Berit Engen WEFT and D'RASH – A Thousand Jewish Tapestries

– Scrolls in Transit Thanks to a Goat
Housed in the Shrine of the Book, a wing of the Israeli Museum, the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest fragments of the Hebrew Bible to have been found.

Qumran, (the Judean Desert,) 1947: the first of the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. The tapestries depict the scrolls’ life in a cave and its settings, and their journey from the cave in which they were stumbled upon by a young, Bedouin shepherd looking for a missing goat, to Jerusalem, where they were carefully stored. As the scrolls throw light on the Jewish society during the Second Temple period, as well as the origins of Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, it is awe-inspiring to think that the historic illumination was hidden from us for about two thousand years. The scrolls were just standing there year after year in desert-silence and urn-darkness, sheltered from the brutal sunlight.

I like the jars’ unusually thin and tall shapes which indicate that they were made especially for the purpose of storing the scrolls. Fortunately, ceramic lids, unusual as big jar covers at the time, were made for their survival and inspired the lid-like shape of the modern building the scrolls now call home.

- 8 tapestries. (Series completed.)
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– Half a Million Holy Tatters

Archived at Cambridge University Library, the Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah Collection is the world's largest and most important single collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts.

Cairo, 1896: a giant heap of discarded texts, dating from 870 CE to the 19th century, met Rabbi Solomon Schechter when he climbed a ladder and entered the genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue. Acting on rumors of a treasure of Jewish texts, Schechter traveled from England to Egypt, zooming in on the site of the find, the synagogue storeroom for sacred writings and objects waiting to undergo a formal Jewish burial. Written by scholars and laymen in many languages on a variety of materials, the collection offers unparalleled insight into all aspects of Jewish life in the medieval Middle East and North Africa.

I chose to weave the trash pile’s backdrops from large to small: the Nile River and the desert; Old Cairo at night; the synagogue in the sun-filled street; the dark sanctuary and the floor above; and a cloud of attic dust. The last tapestry depicts a canal far away, up north in Cambridge, by its new home. Surrounded by weeping willow leaves resembling Hebrew letter strokes falling down from Heaven, the fragments are being archived and safely stored in the university library.

- 4 tapestries. (Series completed.)
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– Books, Tears, and Candy Wrappers in Storage

Included on the UNESCO Memory of the World list in 1999, the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto is a unique collection of testimonies about the extermination of Polish Jewry.

Warsaw, 1946, in the flattened ghetto: survivors Hirsh Wasser and Rachela Auerbach locate the ruins of the Jewish school on 68 Nowolipki Street where in 1943 Oyneg Shabbos (codename for a secret organization led by Jewish historian Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum) had hidden in its basement ten metal boxes with a variety of documents and texts, recent interviews, and artifacts documenting life in the ghetto during the German occupation. Miraculously, they found the boxes.

The tapestries show the boxes and three milk cans (of which two have been found) being hidden underground during the frantic ghetto uprising; the quiet scene after the deportation; and lastly, their contents which were collected by people awaiting their murder – now neatly placed on shelves in the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. In recounting this piece of history, I included a fictional bird. It is the Bird of Mourning, mentioned in a poem by the Yiddish poet Itzik Manger. He wrote it upon his return after the war to Warsaw, the center of Yiddish culture. He found nothing left of the great and vibrant Jewish community, only the Shive-Foygl.

- 5 tapestries. (Series completed.)
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