Pointing the Way: The Art of the Torah Pointer and Surviving Remnants

November 15, 2015 – March 2, 2016 | Past Exhibit

Pointing the Way: The Art of the Torah Pointer – Selections from the Barr Foundation

November 15, 2015 – March 2, 2016

The Barr Foundation has assembled a remarkable collection of antique and contemporary Torah pointers, known by the Hebrew word yad, literally “hand” in English. Created by artists from different ages and cultures and of diverse materials including wood, precious metals, jewels, ceramics and paper, these yads chronicle the timeless, universal aesthetic guide in reading the Torah. While exclusively Jewish in origin and use, this trove of yads transcends religious iconography and appeals to all who appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of fine art. 

Surviving Remnants – Photography by Elizabeth Collings of Damaged Crimean Torah Scrolls 

In 1990 Dr. Joe and Cathy Thaler returned from a visit to the Crimean city of Simferopol with two large paper sacks filled with fragments of Torah scrolls. Simferopol had been the center of Jewish life in Crimea for centuries and in the 1920s it became an important Zionist center for helping Russian emigrants to Palestine via Constantinople. By the Second World War approximately 23,000 Jews lived there. 

In 1941 the Nazis captured Simferopol. Within the year they massacred more than 14,000 residents – mostly Jews, Russians and Roma. Although the early history of the scrolls remains a mystery, most likely the Nazis confiscated the scrolls when they seized the city. After the war the scrolls were purchased by someone with the hope that they would take them out of the Soviet Union to be repaired and used once more. He hid them in a coal bin to avoid confiscation as state cultural treasures. 

The Thaler's brought the Torah scrolls to Congregation Beth Israel in Portland. Deemed beyond repair, the scrolls were scheduled to be buried in the synagogue cemetery, in accordance with Jewish tradition. Before the burial, photographer Elizabeth Collings worked with educator Jan Rabinowitch to trace their history and document their condition. In the spring of 1995 Beth Israel religious school children buried most of the scrolls in a small memorial garden in the Beth Israel cemetery. 

 “Surviving Remnants” (She'erit ha-Peletah) is a Biblical concept also used by Jews who survived the Holocaust