How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

Dazing Moments

Turn back the clock to November 9 and 10, 1938. We are in Germany and the infamous Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) is taking place throughout Germany and Austria. Nazis break windows of Jewish business establishments, beat, rape and murder Jews. They arrest 30,000 Jewish men and send them to concentration camps. They burn down synagogues containing sacred objects and scrolls, destroying almost all of them.

However, in Hamburg, Isaac Schwartz, a 14-year-old, courageously rescues one scroll and buries it. But, when he returns to retrieve it at the end of World War II, he discovers it is unusable.

Now let’s move forward to the weekend of July 23 and 24, 2016. That very same scroll (torah) containing the Five Books of Moses, has been restored and travels to the Alevy Chabad Center of Las Cruces. Rabbi Bery Schmukler reads from it for the regular Sabbath service, but this is no regular service because the center is packed with Jews eager to meet, and some even to read from this miraculous Holocaust survivor.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Torah cover with history of this Torah. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Rabbi Bery Schmukler rolls open the scroll rescued in Hamburg on Kristallnacht.
© Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Evidence of the Torah's smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Evidence of the Torah’s smokey past. The rabbi invited us to sniff the smoke, but I declined. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

My intention was to visit the center on Sunday and photograph this religious artifact. It was number one on my “to do” list for that day. However, I was unprepared for the emotional impact it had on me. Sure, I took my photos, but I was overwhelmed by the power of seeing this holy object up close. It was as if it could speak to me and convey the horrors of the past. I had to sit down and reflect upon what it represented. Although I do not consider myself a religious Jew, that made no difference. My inner core was struck by thinking about the history of the Jews, the struggles, the sacrifices, the destruction, the constant enemies, yet overriding that was the pride of surviving over the centuries. I thought about my grandparents fleeing the Pogroms, the financial hardships endured to reach this country and start from scratch to provide for their families and glow to see their children flourish.

So what started out a just a number one Sunday task turned out to be much more. It became the reigniting of a reminder of who I am and from whence I came.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer) to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

A staged photo of me reading from the Torah. Note the use of a yad (hand), a ritual pointer to protect the scrolls from the oils on the fingers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose own emotions often surprise her. And that is a good thing.

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.”