Artifacts, folklore, religion

I Love A Mystery!

To prove it, when the late Kay Hardman Enell, my folklore colleague and friend, and I were doing research in Hollywood during the 1980s, a local newspaper labeled us “The Snoop Sisters.” Decades have passed, but the inquisitiveness gene still pulsates.

Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Artifact given to me by Robin Hutchins. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I met Robin Hutchins here in Las Cruces who, with her husband Paul, moved here from Maplewood, New Jersey. At one time, she owned an art gallery there. During the 1980s, a young woman, Anisa, came into her gallery and identified herself as an artist. She and her husband were newly arrived from Israel because her husband had been hired to work in the U.S..However, shortly upon their arrival, he began getting severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. To complicate matters, Anisa discovered that she was pregnant and felt overwhelmed since she had no friends or relatives for support.

One day, she dropped into Robin’s gallery to show her portfolio. Robin liked her work because Anisa had pen and ink drawings: precise delicate flowers as well as quiet scenes that were professionally executed. Robin offered to show Anisa’s work, taking several pieces on consignment and offering to frame them. From that point on Anisa and Robin became friends, having tea on rainy days.

Fortunately, the husband recovered from the surgery and moved on with his career. They had a son, and after a visit home to Israel, Anisa presented Robin with the above artifact. Anisa didn’t know much about it other than having purchased it from a street vendor in Jerusalem.

Because of my Jewish heritage, Robin thought I would like to have the object, but she didn’t know what it represented. I could tell by the designs above the head of the man that the individual motifs represented the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

At first, a Hebrew School teacher translated it, but his results didn’t quite make sense to me. I next showed the artifact to Rabbi Schmukler of the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center of Las Cruces. He immediately identified the script as Aramaic and not Hebrew. He said he didn’t want to mis-translate it and after taking a photo, he promised to confer online with other Chabad rabbis. I loved the idea of these sages discussing ancient matters in cyberspace.

Within a week, Rabbi Schmukler sent me the answer. The lines are from Solomon’s Song of Songs. The male is speaking to the female. “At the gathering of the steeds of Pharaoh’s chariots have I silenced you, my beloved. Your cheeks are comely with rows, your neck with necklaces. We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver.”

Mystery Solved!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes her love of mysteries has to do with her astrological sign. Scorpios are considered the “Detectives of the Zodiac.”