Here’s something you don’t see too often on a construction project…
We discovered last year that the soil on our property was soft and sandy – definitely not suitable for supporting a large three story building. This necessitated the drilling of caissons: concrete pillars driven deep into the ground that will serve to stabilize the structure. Last week, we drilled the long shafts for our caissons, which needed to go down 55 feet into the earth in order to reach hard clay. The foundation surface will eventually be supported by these massive underground pillars – eighteen in all.
Just before the caisson drilling commenced, our congregation’s president, Alan Saposnik, came up with an inspired idea. Since we are constructing pillars to support our congregation, why not create eighteen symbolic “pillars” of our community – spiritual values that we could somehow connect to the physical caissons? And the fact that we would be drilling eighteen underground pillars was just perfect. Eighteen, after all, is a celebrated Jewish number: equalling “life” according to Hebrew numerology.
I took Alan’s idea to our 4th and 7th grade religious school students. I did my best to explain the concept of caissons to them, then we read a classic Jewish text from Pirke Avot (“The Chapters of the Fathers”): Rabbi Shimon the Righteous said, “the world stands on three things: study, worship and acts of lovingkindness.’ What, I asked our students, would you consider to be the eighteen “pillars” upon which our congregational community stands?
Then together we brainstormed eighteen spiritual values of our JRC community: God, Judaism, Joy, Prayer, Hope, Respect, Partnership, Song, Tikkun Olam, Community, Study, Freedom, Friendship, Spirit, Learning, Peace, Growth, and Love.
Afterwards, I wrote out the values on a separate pieces of paper and each one was placed by the construction crew into a separate caisson shaft to be mixed together with the concrete, becoming a permanent part of JRC’s support structure.
Marc Bonnivier, our construction supervisor, just LOVED the idea. He later mentioned to me his workers were so enthusiastic about it, they each jockeyed for a turn to place a paper slip into the shafts after they were drilled. Needless to say, working with JRC is turning out to be a unexpectedly unique experience for him and his entire crew.
I love the notion that these unseen but powerful pillars for our building will be a permanent support structure to our community in more ways than one.