Artist finds roots of hope in storm-felled trees

Artist finds roots of hope in storm-felled trees

Even in destruction you can find hope, according to artist and educator Rabbi Yitzchok Moully.

Inspired by the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy, Moully, the youth director at the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge, is shaping a new art installation. He is planning to have the first step ready just in time for Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, on Sunday, Jan. 27, and he is inviting the community to come interact with the work.

His installation is titled “Nature vs. Nature.” He has been working with a local eco-friendly landscape design firm on the logistics of moving a large tree uprooted by the storm to Back to Nature Home and Garden, a store across the road from the center.

From noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, visitors of all ages will be encouraged to write a meditation, or a prayer, or a wish for a new beginning and hang it on the roots of the tree, “exploring,” Moully said, “the possibility of rebirth, even out of the destruction of Sandy.”

Traditionally, Tu B’Shevat — the 15th day of the month of Shevat — is the date used to calculate agricultural tithes in ancient Israel. Rabbi Mendy Herson, the religious leader of the Basking Ridge center, describes the minor holiday as marking “the beginning of the new growth of trees and vegetation following the winter hibernation in Israel, as well as a time for personal growth.”

Like many area residents, in the aftermath of the massive storm Moully was struck by the sight of the gigantic trees it toppled, downing power lines and closing roads. The rabbi, a painter and sculptor who has exhibited widely in New York and New Jersey as well as in his native Australia, was mesmerized. He said, “As weeks moved into months, driving my children daily to school in Morristown, I continued to look at the fallen trees, hoping that some industrious craftsman or carpenter was creating something beautiful from the destitution.”

Then the idea hit him to create a site-specific art installation with 10 or more fallen trees from the area. His plan is “to take the huge trees with their exposed roots and turn them on their heads, making the roots face the sky, standing almost as tall as the original tree stood.” Through that image, he said, he is asking: “With nature — Sandy — creating such havoc in our lives, where is the opportunity for our rebirth and regrowth?”

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