Davis property, as far from Roberts Drive as possible, the site is also a sanctuary for students and adults from the sounds and pressures of modern life (although, as the 30 people at the dedication learned, the chirping birds can be drowned out by a passing helicopter).

And with five rows of stone seating facing a circular stage that can be a bimah, an everyday center of natural science can transform into a religious sanctuary for study of text or Shabbat prayer.

Rabbi Lapidus said the dedication crowd showed that the space already is a Jewish sanctuary “because no one is sitting in the front row.”

Head of School Amy Shafron said the transformation of the formerly overgrown ground behind the parking lot and athletic field from “a beautiful outdoor mess” into “a beautiful space” is an example of what Davis does best: bring the school community together to turn “almost nothing into something that is pretty incredible.”

The creativity behind that transformation came from landscape designer Karen Faulkner of the Inspired Garden and metal artist Corrina Sephora.

Faulkner had to deal with a steep slope that was a bit of a mystery until the overgrowth was cleared. She combined inspirations from Israel — a dry river bed for the Jordan River, overlooks to re-create the high ground above the valleys where battles such as David vs. Goliath were fought, Hezekiah’s water tunnel in Jerusalem — with the feel of being in the trees, including birdhouses for birds and humans, hidden lights in the branches, a wooden treehouse built around a beech tree that one day will dominate the sanctuary, and a braided-rope design atop the metal railing Sephora created around the stage.

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Karen Faulkner (left), who designed the Davis sanctuary space, and Corrina Sephora, who created the iron railing around the central platform and the flower-inspired fencing, are recognized during the dedication ceremony April 27.

Sephora said that railing, which features stylized flowers and plants, and the green fence at the front of the sanctuary, meant to evoke flower stems, are examples of the whimsy she and Faulkner brought to the project. It’s a change in tone from another day school project she did about seven years ago: a Holocaust memorial at Greenfield Hebrew Academy.

Five paths wind through the sanctuary, each representing one of the school’s five menschlikeit values: wisdom, respect, community, spirit and righteousness.

The project is not complete. The front gate and vines to wind around the metal tunnel are among the missing elements, and nature itself will keep the sanctuary changing. Faulkner, who involved students in painting the birdhouses, hopes they help the sanctuary evolve through such contributions as planting bulbs.

Although Faulkner would have liked a water feature, she bubbled with enthusiasm about the joy of designing for kids. “It was a lot of fun.”

Photos: David Academy Outdoor Sanctuary