Each year, Temple Israel Center in White Plains selects a theme for the year. This year’s theme is zakhor – remembrance. One class of students in the Havurat Torah High School Program studied this theme with Rabbi Gordon Tucker during the first semester of the year.
As the class was coming to a close, they wanted to find a way to share what they had learned with the entire community. Shabbat Zakhor (Feb 28) seemed like the perfect opportunity and they asked me to help the students translate their message into an art piece that could hang in the synagogue.
I met with the students to discuss the many things they learned throughout the semester and to help them think about what message(s) they wanted to share with the community. The conversation was fascinating with many wonderful ideas. The students had taken their studies to heart and wanted to make sure the community understood the many aspects of remembrance and memory in Judaism and beyond.
Finally, they decided to focus on the six times the Torah commands us to remember and assigned one letter of “zakhor” to each. “Z” represented the Israelites’ backsliding and the golden calf. “A” was Miriam and Aaron’s slander against Moses. “K” was the attack by the Amalekites. “H” represented the giving of the Torah. “O” was Creation and Shabbat. And “R” was the Exodus from Egypt. The students carefully used the shape of each letter, along with color and symbolism to depict each of these events. In addition, in each letter, they embedded a line of Hebrew text from the Torah that relates directly to the commandment to remember that event.
When they were done creating the letters, I took the piece home and sewed everything in place, adding hanging tabs at the top and a label on the back giving them credit for their work. The students then presented their piece to the community during Shabbat services on Shabbat Zakhor. Their presentation included the following remarks, describing the design process and the thought that went into it:
“The first part of the piece that we would like to highlight is the fact that the letters of zakhor are in English instead of Hebrew. We chose to do this because we thought it conveyed the powerful message of Jewish/Hebrew ideals being translated into English life and culture. This also mirrors one of the concepts of memory that we talked about, which was taking a memory that does not exactly mimic one’s current situation, and translating it to your own life to capture its lessons and values.”
“Another portion that we would like to point out is that the shape of the letters mirror the memory that it depicts. For example, the Z shape mimics backsliding, as with the golden calf, the A shape has Moses as the bridge of the A, stuck in-between Miriam and Aaron’s slander, and the H shape mimics that of a Torah.”
“Lastly, memory can often have a negative connotation associated with it, especially when remembering something bad or a sin committed, however, in our piece, the colors transition from a bleak black and white, to one filled with color. This is to represent the progression of memory from “bad to good” and to remind everyone that memory can have a positive meaning.”
“In all, as a group we have all put a lot of thought and effort into making this piece and the entire concept of zakhor, and hope that you will all take a second to look at the piece and consider what memory means to you!”