Miles of Letters; Years of Love

Rabbi Frederick Wenger (l.) and Rochelle Wenger, holding their ketubah from 1973, at the wedding of their daughter, Miriam, to Daniel Landis, in 2010. (Photo by Amy Little Photography)

In the photo above, my artistic life is graphically bookmarked.  On the left is Rabbi Fred Wenger with his lovely bride, Rochelle.  At the age of 17, I made the ketubah for their wedding (which they are holding).  It was Fred’s idea:  he’s the kind of guy who recognizes a spark of potential in a person and nags them until they blossom.

It came about because I was an arty kid, and I mentioned to Fred that I had discovered a Jewish folk art I hadn’t seen before:  the decorative ketubah.  Fred’s response was, “You know, I’m getting married this summer.  Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  To which I answered in typical teenage fashion, “I don’t know how.  It’s too hard.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.”  Fred coached me.  He knew that I had enough Hebrew and artistic background to pull it off, and to say he lit a fire in me is an under-statement.
The last time I saw Fred and Rochelle in person was sometime in the 80’s, when they were still living in the Chicago area.  They later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Fred was the rabbi at Cong. Kol Ami until he recently retired.  They raised their two children, Haim and Miriam, and when Miriam announced her engagement, they called me to say that they wanted to commission me to make her ketubah as their wedding gift to her.  I told them that they’d have to come up with something else to give Miriam and her fiance, Daniel, because this one’s on me.
The amazing thing is:  Miriam and Daniel have my first second-generation ketubah, and their parents have the first one I ever made.  It was truly beshert (destined):  I had another couple in line to be the first second-generation couple, but they changed their mind.  The universe intended for this milestone to be in the hands of the Wenger-Landis family.
Perhaps it seems grandiose to say that the universe put it’s big hand into this little arrangement.  But, when I look at the photo: at the primitive, shaky, faded work done by a kid who didn’t know about archival materials, yet expressed the exuberance of discovery; contrasted with a ketubah that reflects my life’s work (so far) of making ketubot, it moves me.  What also moves me is seeing the faces of my dear friends, who were shy, coltish, crazy-in-love kids when I made their ketubah in 1973, and how well life has turned out for them.  They are beloved in their community, have years of good works that have helped many, and have raised two wonderful and successful adult children– now they have Daniel in the family, too!
We move through our lives, as my dad says when I ask him how he’s doing:  “Just plodding along.”  We seldom get the opportunity to take stock of where we came from, and where we’ve arrived.  This photo does that for me.  I feel very blessed to have met Fred and Rochelle, and for the tremendous impact Fred made in my life by simply saying, “Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  It reminds me that we all can have this impact, if we pay attention, and put our energies towards positive things, for ourselves and in encouraging others.  Being a free-lance artist isn’t an easy life; it is constantly challenging and frustrating at times, but this is more than offset by the joy I experience in making ketubot as a collaborative art form.
If you’d like to see Miriam and Daniel’s ketubah close-up, and some more, too, click here.
Advertisements

10 responses to “Miles of Letters; Years of Love

  1. What a beautiful story, Judith! Thank you for sharing. I’m sure there are many more amazing pieces and stories to come.

    Like

  2. Amazing!! well done! love this story

    Like

  3. Great -great story –truly a heart warming time for the artist and those who have received your work

    Like

  4. Judith–
    Your story gave me goose bumps. It certainly sounds to me like it was beshert.
    Looking forward to having your Miriam’s cup on our table next week.
    Congratulations on the second gen.

    Sue

    Like

  5. Such a wonderful story! Mazel Tov. Lots more Ketubot in your future, I’m sure.

    Like

  6. Adrien Pikovsky

    Dear Judith :

    Congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment.

    Adrien Pikovsky
    (AJAC)

    Like

  7. Loraine Stillman

    Mazal Tov! What a beautiful story. You are an inspiration to all of us. I just wove my first grandchild’s Tallit for her B’at Mitvah and know the joy of passing on some of our people’s art forms and traditions.

    Like

  8. What a beautiful story….a gift. Thanks and happy Pesach…Shirah

    Like

  9. What an inspiring story. The encouragement that the photo displays is one thought, to here or read the story behind the photo is another thought of encouragement and the encouragement that the whole situation presents to a newly wed couple is amazing. Best wishes to everyone and Keep your pen dancing.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s