Berit Engen WOOF and D'RASH - Weaving a Thousand Jewish Tapestries
This page shows introductary notes to all series. Notes to series with subseries appear only here.


– 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)

–  In the wilderness of the orchard
PaRDeS is an acronym for four levels of understanding the passages in the Torah. P’shat refers to the literal meaning of the text; Remez, to the allegorical; D’rash, to the interpretive; and Sod, to the mystical meaning. Pardes is also a Persian word for an orchard or a walled garden.

– “And THIS is the Torah!”
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 squares, rectangular strokes, and small dots, the series gives an overview of the structure of the Hebrew Bible.
Divided into three sections – (A) the books and public readings thereof, (B) paragraphs, verses, and trope, and (C), the Hebrew word – it shows the different units and components of the holy book in beaming colors.

“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.

– 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)

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)

 – To know or not to know (Hebrew, that is)
Oh, what we might miss of hints, irony, and historical, topographical, and geographical information when we do not know the Holy Tongue! 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.

 – The manmade 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)

This little book of ours

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 match made in Heaven, 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.

– 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 light
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 walk
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.’

– 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.

(6 subseries)

– Rough shards and glittering gems
Somewhere I saw Hebrew described as the language of Jewish aspirations and Yiddish as the language of Jewish reality.

–  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, as the Yiddishe curses are often funny and intricately elaborate unfulfillable prophesies of doom.

The Yiddishe words and sounds are such a perfect match with the sensibility of the outrage expressed; they make me giggle.

– An itsy bitsy dictionary of essential “voyds”
How can we rejoice and complain in a strange land? By using our own exclamations in our own languages.

– 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.

– A different sensibility

In weaving an aspect of the Sephardic culture, I chose women to be the center of the series: their ornaments, songs, struggles, and joys. It is a series of contrasts: black and vibrant colors; primary hues and their opposite shades; strict lines and soft shapes.

(1 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.

(5 subseries)

– Darkness of the bleakest days
This three-part series is structured around the Yiddish songs of the Holocaust, Many of them were written and composed by the victims during the war and as the atrocities unfolded, These songs, and others which fit their experience, were sung in that most hopeless of times by people awaiting their fate. A few were sung afterwards in the ruins, or later, in remembrance. 
If a sound from a war can linger, I think it must be through songs like these.

(3 subseries)

– The story of Little Blue

Sinikka was our first child, and she lived only nine days. The experience forced us to face the dilemma of unorganized religion and invented rituals.

 – 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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