Bernstein's Biblical Grove connects Oregon and Israel
By POLINA OLSEN
article created on: 2009-06-11T00:00:00
The perfect project for a man who loved trees. David A. Bernstein’s Memorial Biblical Grove came straight from the Holy Land and its founder’s soul. Scattered throughout Congregation Neveh Shalom’s inner courtyard and parking lot, the grove connects our Northwest home with Israel, the everyday with the Bible.
“I was a child when he started this,” said Bernstein’s daughter Ellen Notbohm. “He was a forester and he was devoted to his Judaism. Bringing trees from the Holy Land to Portland was a marriage of his two loves.”
David Bernstein (1922-99) grew up in Chicago and studied forestry at Utah State.
“He worked all around the Midwest,” said his wife Henny Bernstein. “When we were married, we lived in a town of 200 in northern Wisconsin. We transferred to Washington, D.C., for four years and then came to the northwest region of the forest service.”
David Bernstein founded the Oregon Jewish Genealogical Society and stayed active in Ahavai Sholom and then Neveh Shalom, even serving as principal of the high school. Every Tu B’Shvat he spoke from the bima; his talks are collected in the book, “I Talk to the Trees.”
“As part of the school Tu B’Shvat celebration, I started a program of planting trees of the Bible on the synagogue grounds,” Bernstein later wrote. “The first problem was identifying the trees.”
Apparently, different Hebrew words signify the same tree; conversely, the same word lumps different trees together.
The next issue? Bringing trees from the Holy Land to Portland. United States regulations prohibit importing trees but permit seedlings or cuttings. Once the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Bernstein’s plan, seedlings arrived from Israel by mail. They were ready to transplant by 1969.
Henny Bernstein pointed out the Biblical trees during a walk around Neveh Shalom’s grounds. Cyprus, Jerusalem Pine, Oak and Cedar of Lebanon grace the parking lot and area around Rabbi Emeritus Joshua Stampfer’s home at the north end of the synagogue parking lot. The more formal inner courtyard includes trees and a bench dedicated to her husband.
One plaque displays a photo of David Bernstein along with his words: “As a forester, I often dreamed of a Biblical forest among the firs of Oregon—a grove of trees right out of the pages of the Bible. We who are planting this Biblical arboretum may not live to see the forest fully grown. But it is an opportunity to do something which can bring joy and inspiration to many generations yet unborn.”
Bernstein’s legacy extends to Jerusalem Pine trees in his daughter’s backyard.
“Some seeds were kept in glass jars in my mother’s refrigerator for 30 years,” Ellen Notbohm said.
After David Bernstein’s 1999 death, Notbohm and her mother remembered and planted the stored seeds. “I soaked them overnight and stuck them in the dirt,” Notbohm said. “I will never forget the feeling of seeing a little sprout poking through the earth. If that isn’t the definition of rebirth; It was like getting a piece of him back.”