The story of the yad is a simple one. My synagogue commissioned a new Torah, and I volunteered to make a yad, or pointer, for the new scroll. I know there are several of these pointers at my synagogue, they are usually silver and have a tiny hand at the end with a first finger pointing out, as though it is helping you keep your place as you read. Yad in Hebrew means hand, so that makes sense. But for me, it was too literal a take on the form of the pointer and I decided to make something that related more closely to my shul, my experience there and the idea of the creation of the new Torah.
The theme of the campaign to create the new Torah was 10000 Faces of Torah, and the logo was the Tree of Life. I knew exactly what I wanted to do as soon as I saw the logo. We have a lovely olive tree growing in the courtyard of our synagogue. Everyone who goes through the front door passes by its branches. I knew I wanted to cast the leaves and branches of the tree to make parts of the yad, especially the pointer end. I cut a few small branches in the spring, just as the leaves were emerging. There were still a few small places of new growth where the leaves had yet to appear at the ends of the branches that look vaguely like fingers. And so last summer I cast the branches in silver and the leaves in gold and let them sit for a while before I put them together.
Casting from organics is exciting; you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes the minerals and moisture content of the plant make the casting impossible, sometimes the finest, most delicate flowers are perfectly casted. I got lucky with the olive branch and leaves, they casted perfectly. I was able to mold one of the leaves and make multiple wax models of the leaves for the lost wax casting process. I now have a small pile of silver leaves, waiting for inspiration to make into earrings or bracelets.
Along the way I got important input from my friend Sara, who is an active Torah reader. She gave me input on the ergonomics of the yad, how the hand needs to find a natural place to put the fingers, how long it should be, and what the eventual heft should be like. Her input was crucial to getting the proportions of the stepped tubes in the correct proportion and placement for small hands and larger ones.
Last week I finished polishing the yad, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. It is easy to see how it was assembled with silver tubing, but the pointer end and leaves at the opposite end seem to organically grow out of the perfectly formed tube. It is a contrast between organic and geometric, organization and and the unexpected. Mystery and certainty. It is how I feel about my congregation, about my role in it, and about how I can contribute to our shul’s history of design, beauty and place. My wish is that the yad is used for many years to come to help Torah readers feel more connected to their sense of place too.