The Talmud teaches that when Bezalel was called upon to design a desert tabernacle, the artist was 13. Though he was said to have crafted pieces more intricate than even the brightest could shape, the simple truth was that on the precipice of adolescence, a teenager had attained wisdom.
That the young are unquestionably capable of creating significant works is something Julie Farber has long understood, which is why in the aftermath of Oct. 27 the now-retired jewelry teacher reached out to teenagers to construct “something extraordinary.”
“When this happened, one of my friends was shot. It hit extra close to home and I wanted to make something that was meaningful,” she said.
Farber contacted several former students, including Tess Roth, a senior at Pittsburgh Allderdice.
“When everything happened in Oct., I felt this overwhelming responsibility to do something, and I wasn’t sure what it was going to be,” said Roth.
She had already joined other BBYO members in hosting a teen-led havdalah service to mark the end of Shabbat, but felt “it wasn’t enough.”
“I wanted to give something,” Roth said.
Farber possessed a similar desire. She also had materials. The group, which included Farber, Roth, Eli Rabin, Andrea Holber and Maya King, discussed possibilities. Roth started sketching designs.
“After having to redo it a few times, I think I finally got it down,” she said.
With her final drawing in hand, Roth shared the image with others. They agreed it would be a worthy gift, and months ago the teens set out to create a yad. The pointy instrument, whose origin dates back more than a millennium, is typically used by the reader of a Torah scroll to follow along. By placing the yad against the text, the reader’s impure hands are kept away from the holy scroll.
In the days after Oct. 27, Farber knew that her project could not be “ordinary,” and when it came time to crafting the yad, she retained that mindset. The metal could be heated until it was molten, placed in an ingot mold, put through a rolling mill and shaped, but context mattered.
Jewish ritual objects reflect both form and function, and a yad is no different. Though wholly purposeful, its embellishments, be they finials or plated gold, denote time and place.
Making sure the yad “revolved around a tree of life” was critical, explained Roth.
Now the resulting yad is housed in the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. At the item’s end are 11 leaves, each stamped with the initials of someone murdered at the Tree of Life building. Emanating from the leaves is a recycled sterling silver vine adorned by flowers. At the tip of the piece, pointing forward, is a hand made of recycled 14k gold.
“We wanted everything to be connected,” said Roth of the symbolism.
The intertwined vine represents the “togetherness of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” she explained. The flowers, which bloom and blossom, “represent life that comes out of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh” and signify “all of the love and support we got in those weeks after the horrible shooting” from the world. The 11 leaves, which encircle each other, are harder to describe, said Roth.
“When you are in kindergarten, you are taught that leaves produce oxygen and give us life. I took that with me. Right now I am trying to live for the victims who passed away, and I want to do everything in my power to make sure their memories are not forgotten and will be lived to the fullest.”
The yad is “beautiful and meaningful and I absolutely love the idea that teenagers worked on this in a collaborative manner,” said Cathy Samuels, JCC’s senior director of development and communications. The group effort, she said, shows “we are going through this as a community.”
“Making this yad truly taught me the worth of something,” said Roth. “It’s not what it’s made of or what it looks like, but where it came from in someone’s heart, where the original idea came from, and I really know truthfully that deep down it was made with love and by amazing people that care.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.