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A conversation with Bracha Din, jewelerby simone • January 01 2010
Interview, Art, Holidays, Religion, Shopping
Bracha Din first visited Israel in 1968, and she came by ship. A true child of the '60s, Bracha traveled the country, spending the requisite time on an authentic kibbutz, before ferrying off to Athens, the first stop on an extended European tour which took her to 22 countries in three years.
Back in the United States, Din tried out college but left after a semester to hitch-hike across Canada and the western United States. This journey eventually brought her to San Francisco, where she met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and joined up with his House of Love and Prayer. It was in San Francisco that Bracha first began taking the steps toward observant Judaism - "I danced my way into Judaism," she likes to say – a path that eventually took her to Brooklyn, where she married and raised a family.
Bracha and her husband attempted to make aliyah as a couple, but they returned to America after a year. It was not until 1995, her children grown and her husband passed on, that Bracha returned for good to the city that had "always been like a magnet, pulling me in." She settled in Jerusalem's Old City and soon began her unique work with stones and prayer. Jerusalemite caught up with her in the calm before the Chanukah rush when Brachaleh (as the business is called) will be displaying her wares in her Jewish Quarter home.
If you walk the right streets, Jerusalem seems to be a city full of jewelers. How would you describe the scene here, and how would you describe your niche within it? There are a lot of jewelers here. I think that what draws people to my work is the subliminal message contained within it. People who have that sort of sensitivity are drawn to my work. All my jewelry is created with prayer. My world is also a pastel world, though I have recently introduced [bolder] colors. My focus is pastel stones and ethereal-looking jewelry.
I've always been interested in stones and how a person can access their power, and when I came to Israel, I was happy to learn that there are Torah sources which relate to the power of certain stones – stones that have the power or qualities to bestow inner peace, love, etc. My middle name is Tzirel, which I'm told means jewelry in Yiddish, and the Talmud says that a person's name hints at what they should be doing with their life.
I've been blessed with good taste in choosing the right stones for my jewelry and the right designs, many of which are inspired by my meditations and prayers. I never actually studied art or jewelry making.
Your jewelry is specially designed to match the energies of the person it was made for. How do you translate the spiritual into the material? How does this creative process work? I sometimes design my jewelry with a specific person in mind – I concentrate on specific issues that person is facing and pray for them while I design the piece - and sometimes I just put certain energies into my jewelry and people find the piece that matches them. The rabbis say that an hour of prayer before the light of day is worth many hours in the day and I'm working on praying and creating in that time. Rabbeinu Bachaya (a 13th century Biblical commentator and kabbalist) says that we can access the power of the stones by making our work pure. I am a big believer in pure food, pure work, etc. I recite prayers while I string my necklaces, looking out at the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.
I am a big believer in the world of thought – our thoughts create our reality - so the thought that goes into my work is subtly transferred into the pieces of jewelry themselves. The stones are the receptors or channels for the thoughts and prayer that go into them. I learned that a Chassidic rabbi taught that the objects made closer to the beginning of creation have more light in them than those things which were created later on. But only humans, who have less light, can access the light that's trapped in the earlier creations. I'm trying to get light out of the stones I work with. I'm also looking into kabbalistic intentions that I can put into each stone.
Your creations are designed to reflect the mystical symbolism of the Holy City. This adds a third dimension to the craftsman's usual tension between form and function. What are some of the symbols you incorporate into your jewelry, and according to what guiding principles do you manage to reconcile form, function and symbolic meaning? Because the jewelry is made in the Old City, it is infused with the spirit of Jerusalem. I sometimes use symbols like hamsas and the merkava (a three-dimensional star), symbols which are connected with the city, but mostly the symbolism is spiritual and not physical. It's the spirit of Jerusalem rather than a physical representation of it that infuses the jewelry. The Old City has a very concentrated holiness, and I hope that I'm spreading it with the pieces I create here. I want to start including a piece of Torah with each piece, something that talks about the stones, but I'm not up to that yet.
You've been known to take many Jerusalem residents (year abroad students, recent olim, people just bumming around, etc) under your wing in the Jewish Quarter, and you have also led highly acclaimed meditation workshops. How would you describe your role in the lives of these people? How does this role fit in with the jewelry in a holistic way? Are there any anecdotes you can share with our readers about these relationships? I do a lot of work with kiruv (Jewish outreach) and with women with eating disorders. I work on mediation with them. I'm actually working on a book now called The Quiet Diet, which describes how taking time for meditation and prayerful quiet time can help cure eating disorders. I have a lot of people coming to do that session with me.
I also teach people, mostly women, how to pray from their heart. All these things are connected, by the way. My work with jewelry too. I've found a turquoise stone that helps curb the appetite, and right now I'm looking into stones that will help us with addiction, bringing clarity, etc.
I don't know if I have a specific anecdote to relate, but people have come into my home before and said it feels like God is in this room, or that it always looks like the sabbath in here. I had a woman sleep over here once and when she woke up in the morning she said, with surprise, "I can think clearly," as if for the first time.
What are some of your favorite places around the city to go for inspiration, or just to clear your head? I actually love the desert outside the city – I even did a tour guide course to find the best places to bring people to meditate there - but I do like to go into the Western Wall Tunnels, which are the closest we can get to the spot of the Holy of Holies. The tunnels are like a magnet for me. I also love to see the sunrise over the Mount of Olives.
Photo of Bracha Din with her bling, of a necklace and a prayer (top right), the ethereal stones (bottom right) and of Bracha framed by Old City rooftops including the Dome of the Rock, all courtesy of Bracha Din.
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