Berit Engen WOOF & D'RASH - Weaving a Thousand Jewish Tapestries
This page shows introductary notes to all twenty-six series.

Boom! Bang! Bim-Bam . . .
With its revolutionary ideas and categorical commandments, it must have seemed loud and at times harsh. Yet, many of the teachings are valid today. Over time they have found softer expressions. The language of the law and the wordless niggun overlap beautifully.

(3 subseries)

– "V'zot Hatorah!"

It is nice to put the stories, history telling, and laws aside, and explore the Torah as a physical object: the making of the scroll itself, visual expressions of the text columns, and how it is dressed up and stored. In other words, the work of the artisans.

(2 subseries)

– The Scriptures Color-Coded

With the help of geometrical shapes, the tapestries give an overview of the structure of the Hebrew Bible.
Divided into three sections – (A) the books and public readings thereof; (B) paragraphs, verses, and phrases; (C) the Hebrew word – the series shows the different units and components of the holy book in the logically applied, beaming colors of the woof.

(21/21 tapestries)

– “When Will We Ever Learn?”
We have learned, but not enough; the demands of the Prophets still challenge us. We might have gotten tired of these persistent fellows, were it not for their ability to continuously inspire us, as individuals and as community, to build a better world for all.

​(6/-- tapestries)

– The Companion

This book of largely personal prayers, which grew out of the human experience to help us confront the tests of life, continues to move me.

(4 subseries)

– Seven Scenes on the Man of Misery and His God of Grace

​(7/8 tapestries)

– Slim Books; Wide Scopes
Placed in the last book of the Hebrew Bible, these five small books stand on their own and also complement each other; the stories and the poetry cover several complexities of life, both in general and of Jewish living in particular.

(4 subseries)

– Hints and Hooks Lost and/or Found in Translation
Oh, what we might miss of information when we do not know well enough the Holy Tongue as we read the Scriptures in Hebrew – or, are left to read them in translation.
Each tapestry is my gut visual response to the literal meaning of Biblical place names. The series is set in the course of one day, calling attention to the power of living by the weather as the time indicator.

​(6/-- tapestries)

– The Man-Made Treasure

I think It is impossible not to be fascinated by Jews’ love of the Talmud, how the book came about, its status, history, teachers, and students. The time line of this series spans 1800 years – from the redaction of the Mishnah around 200 CE to our new millennium with study groups connected by the Internet. Jews could and can point to the Talmud and say, “This is who we are.”

(1 subseries)

– A Jewish Pastime and Pirkei Avot

Although Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) is a tractate in the Mishna, it is often printed as a separate book. Dealing with ethical and moral principles, it gained importance and popularity centuries ago. When my husband was a little boy, he used to study it with his father, as have many sons with their fathers, students with their rabbis, and my Tuesday Morning Womens’s Torah Study Group with its stack of commentaries. Everyone wonders what new wisdom will be revealed.

(2 subseries)

– And a Man With a Plan

The Song of the Sea, a poem and prayer of praise (Exod. 15:1-18), concludes the story of safely fleeing Egypt and underscores God as the Redeemer. I chose to weave five tapestries in which the viewer finds herself in the midst of this suspenseful chapter of history, ending the series with a faded-looking sixth, an old photograph of the joyous finale at the shore of the Sea of Reeds.

​(6/6 tapestries)

 – A Liturgical Chant From Trondheim and Skokie

The first time composer and cantor David Brandhandler (born Norway, 1913; died Skokie, 2016) sang his Modim for me was a moment when my rarely shared and sometimes misinterpreted identities determined by birth (Norwegian) and choice (Jewish), finally fell into place. Moved and comforted by his haunting musical setting of this thanksgiving prayer, I wanted to weave its words and his melody.
The continuous graphic line in all the pictures, woven in a metallic thread, traces the composition note by note. It represents a single voice calling to God, transcending space and time.

​(11/11 tapestries)

– Prayer Without Grey

The prayer recited on the days of Judgement and Atonement, after posing scary questions, it does offer a practical solution to the question of who will die and suffer and how: “But repentance, prayer, and righteousness avert the severe decree.” Yet, its power in our time is how it forces us to face our own mortality.
The tapestry titles are either from the traditional piyyut or from Leonard Cohen’s song based on it, and two are mine.

​(10/20 tapestries)

 – Hey God, FYI, It Is Not Pretty Down Here Right Now

I heard chanted at my synagogue on Rosh Hashanah four prayers by Levi Yitzchak, the Berdichever Rebbe, (1740 1809). Stunned by their stirring words and melodies, I wove four tapestries; the series is named after one of the songs whose title states we are putting God on trial.

(4/4 tapestries)

– The Mournful Story of Little Blue

Sinikka was our first child, and she lived only nine days. The experience forced us to face the dilemma of not being connected to an organized religion and therefore having to invent our own rituals..

(10/10 tapestries)

– The Colorful Prayerbook

I think of the Haggadah as a rich and challenging book which we color differently each year at a gathering where children are guests of honor.

(4 subseries)

– Hidden in Rays

The Kabbalah, that which is received, is the most difficult thing for me to study. I try to receive it the best I can.

(5 subseries)

The Illuminated Shlep
I chose to weave this small series on the major, defining, and divisive topic of Jewish law in vibrant purple and golden orange – contrasting colors on the color chart. Both yarns are infused with blue, and so is the pink in the tapestries. Thus blue symbolizes the color that unifies us. 
How special is the word chosen for a legal system: ‘Halakhah’ does not mean ‘law,’ but rather, ‘the way to walk.’

(4/4 tapestries)

 NOT Holidays

I love the days set apart for joy, relaxation, reflections, study, aspirations, and mourning. While structured in commandments and traditions for celebration and observance that make us feel rooted, they stimulate and inspire our Jewish sensibilities with food, words, melodies, and ritual objects. Time is set aside for something larger than our individual selves in community with others.

(7 subseries)

– A Test in Creative Reinventions

The series begins by the waters in a distant land. The tapestires are bound to be numerous and full of contradictions, all of which are true, as the Jewish exile story presents an endless source of expressions for sadness, joy, horror, success, irony, wandering, rescue, humor, longing, and disbelief - just to mention a few.

(6 subseries)

– Glittering Shards and Rough Gems

Somewhere I saw Hebrew described as the language of Jewish aspirations and Yiddish as the language of Jewish reality.

(8/-- tapestries)

A Study in Browns and Blues

“God protect us from goyishe hands and Jewish tongues!” (“Got zol op’hitn fun goyishe hent un yidishe reyd!”) No wonder this saying came into being. The curses, Yiddish prophesies of doom – although mostly unfulfillable – are vividly painted and funny.
The sound of these curses in Yiddish truly conveys the verbal outburst.

(11/12 tapestires)

– Play, so That We Can Dance and Sing!

Interestingly – or beshert – my German studies and my pursuit of learning Hebrew served a higher purpose: to know what I sing when I sing in Yiddish, this fascinating language of exile struggling to survive. And to which I am so fortunate to be able to feel quite drawn to.

(4/-- tapestries)

Sun and Moon-Filled Sensibilities Entwined

In weaving tapestries inspired by Sephardic songs, I chose the women to take center stage. The lyrical glimpses I get of their joys, struggles, adornments, and natural settings are turning into tapestries of contrasts: the color-absent black and vibrant hues; primary tones and their opposite shades; strict and soft lines and shapes.

(1 subseries)

– Darkness of the Bleakest Days

This three-part series is structured around Yiddish songs of the Holocaust. Most of them were written and composed by the victims during the war and as the atrocities unfolded. They were sung in that most hopeless of times by people awaiting their fate.
If a sound from a war can linger, I think it must be through songs like these.

(3 subseries)

– Each of us in our time

The tapestries are based on quotations of modern writers and poets, known and unknown, struggling with the timeless complexities of life while influenced by or searching for comfort and answers in Judaism and the Jewish experience.

The use of single Hebrew letters as titles of the subseries is based on a Chasidic tale of the letters as prayers.

(3 subseries)
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