Acknowledging the Blessings
Founders of Bet Alpha Editions
Bet Alpha Editions officially came into being in Rochester, New York in 1985 after financial agreements were signed and legal papers were executed. However, from my standpoint, Sharon and Neil Norry became partners with me within about a half an hour after I first met them in a hotel room in Jerusalem several months before.
Sharon’s remarkable parents, Sol and Ruth Singer of Atlanta, had wanted to get us together for quite a while. Sharon and I had corresponded briefly when she first saw the articles on my revival of the handmade ketubah in the early 1970s. But it was through the insistence of the Singers that we finally met.
I brought a photographic copy of the Haggadah I had created for the Levy family with me to that first meeting at the Hilton. I remember them carefully looking at the pages one after the other as I explained some of the imagery, ideas and texts I had incorporated. When I finished, Neil asked me if he could purchase the original. I explained that the Levys had just patiently waited four years for me to execute the work and that I doubted that they would want to part with it. Neil immediately responded, “If I can’t have it, then I want to publish it. This should not remain in a safe in Florida. It must be shared with the Jewish world.”
I told Neil that I’d love to publish it, but I’d want it done as a perfect facsimile copy of the original and that was impossible because of the many unique techniques I used, like gold leaf, papercuts, added mirrors, a seal, moving parts and so forth. Neil Norry, never one to be dissuaded by the impossible, responded that we were going to do it, that I was to find someone, somewhere in the world, who could reproduce it perfectly, and to my standards, and that he, Sharon and I were going to be partners in this endeavor. Bet Alpha Editions came into being at that moment.
Not only did the seed of an impossible-to-reproduce book come into existence that night, but also an unlikely liaison between a practical, highly successful businessman with his wise, sensitive, and talented wife, and a dreamy, Jerusalem artist was formed. It’s hard to guess which one of us was more surprised at our suddenly becoming publishers. That life-changing evening for me created a wonderful partnership between the Norrys and the Mosses. But more importantly, it gave birth to a deep, abiding and cherished friendship that lasted as long as they lived; it is treasured still and deeply mourned.
The fact that this successful businessman, careful real estate developer, and powerful communal leader had impulsively plunged into the vagaries of the publishing business struck us all as humorously incongruent. Sharon, in fact, used to joke with us that some day in the future she and Neil would be sitting together in their rocking chairs on the veranda of their old age home, and some young visitor would yell into Neil’s ear: “Well, Mr. Norry, how did you first become a publisher?” It is certainly one of my life’s most gracious blessings that this unique couple entered our lives. And it one of life’s most unfair tragedies that neither one of them got even close to those rocking chairs.
David Moss’s Note to Neil Norry
Also read as a Eulogy
I’ve been thinking about angels.
Not the namby-pamby, silly, rosy, flapping kind.
But the fleshy ones like those that visited people in the Bible.
Who look human, who you speak with, who you feed, who sit around the table and drink beer with you.
Those angels that quietly depart before it occurs to you to say:
“Hey, something very weird is going on here; My God, I’ve been sent a celestial being and I knew it not!”
I’ve been thinking about those earthy kind of almost unrecognizable Bible angels.
And I’ve been thinking:
“Damn it, no sneaky angel is going to pull the old silent departure trick on me. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.
“No tricky angel is going to slink away before I recognize it,
I’ve been thinking about angels
The kind that show up in your life and shower you with blessings
so generous, that you know they must have been sent from somewhere.
The kind that conceal their wings behind business deals
And their halos behind partnerships.
The kind that you can laugh with, enjoy, share and advise with.
The kind that celebrate Shabbat with you on three continents.
The kind that encourage you to do the very best you can,
That enable you to share your meager gifts with others
That support you in contributing what you never knew you could.
The kind that makes your family theirs and their family yours.
I’ve been thinking about angels
And one or two in particular
Who have touched my life
And made it so much richer, so much fuller, so much more blessed
And Damn it, DAMN it, DAMN IT.
No sneaky angels are going to slink out of my life before I’ve recognized them for exactly what they are
And before I’ve said the deepest, most sincere, and most tearful
Thank you I have ever said.
David Moss’s Eulogy of Sharon Norry Seidman
December 13, 2002
I am deeply humbled by the task of attempting to translate into words the nobility of the life of Sharon Norry Seidman who now lies lifeless before us. But with the permission of this deeply bereaved family, And with the permission of all her heartbroken friends, I shall try. I pray to the Holy One who sent this soul into the world, and into our lives and so inexplicably took her from us that I may be worthy today to eulogize the soul of a truly great woman.
In many communities, a culmination of our morning services on Shabbat and holidays is the magnificent hymn Anim Zemirot probably composed in the 12th century. In front of the open Holy Ark, before the Torah scrolls, with the entire congregation standing, the voice of an innocent child begins with these words of yearning:
Anim Zemirot v’Shirim Eerog, Ki Elechah nafshi taarog – Because of the immense longing of my soul for You, I shall compose melodies and I shall weave sweet songs.
We are here today to honor and mourn a truly beautiful weaver of very sweet songs. A weaver of fabrics. A weaver of love. Sharon was an extremely talented weaver and was gifted with the weaver’s magical ability to intertwine insubstantial fragments of thread into holy garments. But Sharon was a weaver of much more than garments. She was a weaver of material and a weaver of the immaterial. Sharon was a weaver of souls. Virtually everyone who crossed her path she lovingly drew into the fabric of her life with a genuine interest in his or her well being, with a kind word, a special gift or a thoughtful note. There was no one neutral, no one peripheral, no one outside the vast tallit with which she enveloped her universe. With delicate grace, with exquisite sensitively and with an unfathomable, quiet strength this radiant woman mysteriously wove tightly toward her everything and everybody that touched her too-short life.
Those of us in this room, and so many hundreds outside this room who have had the privilege of knowing her are acutely aware of how she elevated each of us as she gently drew us in, beautifully and lovingly integrated us and firmly bound us into that sumptuous living cloak which she wove hourly, daily and as the years passed. Though we came as quickly as we could from Israel, Rosalyn and I missed by 10 minutes the expiration of Sharon’s final breath. But the inspiration of years of friendship with this magnificent, most human of human beings, shall always remain. Sharon inspired so many of us so very profoundly. Hers was a deep and radiant warmth. Hers was an openness and acceptance so genuine that she was a magnet to people of every age. Hers was beauty both physical and spiritual that touched everything she touched. Hers was honesty. She received the world on its own terms, but marvelously transformed it by responding to whatever came her way with dignity, love and affection. Hers was humor, a refreshing lightness that gave a very human face to a life that in other places and in other times might have been called saintly. Hers was wisdom – she seemed to always know just what was right. Hers was strength – an awesome, imposing and mighty strength of character and personality that I have never witnessed elsewhere.
Sharon Norry-Seidman was a weaver, and has left us all a garment of light and love. Every morning I wrap myself in this beautiful tallit that Sharon made for me. Every morning except one. On our national day of mourning, on Tisha B’Av, the joy of wrapping myself in all that love is symbolically postponed to the afternoon. This morning too, I prayed without this tallit which she wove and whose tzitzit we tied together in our living room in Jerusalem. Join me now in enwrapping ourselves warmly in the precious life we knew. Join me now with all the comfort and consolation we can muster in embracing the dear family who mourns her. Join me now in weaving together the sacred individual memories of each one of us here. As I now recite the blessing of enwrapping and embracing, join me with a final, heartfelt Amen to the true blessing our precious Sharon was to us all:
Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kiddshanu Bemitzvotav vitzvanu l’hitatef batzitzit.
A signed, limited-edition, giclee print by David Moss
Edition limited to 218 exemplars:
1/200 to 200/200
18 Artist proofs marked A/P
16 7/8″ x 11 3/4″
Printing: Yair Medinah, Jerusalem Fine Art Prints.
Paper: Epson 225 gram Fine Art Paper
A seemingly trivial problem had me stumped: how to finish the main part of Love Letters, my book on Jewish love and marriage. I had divided the works into seven sections. I knew that the next thing to follow the last section was the list of attributions. Yet I sensed that to just display the last Ketubah and finish off with the letters I had written the couples did not provide the closure I was seeking. I tried moving various parts of the text from the introduction into the back as an epilogue. Nothing seemed right.
Traditional Jewish books end with the six-letter acronym: Tav.Vav.Shin.Lamed.Bet. Ayin which stands for Tam V’nishlam, Shevach L’El Boreh Olam. A very fitting ending to any sustained work of years of creative energy. It means “Finished and Completed [with] Praise to God, the Creator of the Universe.”
Somehow every creation brings us back to a keen awareness of The Creation. Yet what is the relationship between the Creator and the created? In a sense, the story of creation culminates with the verse:
And God created Humanity in His own image, in the image of God, He created it; male and female, He created them.
Volumes have been written to expound the multitude of opinions on what this Biblical verse implies. In what sense were we created in the image of God? How do we resemble God? Were we created with a spark of the Divine? Were we endowed with a portion of Divine wisdom? Is the human soul somehow of a Godly essence? Is our similarity in our ability to wield immense power? Does it have to do with our gift of free will? Is it our ability to make moral and ethical decisions?
I believe that part of the divine image in us is our gift to create. Though incomparably different from divine creation, we humans can originate. We can innovate, we can invent. We can bring new forms into being. We can structure, organize and generate little worlds of our own, in a poem, a novel, a treatise, a painting, a building, a city, a culture. Like God, we can even participate in making people. The verse concludes “male and female He created them.”Are we somehow being God-like when we do all this? I believe we are. Is there a danger in doing it? I believe there is. The story of the tower of Babel makes it clear that human design and building can also run amok. Yet the immense power of human creativity for noble causes remains inspired. The creative act can engage the very best of the human/divine spirit in ways that few other modalities can.
Acknowledging and praising the Creator on the completion of a book collecting a lifetime of creative work on the re-creation of a document symbolic of the creative union of male and female felt just right.
Yet the gap between divine and human creativity remains infinite. Hebrew distinguishes this carefully. The verb that opens Genesis is Barah “In the beginning God Barah the heavens and the earth.” In the traditional phrase of completion of a book praising God the same verb is used. I believe this verb is never used in the Bible for people. Human creativity is of a different kind. It has a different verb: Yatzar. This is what the potter does. She forms, she molds, she shapes, she structures. She brings earth and water, hands and tools, kiln and fire together to ‘create’ something new. Human creativity is about bringing the God-created elements of our world together to make new things. The poet combines words. The composer combines sounds. The painter combines colors.
To acknowledge, thank and elevate my physical helpers, the precious tools that have allowed me to make all these works, I placed them boldly on this page:
- The turkey feather, cut into a quill, effortlessly writes minute letters for me.
- The crow-quill, steel pen, flexible, delicate and responsive, precisely outlines for me.
- The large-nibbed pen, dipped in ink or paint, patiently draws for me.
- The razor sharp scalpel makes intricate, lacy cuts in paper or parchment while only rarely harming me.
- The bamboo tomato stake, cut to a broad edge, graciously writes year after year for me.
(I apologize to the pencils, brushes, rulers, burnishers, inks, paints, gold-leaf, erasers and so many other friends I couldn’t include.)
For me these tools must not be thought of as mere servants, there to do my will. They are partners. It is perhaps most accurate to say that they are teachers. By listening to them very carefully, I have learned what each one most wants to do, what stroke it delights in, what flourishes it relishes. My tools have taught me much. At the business end of each tool, I included a snippet from one of the ketubot in the book of the kind of work that tool might do.
The image of the tools doing their work seemed to me the appropriate ending I was seeking. It was inserted not only as the last page of the body of the book, but as the last thing to be included. I put it in after the editors and publisher had seen final copy. When my wife, Rosalyn, saw it she immediately loved it and realized that it could stand alone as a print. She requested that a fine art print of the image be made for her. It came out perfectly and she had it beautifully framed. Requests started to come in and we decided to edition it.
I suppose this print is a grateful acknowledgement of all the innumerable gifts I have been given: the Divine gifts of soul and spirit, of hands and heart, of books and teachers, of clients and patrons, of family and friends, of tools and materials, of knowledge and understanding, of health and wealth, of time and energy, of patience and persistence, and of the knowledge that I, too, can sometimes be a useful tool.
Tam V’nishlam, Shevach L’El Boreh Olam