Torah

ArtsWatch Weekly: Stardust among us. The week to come.

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here at ArtsWatch we don’t have much to add to the outpourings of sorrow and reminiscence that have come with the news of David Bowie’s death from cancer, except to say that 69 years seems too few, and we, too, wish he had had more time to spend on this planet Earth. Bowie was a showman of great talent, obviously, and he had that rare ability of speaking seemingly personally to people who had never met him. His admirers felt close to him, in the way one feels close to a true friend: he seemed to reveal himself deeply, even as he hid behind his masks.

He was important, partly, because he appeared to speak so directly to what we feel about contemporary life – that it is a restless prowl, a constant reinvention, a swiftly moving shedding of skins and reemergence in new costumes with new rules but somehow, still, with some form of continuity: still David Bowie after all these years. In this sense he was like Picasso, eternally searching, changing, mastering one style and moving on to the next, unbalancing and enthralling people with the message that change itself is at the crux of art. It’s the same message that the business world sends, in a different set of clothes and with a perhaps less palatable spin: creative destruction makes the world go ’round. Except that Bowie, and Picasso, didn’t destroy, necessarily; they were serial creators, moving through sometimes deep and painful places to reappear, confidently, someplace new.

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Yads, Torahs, history’s pointing hand

Three shows at the Oregon Jewish Museum spotlight creation, destruction, and reclamation through scrolls, Torah pointers, and the World War II home front

It’s a little stick, a stylus, a pointer. Usually long and thin, often elegant and decorative, it’s enlivened by a tiny hand at the end with a slim index finger pointing forward, leading the way. Called a yad, the Hebrew word for hand, it’s used as a place-keeper and guide while reading the Torah, the foundational stories of the Jewish faith.

A small but striking exhibition of these instruments of practicality and beauty, Pointing the Way: The Art of the Torah Pointer, is being featured through February 28 at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, along with the photo exhibit Surviving Remnants, images of Torah scrolls rescued from the Crimean city of Simferopol after the city’s Nazi occupation, but tattered beyond repair. Together these two small exhibits tell a story of creation, destruction, and reclamation, which in a way summarizes what history and culture are all about.

A relatively simple yad, pointing the way.

A relatively simple yad, pointing the way.

The yads are objects of ritual meant to protect the parchment Torah scrolls, which can be fragile, from the oils and other impurities of human touch. Their origin is obscure. Daniel Belasco, consulting curator for Pointing the Way, cites a bronze object created in the 1100s in northeastern Afghanistan as a possible starting point, or perhaps an ornate silver pointer from Ferrara, Italy, from about 1488. Examples become more numerous after about 1600.

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