The Joy of Text
Jews are usually described as “ The People of the Book”. Words, and lots of them, are central to Jewish worship. Some of my fondest memories growing up was doing the call and response of High Holiday piyutim/ liturgical poems. My father in his role as rabbi would call out those tooth breaking lines, and we, my mother and sisters and I, would lob those verses right back at him from the front row.
Yes, there were another 300 people in the room but reciting piyutim always felt as intimate as a father playing catch in the back yard with a child.
My parents also believed strongly in the value of having a nice handwriting. One of my mother’s teachers was either Sol or Tzvi Sharfstein, who standardized Hebrew cursive writing in America. So when I learned how to read Hebrew, my mother also sat and taught me how to write Hebrew, folding each machberet / notebook page into four columns and having me practice writing each letter ( from the top down, so they would be properly formed).
While my cursive writing as actually pretty nice in Hebrew, my print, or book hand was not so nice. It’s taken many years of practice to get my book hand to be something that I like.
Several years ago I was asked to make a healing amulet for a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. I selected several lines from the prayers and photo- transferred them onto silk and made a little hanging amulet. I also made a card for my friend. On the card I wrote out the prayer for healing from the morning amidah .
Heal us God so we can be healed
save us so we can be saved
for you are our praise
bring us complete recovery for all of our illnesses
As I wrote out the prayer, in calligraphy I realized that by writing the text out I was putting my full intent into every word, and even every letter of the prayer. I realized that the act of writing out the prayer was an act of prayerfulness.
I hope that people who use the objects that I make have that same sense that one sometimes has in synagogue in an auditorial way with words raining down around your ears.
I hope that some of you can join me on Sunday, here.