Calligraphy memoir

I started doing Hebrew calligraphy while I was working at Parke Math Labs in 1978, give or take a year. A born-again woman who worked in the same building said “I just found my name in the Bible, as a heading over a verse in a psalm.” I explained that her name, Beth, was the name of a Hebrew letter, and that psalm had one verse starting with each letter of the alphabet in order. The name of each letter was shown in her Bible as a heading over the verse. She asked me to write the Hebrew letters next to their names. I was embarrassed to find that I didn’t remember how to write them all, so I reviewed the alphabet (or in Hebrew we say alef-bet, for the first two letters, like saying ABC) and really practiced writing for a while.

In preparing to write a ketubah for Charley and Patsy I was going through a file folder from way back when, and was pleasantly surprised to find a xerox of the nicest piece of calligraphy (or at least most imaginative) I ever did:

You don’t need to know any Hebrew to see what’s going on here. The original was a bat mitzvah present for Arlene’s second cousin once removed Julie, who’s six years older than Charley, so I must have done it over 30 years ago (which would tally with saying I was into this stuff around 1978.)

Besides being a big party, a bar or bat mitzvah has some real ritual to it, mainly that the kid in question chants a part of the lesson from the Torah and/or lesson for the Prophets for that day in synagogue. Julie’s reading was, of course you guessed, the story of Noah, and all the text there is from it. Along the ridgepole it says, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man of his generation.” The gunwale and sternpost of the ark are the verse with the dimensions of the ark. Along the top of the cloud, and descending from it, is “And the floodgates of the heavens were opened, and there was rain on the earth 40 days and 40 nights,” and because those weren’t enough words to show how hard it was raining I threw in “rain, rain, rain, rain, rain” in cursive script. ┬áThe story wouldn’t be complete without the rainbow and its text “I have set my bow in the clouds as a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth.”

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