Eytz Chayim: An Introduction to our Torah Table Tapestry

by Marcy Epstein

Torah Table Tapestry, photo by Nancy Meadow

It almost feels like an age ago when our congregation was a havurah, a thing of steady roots and fresh growth in every direction. Trees are a primary metaphor for us, one that is so powerful–from the Ten Sephirot, to the Cedars of Lebanon, back to the Tree of Knowledge and the mishnaic tree from under which the earth for Adam and Eve was formed. Since we are a branch of Reconstructionist Judaism and a species of Jewish life here in Ann Arbor, the secondary metaphors for us of growth and maturity, stability and change, tradition and the necessity for new ground, all make perfect sense.

Our bodies take the form of trees, while our Torah is spoken of as scroll (the spiral extrusion of a tree’s rings, as exegesis) and as a Tree of Life,  and Eytz Chayim. Trees grow among each other, as we have. Some of us are wiser for the proximity, others have felt the bittersweet tension of sharing the sun. Some of us are saplings, and we live within this tree as to create trees of life of our own, through our children, our work for justice, or our creativity. And while we relate to trees, we are also not trees. We are the recipients of trees. We breath off them, eat of them, draw sap, even wipe our bottoms and create some of our most holy texts from them. They seem within human domain, but they far exceed it. Thus Eytz Chayim.

A close up of the wall hanging we use as a backdrop on special events.

Over the 14 years that I have been active with the AARC, I have noticed the obvious, intentional expression of our community through wood. Wood is an expression of our living Torah, however we came to define that. During the gelilah (dressing the Torah), I noticed the swirls of tree and flame on our homemade Torah cover, made by several bat mitzvah and their families. Our Torah ark, so elegantly built by Alan Haber, was made from our city’s trees, no metal, as though to say that our Torah is among its own kind, among trees. I saw at high holidays the beauteous  backdrop, a wall hanging of leaves and boughs made by a Canadian artist and bestowed to us by another group of families with quickly-growing children. With Allison Stupka, I edited our Grapevine newsletter, which displayed our insignia of arching vine and laurel. Our Ann Arbor congregation has more than its fair share of artists, tzaddikim, and tree huggers. And trees.

Our traveling Torah is dressed and ready to roll.

Six years ago, in a conversation between Debbie Zivan and me on my front porch, we momentarily saw the cycle of growth in our community. It was as though we could sense the rings of growth brought to the Hav. Our community was on a long and arduous path, a liturgical and rabbinical journey, its life-cycle in motion with the Mitzvah Corp, our Beit Sefer, and our holidays together. We brought to the Board our feelings that while we may not own a building, though we are happily mishkanic (spiritually portable), we still needed more beautiful artistry. Our Reconstructionist community deserves the sort of beauty and artistry that went into the first tabernacle, the one priests carried long ago to contain the Torah, from which other rings of growth emanated: the Kohanim as caregivers and priests, the sanctuary and bima that came after, the gates of new cities, Holy Temples that were built, destroyed, and recreated throughout the Jewish world.  Or, at least, that was the lofty thinking that ran through my head and now tampers with my memory of the beginning of our tapestry. More to the point, we wanted a handsome, adjustable table for Shabbat, simchot, and holidays, and we saw this table paired with a beautiful tapestry created in the tradition of the mishkan.

The mishkan of Exodus was wood long before it received the parchment scrolls (also wood, also itself), a wonderful idea of living humbly and reflectively.  Jacob and his sons planted acacia trees in Egypt with plans to bear the wood as it seasoned, specifically as construction material for the ark. And as Exodus says, the artistic scion Bezalel and the humble, careful Ohaliab coordinated among diverse tribes and artisans; woodcarvers, metalworkers, weavers and sewers, enamelists, and craftspeople donated their best work so that the mishkan would fit the Biblical prescription. We became numerous like this, almost mystically as fast: Alan gave continuity to a Torah table, and Jack Edelstein committed some of his finest walnut and cherry (Ann Arbor) wood. Dale Sass, Debbie, and others joined them in designing the function of our fine table, slipping more tree matter (our congregants’ prayers) into its joints and grooves.

Meanwhile, a group of us also came together to create the tapestry to hang in front of the table, also metal workers and weavers, quilters and knitters, beaders and embroiderers, found object artists: Nancy Meadow, Idelle Hammond-Sass, Chava Israel, Janet Greenhut, Leora Druckman, Allison Stupka, and myself.  Friends from our artist circles joined us, too, to help boost production and morale: Elena DeLoof, Rabbi Michal, Michal Samuel, and Claudia Kraus-Piper.

We were very different people with various mediums, personalities, styles, skills, and rhythm through which to see a tapestry for the Torah table, so we took much longer than we ever expected to complete the tapestry. This could have been the Tower of Babel story rather than Eytz Chayim or Exodus. For four years, our group grew and regrouped, and our tapestry moved from dining table to studio to dining table, over 100 Sundays. Not by design, we were all women, and we came to the project for so many reasons: for mysticism and sacred creation; for a reconstruction of avodah and mitzvah; for grief over our dead mothers and their ways of mending, connecting, and creating; for the companionship of grown ups and for sharing our techniques with children; for communal art; for the Torah and its new table; for the b’nai mitzah we imagined reading from the bima; and for posterity. We were making something we hoped would last for centuries.  Our Torah itself comes from Chicago and a long way before. While we worked away at the Torah Table Tapestry, our first rabbi was hired, the Torah was purchased from its long lease, its longevity assured by careful repair. We wanted the same for its cloth.

The tapestry itself is layered with this history and a hope for our congregation’s long and happy life. When I describe how the Tapestry formed and what it means, it may sound contrived, like a thank-you list.  But I assure you that it was the opposite: we avoided contrivance. We never said no to daring ideas and nudged each other out of our comfort zones. It took a month or two just to get our ideas out on paper. We imagined a few things before we saw the tree, a whole tree. Idelle and Chava were entrusted to draw and assemble the design of this tree based on so many parameters and wishes that it was a miracle that we could exhibit it for community feedback at Rosh Hashanah four years ago.

It also feels like a miracle that we were able to recreate Idelle and Chava’s vision. We decided on a great tree that would be seen all at once, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and cherry fruit, laid out in a large circle that contained four seasons, four states of the tree above and at ground. This would be a Michigan cherry tree in the endless cycle of its splendor (right now, my backyard cherry tree is heavy with ripening, imperfect spheres). Our easiest challenge was accepting our mistakes and allowing the layers of the design to form both from design and from intuition. Our hardest challenge was to find love rather than criticism for our work or the work  of others, and then also the long tasks of presentation and colorization.

Torah Table Tapestry, in progress, about two years from finished.

One thing that was so important to us as Reconstructionist artists was that the material be largely donated, that it would come from our community. One of our group donated yards of her finest blue raw silk for the base of the picture, and another donated heavy red damask for the exterior and back. AARC’s community responded to our call for meaningful materials with more richness than we could ever have expected. Here are just some samples of the cloth that became our tree: someone’s wedding gown and dress shirt, someone’s birth shirt, someone’s bounty of silk ties, someone’s skirts from her days of Orthodoxy; a hippie shirt; a slip and someone’s cape; someone’s elderly mother’s dress, someone’s young son’s pajamas, someone’s entire sample box. We also received with awe the materials of two AARC members who have passed away, Lisa Gayle’s Guatemalan scarf and Nancy Denenberg’s colorful shawl (these line the sheath for the tapestry). There were dozens of stories behind these cloths, and our group found ways to include every single one, even the fuzzy pajamas.

From these we established the first layers of the tapestry, a range of blue and gray silks from darker to lighter to represent day and night, all sorts of weather. We sorted a mountain of cloth into seasons. We learned and unlearned as we went. We disciplined ourselves to learn each other’s crafts. Chava shared her techniques for application and beading for the sparkle of snow and flowers, for the cherries. Janet taught us to embroider leaves as they grew and fell, snow, the difficult horizon and mountains. Over the years, we needed to redesign and reflect, with Idelle sharing how things could be seen. Nancy and I often experimented with stitching and blending the outer layers, meeting nearly every Sunday. Leora reminded us of the wonderful kavanah going into the tapestry, as months suddenly past between viewings, like her own found objects.

Layers went on, layers came off. The horizon shifted. Leaves changed color, the ground (like humanity to the divine) mirroring the time and decor of the tree’s canopy. The tapestry seemed to become beautiful right before our eyes, and then there were times when the work seemed endless, fruitless. We took pictures of cherry trees and talked about how they are unique among trees. We sneaked in a squirrel, a pair of birds, a bit of spilt wine, and dandelions. We learned to stop questioning ourselves and just give this freely. Our children went to school, went away, came back from college, and parents and siblings passed away. We changed jobs, fell very ill, cared for our sick, came on and off the Board, lived through Art Fair, watched Torah being read for the first time on its new table, wondered and plugged away. We met under my Sukkah two years ago just to figure out the tapestry’s endgame. The tapestry had required so much of our energies, and we were so grateful for Claudia’s infusion of skill and verve in our last months. Julia Piper spent over two hours untangling our floss. Mollie Meadow pored over the tree for missing stitches. Cherries joined the seven species to embellish all four corners. We hired a local tailor to put on the tapestry’s backing, make the bag of memorial cloths.

All this time, Chava beaded the lettering in Hebrew calligraphy in the silvery ornateness recalled by the original mishkan. I think this was a labor of love, perfection, and responsibility for her, reminiscent of Bazalel and Ohaliab. The saying that goes around our Torah tapestry (for we dedicated it to our congregational use last Rosh Hashanah) means in English, referring to the living Torah, from the Mishna 7b (3:18): “It is a tree of life for those who take hold of it, and those who support it are fortunate.” We attached each word separately, creating the arc above and below the tree. There is another truth from Mishna on the Tree of Life which I felt true over the more than four years we worked the tapestry. We had finished just in time for Rose Basch’s bat mitzvah, and we marked our first year as the AARC. The teaching is this: ‘For length of days, years of life, and peace will they [the Torah’s teachings] increase for you’ (3:2).”

Yad by Idelle Hammond-Sass, with wood box by Dale Sass.

The Torah Table Tapestry and AARC’s artistic tradition continues to grow. Our group is resting for the year (after Shmita), but soon we hope to share the tapestry and the story of its creation with other congregations, perhaps even to have it displayed among other Judaica and fiber art shows. For our repaired Torah, Idelle and Dale have created a beautiful yad of wood and metal to mark our place as we chant. Idelle is also starting on a beautiful piece of wrought metal to turn into our eternal light. And just as the artists of the Temple turned from the Tabernacle to the next growth, we are thinking about what needs to be made next. Likely it comes from the earth, maybe from the increase of trees, and their beauty. Even if you haven’t made anything before, join us. It takes everyone to see the Mishkan on its path, and Eytz Chayim is for us all.

How we are still a havurah.

by Margo Schlanger
Margo Schlanger

Margo Schlanger

As co-chair, this was my congregational welcome on Yom Kippur this year:

L’shanah tovah. I am Margo Schlanger; I am nearing the end of my time as board co-chair for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, which has been a very great privilege. It’s also my privilege to welcome both members and friends to this service, whether you’ve been a part of our community for its full 23 year history, or are new to us today, or something in between.

This is a community that is very dear to me, and I want to tell a little story that captures a small part of why. It’s about our ner tamid, our eternal light. You may notice – we don’t have one. That’s because we don’t have a stationary ark. Our ark travels; it lives in our closet at the JCC, and comes out for our Torah services. So how could we have a ner tamid? Well, it turns out that ours is far from the first travelling ark. And so, many learned rabbis have debated the question: how do you fit a ner tamid to a travelling ark. They’ve come up with the sensible answer that the ner tamid needs to be out, and lit, with the ark – but it need not be out or lit when the ark itself is put away.

So for our ner tamid, we realized we need something that can be out, and lit, for something between an hour or two at minimum, but about a day, at maximum.

AARC started as a havurah – a lay-led fellowship. Volunteer solutions are in our DNA. On this one, it turns out we have a great amateur electronics maven, Dave Nelson. So Dave figured out a way to run a battery-chargable LED light for a day at a time. This took considerable experimentation and adjustments to the electronics, but Dave finished that a few weeks ago. And now comes the fun part: we can, as a community, create a sacred object. Like our Ark, Torah Table, Tapestries, Yad, Torah Cover. All are created by members, inspired by their aspirations for what our community means. The ner tamid will be the next such object, and like the others, will symbolize our Jewish community as well as the objects it depicts. Many people will have a hand in making it. Some will pay for precious materials; some will do work; some will kibbitz about design. We’ll all together enjoy the result.

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our Ner Tamid

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our ner tamid

Another synagogue's portable ner tamid.

Another synagogue’s portable ner tamid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as you must have expected, here’s the point; the ner tamid is real. But it’s also a small metaphor for our community as a whole. We need many people to have a hand in making it, and we need everyone to bring both their talents and their resources to bear. This is a transitional year for us, as we hopefully bring our rabbi search to a close. If you’re a member, and have already renewed your membership, thank you. If you’re a member and haven’t done that yet, thanks for doing it very soon. Either way, please think about how you can help enable our community to flourish, so it can give you and others what it is they need. And if you’re not a member, please consider yourself welcome to all our events, and please consider joining us more officially. It’s easy, and we’re very nice people. Or, if you prefer, consider supporting these ticketless open services. There are donation envelopes at the welcome table out front. Please support this community—your community—as generously as you can.

L’shanah tovah!

 

The Curious Case of the Too-Tall Traveling Torah

by David Erik Nelson
Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Here at the AARC we are blessed with a very weird Torah that gets a tremendous amount of love.

Most Torahs rarely travel more than a dozen feet at a time, from ark to torah table. Ours gets hauled through the JCC, chauffeured to b’nei mitzvah venues, and schlepped across town to the Unitarian Universalist building for High Holidays. It is a remarkably well-loved—and notably well-traveled—oddball of a scroll. It is also old, a little delicate, and very unwieldy. Our traveling Torah badly needed a traveling case—something with wheels and handles, easy to maneuver, and able to protect our scroll from a sidewalk stumble, fender bender, or sudden downpour.

Anyone who’s been called to the AARC bimah (such as it is) has no doubt noted our scroll’s large Kabbalistic script (embellished with many little hooks, hats, and curly tails)—a relative rarity among “high use” Torahs like ours.  This calligraphy is a hallmark of Torahs crafted in the last great center of Kabbalistic learning, in Prague.  You may have noted our Torah’s age—the scroll is almost certainly several hundred years old.  If you’ve ever done hagba, you have first-hand experience of how unwieldy it can be to handle. But few folks point out how extremely tall the thing is.

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Most Torahs are about two feet tall, in accordance with suggestions made by Moses Maimonides back in the 12th Century, and might weigh around 30 pounds. Ours—in accordance with the fashion of the Kabbalists of Prague—is almost four feet tall. I have no clue what it weighs, but I know it is a bear to haul up over your head.

As Amazon shoppers, you no doubt imagine that there is a robust, highly competitive global market for Torah travel cases. Thus you will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that there is a very limited selection of torah-specific travel cases for 47-inch tall Torahs.

In fact, that selection is limited to zero.

"The Vault" Hardside Golf Travel Bag

“The Vault” Hardside Golf Travel Bag

For that matter, there is a very limited market for travel cases for anything that’s four feet tall, a foot wide, and just shy of eight inches deep. No instrument case is long enough and wide enough, no gun case is deep enough, even cases for synthesizers and keyboards either fall short or are far too large—and either way, they are extremely expensive and heavy.

Fortunately, golfers love to travel. Two companies make bare-bones, hard-sided, lockable, wheeled, extra-large cases to protect those precious clubs. Our ancient, mystic Torah fits perfectly in one of these cases. Appropriately enough, this product is named “The Vault.”

And we now own it.

With the addition of a padded, custom-crafted foot-hold, The Vault holds our well-loved Torah snug as a bug in a rug. When not in use, the case tucks perfectly into the back corner of the official “office” (storage closet) of Ann Arbor’s only Reconstructionist congregation.

Now our Torah can wander in style.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Torah Tikkun

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin sewing the AARC torah, March 29, 2016. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

According to Rabbi Moshe Druin, of “Sofer on Site,” our Torah is between 200 and 250 years old; it has many distinctive letters that associate its scribe with the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. It will be challenging and fun to look for corroboration of this interesting information. Rabbi Druin speculated that this Torah came to the U.S. from Europe before WWII. Dave Nelson, who was there when Rabbi Druin opened the Torah, was particularly impressed with the age of the scroll, and with the fact that, if properly cared for, how the torah can be used indefinitely, connecting us with Jews past and future.

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin unfurls the whole torah to begin work. Photo by Dave Nelson

Rabbi Druin points to another distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive embellishment to the letter pey in the AARC torah.

In addition to the special lettering associated with Czechoslovakia of a period 200 or so years ago, Rabbi Druin said that the varying sizes of the 52 pieces of parchment and their unusual height of almost 4 feet were also an indication of the age of the torah. More on this topic in an upcoming blog post.

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Several people were able to observe and talk with Rabbi Druin as he worked. Jack Edelstein, who arranged for Rabbi Druin to do the repair, was interested to find that our Torah is much lighter than most of its size because the parchment is not coated with a certain material that torahs are typically coated with, and that the poles that the scroll is attached to are not the original ones; they are a few inches shorter than they should be, which is partially what accounts for the crinkliness of the top and especially bottom of the scroll. Evelyn Neuhaus and Mike Ehmann, Clare Kinberg, Dave Nelson, Danny Steinmetz, and Stephanie Rowden also watched as Rabbi Druin worked.  Evelyn says she felt a closer connection to the Torah after learning so much about it and having so many of its details pointed out.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah.

Evelyn looks on as Rabbi Druin repairs the torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Now that Rabbi Druin mended and stitched all the parchments that needed it, we should be able to enjoy Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation after it’s read–without stress!

Come see a sofer at work, fixing our Torah

AARC’s Torah is old and much-loved. In fact, it seems to be over 200 years old. In recent years, it’s gotten a bit unstable; there are a number of tears in the scroll, and the stitching at the edges is coming unraveled.  Hagba–the display of the Torah to the Congregation, after it is read–has gotten a little too exciting.

So we’re pleased to say that Rabbi Moshe Druin, of Sofer On Site, will be visiting us on Tuesday, March 29, to fix all the stitching/tears.  He’ll work at the JCC, and you’re invited to come and watch.  Kids and adults–come by at 2:30 or 3.  Sofer on Site frequently does community events for Torah restorations.

Also, if you are able to be there for a bit and take some pictures, please let me know (email me at margo.schlanger@gmail.com).

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Friendship scroll

By Barbara Boyk Rust

scroll image

Come hear the Megillah read Friday March 25 at the JCC and see this beautiful scroll up close

One of the joys of friendship is sharing each other’s interests, perspectives, and experiences. For me, one of the joys of being friends with an artist is the beauty that I learn about, enjoy, and benefit from that I would not be likely to encounter otherwise. Spiritual teachings claim beauty as the perfection of love and that rings true to me.

When Idelle Hammond-Sass called me several years ago and told me about the beautiful megillah scroll she saw at the Jewish Community Center of West Bloomfield, Michigan I was so taken with her verbal description alone that I welcomed her invitation to share the cost with her for purchasing it.

The scroll is on heavy paper and every segment is adorned with colorful renderings evocative of the spirit of Purim. The artwork is a party unto itself. It was created by Israeli artist Enya Keshet, and Idelle was drawn to the designs which reminded her of Persian miniatures. She was fascinated by the embellishment, so rare in most Judaica, but allowed on a Purim scroll.

Purim has long been a special holiday for me in light of another significant friendship in my life. Many of you knew Nancy Denenberg, of blessed memory. Nancy and I together created high holiday services, Shabbat retreats, and celebrations round the entire sacred cycle. We were also involved in spiriting prayer circles for healing and life cycle transitions over the years of our friendship, from her move to Ann Arbor in the late 1980’s until her death in 2006.

Nancy had a drive to make Jewish meaning in her life relevant to the immediacy of her understanding of loving and healing and sharing in community. She had practiced yoga for many years; later moving into work with Feldenkreis Method, a technique created by an Israeli physicist. She had a strong affinity for dance and became adept at Middle Eastern beledi, belly dance, fostering for herself and others more direct contact with Middle Eastern traditions. These are a few of the many ways Nancy intentionally cultivated Jewish spiritual means to endow her life with beauty, healing, art and creativity.

photo of Nancy Dennenberg

Nancy Denenberg in beledi regalia.

On more than one Purim, Nancy donned her full regalia for belly dancing, and brought others from her troupe to the Hav celebration. Some years ago The Ann Arbor News featured a picture of her leading our costume parade.

For my part, this scroll is a remembrance of friendship, of beauty, of sharing in community. It is a way to offer the power of this artist’s rendering into the annual cycle of our congregation’s celebration of this holiday that asks us to marry the opposites: Haman and Mordechai, forces of good and forces of evil. May we each have a chance to dance our beauty and our joy with the rhythm of blessing and celebration for years to come.

 

Our new yad, in the Washtenaw Jewish News

Renewed thanks to Idelle Hammond-Sass for donating her time and creativity to make AARC’s yad, and to Emily Eisbruch and Clare Kinberg for writing this article in the Washtenaw Jewish News.WJN_Feb-16-web--Yad-article

Idelle Shares the Inside Story of the AARC’s Beautiful New Yad

Many thanks to AARC member Idelle Hammond-Sass for creating a beautiful new Yad for our congregation. Yad, literally “hand” in Hebrew, is a pointer used by the Torah reader to keep the place while reading. Below is Q&A with Idelle about the Yad.

IDELLE-YAD-Shows-TIP

EE (Emily Eisbruch): Idelle, how did you come to create a new Yad for the AARC?       

Idelle: My creation of a new Yad came about after Rabbi Michal had given me the existing Yad to repair; it had broken at the hand end. I tried to fix it but it came back bent and on the verge of breaking again. The problem was that it was made by electro-forming, a process that deposits thin layers of silver over wax. The wax inside prevented me from attempting to solder it. Many Israeli pieces are made this way. The chain on the new Yad is from the previous one.


EE: So when the attempts to repair the existing Yad were unsuccessful, you offered to create a new one?

Idelle: Yes, I offered to make a new Yad for the AARC and Julie Norris generously offered to cover the materials.  I donated the design and labor. I hope this way we have something unique and local from the group rather than a piece that we would have picked out of a catalog or mass produced.


EE: What were your inspirations as you created the design for the new Yad?

Idelle: I did a little searching online and in books on Judaic art for examples of Yads. I also was reminded of my Bat Mitzvah Torah portion  (Ki Tisa) which included the construction of the Mishkan/sacred space. I love that we have constructed our own Mishkan, both figuratively and metaphorically.

Thinking about making a Yad for the congregation I was drawn to use the leaf and branches on the Tree of Life, as in our welcoming logo, and to reflect the tree motif we are working on for the Torah Tapestry. I also had a long piece of heavy triangular sterling tubing that looked perfect and asked a few Torah readers to hold it and give me feedback on the shape. Barbara Boyk Rust, Deb Kraus and Harry Fried all agreed it was also easy to hold and handle which is important as it was to be used by small and large hands.


EE: Tell us about the process of creating the Yad.     

Idelle: I sketched and kept changing the design right through the crafting of the piece. I was working hard to finish in time for the High Holidays and decided to use 14k gold to accent the sterling. Both ends were cut at an angle to allow a Star of David to be placed on one end and a pointer on the other. The star was an inherent design possibility in the triangle tubing and I cut a piece off and backed it with 14k and soldered that to one end.

IDELLE-YAD


EE: What was the most challenging part of creating the Yad?

Idelle: Creating the pointer was the most difficult design solution to make on this piece. I strive for asymmetrical balance and did not want a ‘literal’ hand at the end, so the branch continues and a gold leaf points the way for the reader. Each leaf is made by hand and the leaves and triangle wire that forms the branch is soldered on separately, each one added till it visually “works”.


EE: How did your previous Judaica work inform your work on this project?

Idelle: Before making this Yad, I have made numerous Mezzuzot, including one design I call “12 elements” for the 12 tribes, and a Menorah that has multiple pieces called “Sparks of Renewal” which was exhibited at an exhibit at the Janet Charach Gallery at the JCC a few years ago. (I have also made a sterling Tzedakah box for another exhibit. Both are in private collections.)  I have been able to make other Torah pointers as commissioned gifts.


EE: How does making a Yad compare to making jewelry?

Idelle: A Yad is on a much larger scale than most jewelry, and it takes quite a lot of time to solder larger pieces and make them work visually and technically.  Sterling silver is soldered near 900 degrees with an air/gas acetelyne torch.


EE: What are your reflections related to making the Yad?

Idelle: It was a rewarding process and one that also gives back to my spirit. While soldering on the branch, I sang Ahava Rabah.  I share my gratitude for the opportunity to make this special piece for our community.


EE: We understand that your husband Dale was also involved?

Idelle:  Yes, Dale made the beautiful box to hold the Yad.  It is made out of cherry wood, which is the same as our Torah table

yad-box


EE: Idelle, we appreciate your sharing this story of the creation of the Yad, and we thank you so much for this wonderful gift to the AARC, which has already become a treasured object and which symbolizes a beautiful and meaningful connection between our congregation and the Torah.

To learn more about Idelle’s artwork, see her website at http://www.idellehammond-sass.com

A Torah Story

Shabbat on the farm

Shabbat on the farm

Our Torah scroll was acquired, according to Bev Warshai, at the time when the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Havurah was about to celebrate our first bat mitzvah, the Warshai’s daughter Gal. Although Bev and her husband Yuval belonged to both the AA Havurah and T’chiya, a Detroit Reconstructionist congregation, they wanted Gal’s bat mitzvah Torah service to be here in Ann Arbor. However, the Havurah did not have a Torah scroll, an ark, or a table to use during a service. Around this time, in 1997, several members of the Havurah–Aaron and Aura Ahuvia, Deb Kraus and Danny Steinmetz (and their children Isaac and Jonah Ahuvia (3 and 1 years old) and Molly Kraus-Steinmetz (2 years old)–drove together to Kenosha, WI for a regional Reconstructionist workshop. There they met a member of a Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago that happened to have an excess of Torah scrolls. How does a congregation acquire an excess of Torah scrolls? Danny suggests that “Back in the day, giving a Torah was a big thing, whether or not the shul needed another one. The symbolism of dedicating the ultimate sacred object (since the destruction of the Temple) in memory of deceased relatives is so strong, if a shul was around long enough and had enough members with some money, collecting Torah scrolls was not unusual.” Bev also remembers that two congregations merged, creating even more of an excess of scrolls. Deb remembers the initial discussion, “I was in a workshop and someone was lamenting that they don’t always have Torah readers and I said, ‘at least you have a Torah,’ at which point a person from a Chicago congregation said, ‘Talk to me after this. We have an extra Torah.’”

Arrangements were made. Because the Torah was a gift to the Chicago congregation, they could loan it to us and give us responsibility to take care of it. Although Yuval’s subsequent communications with the Chicago congregation indicated that they have relinquished all claims to the scroll, out of an excess of caution, AARC will continue to care for it in trust. If we ever come into possession of any other Torah, we could decide to gift this one on, again, to another congregation in need. But back to the story!

Yuval and Harry Fried made the trip to Chicago to bring the Torah scroll back to Ann Arbor. Alan Haber made the ark, and other necessities and niceties for a Torah service were collected. In future blog posts I will write more about those objects, including our Torah covers and our yad. So far, we know nothing more about the provenance of our Torah scroll. Since we’ve had it, the scroll has been repaired twice at Borenstein’s in Oak Park, including new wooden spindles. It still has need of stitching repairs and there are many faded letters that can make it challenging to read.

AARC has a fund for repairing or replacing the Torah, though it contains only a fraction of the money needed. Board member Jack Edelstein is leading a new effort to figure out the best path forward. If you’d like to be involved in this effort, contact Jack. And if you’d like to donate to the fund, click here.