Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Ten Days of Awe

For anyone who would like to know the Judaism I have come to embrace, listen to the conversation between Rabbi Sharon Brous and Krista Tippet.

The High Holy Days: A Conversation

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, I am reflecting on my choices this past year.  One of the choices I made this year (as I have for the last 10 years) was to be Jewish.  "What?", you say.  "You are Jewish, what's the choice?"  For many years I chose not to be Jewish.  The Judaism I was taught as a child did not appeal to me, seemed contradictory and archaic, and my study of other religions led me to the same conclusions about them.  So, I did not practice the rituals of Judaism.  Besides, it's hard to be Jewish in most of America and most of the world.  You laugh, but no matter where we are outside of Israel, New York or Los Angeles, we are "the other".  Oh, there are small pockets here and there of Jewish communities within which one can belong, but once you venture outside of that community, everything is strange to us.  Now, I am not talking about anti-semitism here, although that, too, exists. I am talking about the centuries old dilemma of the Diaspora - to assimilate or not to assimilate, that is the question.  And the answer to that question, for every Jew in the Diaspora, is that person's choice. 

One of my very favorite movies is School Ties. It was recently on cable and I watched as I always do.  It's a fascinating, brilliantly acted piece about a working class Jewish boy ( Brendon Frazier) from Pennsylvania, who gets a scholarship to a Harvard prep school in his senior year of high school because of his ability as a quarterback.  Matt Damon is the upper crust legacy who was in line for the QB position on the team. The movie was about the choice the Jewish boy made to hide his Judaism in order to fit in, and the consequenses of that choice. While, the time frame for the story was 1955, and much has changed for us since then, there still lies underneath everything that is good about being here, the feeling we are strangers.

 שנה טובה   Shana tova umetukah v'tikatevu.   May you have a good and sweet year, and may you be written in The Book of Life for another year.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

500 Judaica

Nelle Fastman Pingree of Oy Clay!!! Pottery is proud to announce the release of "500 Judaica", published by Lark Books. Five of her pieces are represented here, along with Paul Frehe, Leah Leitson, Emmett Leader, and Sandy Marx.  While most of the pieces in the book are made in precious metals, fiber, glass or wood, Judaica in clay is also recognized here as not only functional but art.

At Amazon.com

Friday, August 6, 2010

When I Reflect on the Year That has Passed...

This time of year is always serious for me.  I feel obligated to go through the days of the year passed (those I remember) and reflect on the integrity of my behavior (myself to myself), the fairness honesty with which I have dealt with others, the fulfillment of my contract with God to help repair the world and the way in which I teach my child.

These are some of the things I must ponder.  My child is a girl, so I do not have to circumcise her.  We no longer arrange marriages, but my advise in this regard is freely given.  As for the rest...we'll see.

"A father [parent]is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first born (the firstborn son belongs to God and must be redeemed by payment to the priest/rabbi), to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well." Bab. Talmud, Kiddushin 29a

Here are some other rabbinic statements about parents' obligations toward their children:
  • Never threaten children. Either punish them or forgive them. (Semahot 2:6)
  • Denying a child religious knowledge robs the child of an inheritance. (Talmud Sanhedrin 91b)
  • Every parent is obligated to train his/her children in the observance of mitzvot, for it is written: "Train a child according to his way." (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Mothers should introduce their children to the Torah. (Exodus Rabbah 28:2)
  • Anyone who does not teach his son a skill or profession may be regarded as if he is teaching him to rob. (Talmud Kiddushin 29a)
  • A father must provide his daughter with appropriate clothing and a dowry. (Code of Jewish Law, Even haEzer 71)
  • A father should be careful to keep his son from lies, and he should always keep his word to his children. (Talmud Sukkah 46b)
  • Anger in a home is like rottenness in fruit. (Talmud Sotah 3)
  • Rabbah said that a parent should never show favoritism among his/ her children. (Talmud Shabbat 10b)
  • If you strike a child, strike them only with a shoelace. (Talmud Baba Batra 21a)
  • A parent should not promise to give a child something and then not give it, because in that way the child learns to lie. (Talmud Sukkah 46b)
  • The parent who teaches his son, it is as if he had taught his son, his son’s son, and so on to the end of generations. (Talmud Kiddushin 36)
  • The parent who instructs by personal example rather than mere words, his/her audience will take his/her counsel to heart. The parent who does not practice what he/she so eloquently preaches, his/her advice is rejected. (Commentary to Ethics of Our Fathers)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Naomi & Ruth

I had a request from TropiClay Studio to post a photo of my sculpture (my very first sculpture), Naomi & Ruth, so I thought I'd tell the story.  The story of Ruth is contained in the part of the Hebrew Bible called Ketuvim (Writings).  It is read on Shavuot, the Festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

During the time of the Judges (1244 BCE to 879 BCE) when there was a famine, an Israelite family, Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons emigrate to Moab. Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women: Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.

The two sons of Naomi then die themselves. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers, and remarry. Orpah leaves; however, Ruth says, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.

The two women return to Bethlehem. It is the time of the barley harvest, and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean from the corners of a field, as is proscribed for widows. The field she goes to belongs to a man named Boaz, who is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth tells her mother-in-law of Boaz's kindness, and she gleans in his field through the remainder of the harvest season.  Boaz and Ruth fall in love.

There are legal complications that delay their marriage, but are finally resolved.

Boaz and Ruth get married and have a son named Obed, who because of the previously mentioned legal issues is considered both the son and grandson of Naomi and her husband, as well as the son of Boaz and Ruth.  In the genealogy which concludes the story, it is pointed out that Obed is the descendant of Judah, and the grandfather of King David.

My Ruth & Naomi reflects the highlighted portion of the story.  Ruth became the first non-Hebrew to convert to Judaism by these words.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Mezuzah and It's Case

 Very often, either at the studio, or at shows, people will pick up a mezuzah case and ask, "Is this for flowers?"; or, "What can I put in here?"; or, quite simply, "What is this?"  Sometimes, they will have an idea of what it is, and say, "This is where you put the prayer on your door.  What is it called?"

The case is, traditionally, hung on the door post on the right, on an angle, tilted toward the door.   The letter that looks like a "W" on the case, is the Hebrew letter "shin".  It stands for the word "Shaddai", which is an epithet for God. As with almost all things Jewish, there are several theories on the derivation and meaning of "Shaddai".  I think the one that makes the most sense in context of the mezuzah is that it is an acronym standing for "Guardian of the Doors of Israel" (Hebrew: שׁוֹמֶר דְלָתוֹת יִשְׂרָאֶל), which is commonly found as carvings or writings upon mezuzah cases.

The scroll, or the "mezuzah", is a parchment upon which is a portion of the Torah called "The Shema"  ("Listen") and the second paragraph of the Shema, which is the "V'Ahavta" ("and you shall love").  The words are written by a Torah scribe, by hand, with no mistakes or corrections, in order for it to be a Kosher scroll.

When we leave our homes, and when we enter our homes, we touch the case and put our fingers to our lips to acknowledge that we are bound to act a certain way in the world and in our homes.  We are reminded to teach God's law to our children and to be an example to others.

Below is one of my mezuzah cases with the parchment that gets rolled up and put inside the case and the translation of the of the Hebrew:

(Shema) Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is 
our God, the Eternal is One.
Blessed be God’s Name and glorious kingdom forever and ever. 

(V'Ahavta) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words, which I [God] teach you this day, shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder before your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Change in Direction

I've been exploring other blogs.  Each blog by which I have been intrigued has had a hook, a point of view, something that distinguishes itself from other blogs that are similar in nature (i.e. potter's blogs). So I have reflected on what it is I have to offer, that other potter's don't. And, at least in the part of the world I find myself living, I have Judaism.  At least m point of view as a Jewish woman creating Judaic pottery.

I am not sure where this will lead, how it will evolve or even if it will be a successful change in direction, but, it is what I have to offer, so I do, with respect and deference to the religious teachers & Rabbis from whom I have learned the Judaism I practice, including the those of Ethics of our Fathers, W. Gunther Plaut's Commentary on The Torah, and Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, together with the writings of many, many authors of Jewish literature, including but not limited to, Isaac Beshevis Singer, Elie Weisel, Milton Steinberg, J.D. Salinger, Phillip Roth, Chaim Potok, Bernard Malamud, E.L. Doctorow and Norman Mailer.

I invite people to ask questions, make comments, debate (with respect) and add their perspective.  I will say upfront that I having been raised in a Conservative Synagogue with a Conservadox Rabbi (in the 1950s!!!!) but tend toward Progressive Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism.

I am surprised, living in a town that has had a fairly large Jewish community since the 1800s, how few people know anything about Judaism.  I went into a bakery I frequent just before Passover, and half kidding, asked if they had Matzoh.  The owner of the bakery didn't know what it is.  When I tell people I make Judaica, very few people know the word.  I recently sculpted a piece called "Naomi & Ruth"  and no one knew their story.  To confess, I did not know that many Christians do not read what they call "The Old Testament."  This surprises me, as well, inasmuch as this would be the text from which Jesus preached.

I do not want this to be a place to preach, but a place to teach and I will try to keep it relevant to the pieces of Judaica I create, how they are used and why.  I don't even know how I will start, so I will say shalom for now.  "Shalom" which has in it "hello", "goodbye" & "peace".

Sunday, July 4, 2010

In the Media

This last month was a very good month for Oy Clay!!! Pottery. Even though I whined about the sales at the Studio Stroll, with some distance from the nerve wracking, expectation riddled event, I did pretty well, and the proof is in the people who have come back in the intervening month and purchased pieces. There has been a lot of local traffic on the website, due to the advertising on THE BIG CRAFTY, which I am glad to say has given me a chance (that is next Sunday, July 11th, by the way). Additionally, I am part of the Odyssey Gallery Ad this month in The Laurel of Asheville.

If you haven't been to OyClayPottery.com,
lately, please check it out and give me your feedback. I think it is starting to shape up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I'm so glad to have new work finally photographed for the website and the blog.  Lots of photos, thanks to Marian Parkes.  I'll post some of the group shots here and then all will go on the website.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Photos Coming

I am finally going to get photos of the newer work for my website.  I have been promising them for weeks.  I really must get a new camera and/or schedule photos as soon as the work comes out of the kiln.  There are so many things to think of for this business. I enjoy the work and the planning, etc. but I am not as organized (surprise!!!) as I should be.  Every task seems to be two or three steps behind all the time.  Being ill hasn't helped, but I can't really blame it on that. 

I'll spare you the recent ER episode.  I am okay now, no thanks to the doctors there.  Physical therapy is working on my legs and I do feel stronger.  Making food decisions every meal, mostly good ones.  Will be working non-stop for my next kiln and for a techniques class with John Britt.

Photos soon!!!!!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Status Update

So, this is what's been going on.  For the last few months, I have been feeling very ill.  I try to deny it and push through it, but, there it is.  So I finally went to the doctor.  I was convinced that I had Congestive Heart Failure. So now I've had one sleep study, blood work an MRI.  The upshot it that I am borderline just about everything, except obese, which I am with a vengeance.  So I am now being treated as though I have Diabetes II, even though my numbers do not call for the diagnosis.  I have a blood sugar monitor, and until they do a proper sleep study, I am sleeping with oxygen, if you can call it sleep.  They say I'll get used to it or a C-Pap if I have apnea.  No CHF, but still a candidate for it, as my diastolic blood pressure is high and that is very bad. 

So I've come to a crossroad, a real moment of choice.  On the border, the edge of the sea.  Let's see how well I choose my path.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Okay!!!  So I guess my last post was a "whine".  I was hoping that the blogasphere was a place fore whining, and discussion and points of view.  I submit that whining is a part of my process of dealing with my own inadequacies...I whine, or get angry or panic as a way of releasing frustration and then it passes and clarity is often the result. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sometimes Hard to be an Artist

For many years I walked into offices and onto stages and asked a multitude of people to buy my "wares"...me.  I was an actor.  The art of acting requires not only the talent for it, but the internal fortitude to be rejected, face to face, from pillar to post, throughout one's career.  "Fabulous reading, dahling, but can we do something about your hair?"  "You're absolutely right for the part if you were just thinner/heavier/blonder/shorter.   Can you do that for next week?" It wore me down, finally, and I stopped acting.

 Singing with a band proved much easier on the ego and so I stuck with that for a awhile, then moved to Asheville while the band stayed in Los Angeles.

So now I'm a potter. Love it.  The clay, the glaze, the fire.   Love it!!!! Except...."Oh, what a fabulous Seder Plate.  You know, Harry, we really should get one for Shelley's wedding."   "Sam, look at the roses on the Spice Box...oh, that's so beautiful." 

If you saw Saturday's  blog, this is photo was posted.  When I broke this table down on Sunday, it looked EXACTLY the same except that one of the mezzuzahs on the right was gone.

Now in all fairness, I must say that the Clearance Sale ($12.00 or Less) in my studio did very well, and considering the economy, I shouldn't gripe.  It's just that I don't want to stop being a potter.  Should I just put everything on Clearance when it comes out of the kiln?

Friday, June 11, 2010

River Arts District Stroll

Well, it's time for the summer Stroll.  Odyssey Gallery & Studios has a red door and a District sign this year, and inside, up the stair, make a right and a left and Oy Clay!!! Pottery is the second studio on the right.  This year I have a wall display outside my Studio, a clearance sale inside the Studio and a table on the floor. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Counting the Omer - Belatedly

There is the mitzvah (commandment) in Judaism to Count the Omer. The period of the Omer starts the second day of Passover and ends 49 days later at Shavuot...the period of deliverance from Egypt until the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. A solemn and reflective period in which we began as slaves and ended as a people of laws and the moral obligation to be the role model for the world. Only on the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B'Omer) are we allowed to celebrate. Many Jewish couples marry on this date of joy.

There are many reasons given by the Rabbis for the counting of the Omer (which means "sheaves"). And there are many customs that enhance the biblical directions for counting. Kabbalists believe that each day represents a human trait.

The following is a D'var Torah (a word or interpretation of a portion of Torah) of the 8th day of the Omer: Chesed of Gevurah. "Chesed" is defined as "kindness, mercy", but it is an active word.  It means to "create kindness/mercy out of nothing".  Gevurah means "strength", and is also active, as in "support".  This D'var Torah is written by Mark Horn, a Jewish Buddhist Gay Activist, who also dabbles in pottery.

Today is 8 days, making one week and one day of the Omer: Chesed of Gevurah

Consider the potter throwing on the wheel. One hand is on the inside of the form being shaped. The other on the outside. The force on either side must be perfectly balanced. On one side is Gevurah, discipline, giving form and structure to the clay body. On the other side is Chesed, supporting and lifting up the form with a compassionate touch that understands the imperfections and limits of the clay body.

When compassion and love is expressed through structure and form, the results are beautiful. So it is with Chesed of Gevurah. This is not form for the sake of form. It is form infused with meaning. And of course, emptiness.

I remember once hearing one of my meditation teachers, S.N.Goenka, tell of how a potter in India beats the outside of a clay body with flat piece of wood to give it form. And that there is a hand inside to help absorb the shock of the blow so that the beating does not destroy the pot. He laughed and said, when you are supporting it with love, of course you can beat it! Not that he was advocating beating anyone, but he was making the point that expressing discipline without love is destructive. Just as expressing love without discipline is destructive. As my friend Marion once wrote: Do I center the clay, or does the clay center me? For today, this clay body hopes we can all make every day of this counting of the Omer, truly count.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nelle Fastman Pingree of Oy Clay!!! Pottery says:  If you can make it to Hendersonville, NC this Friday night, come see the beautiful work by the River Arts District Artists.  The show opens Friday night and will be on view through May 29, 2010.
Opening Reception:
2nd Annual RADA Members Show in Hendersonville

Friday, May 7, 2010
5:30 pm to 8:00 pm
The Arts Council of Henderson County
538 Main Street Hendersonville, NC

And, don't forget, the River Arts District Stroll is only one month away.  Please come to the Preview at Odyssey on Friday, June 11, 2010, 5:00 pm to mix and mingle with the Artists, while taking advantage of the first look at our new work.

River Arts District Stroll
Saturday & Sunday
June 12-13, 2010
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Odyssey Galleries & Studios
238 Clingman Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Proud Nana!!!!

Got a call this morning from my just recently turned two year old Sophia. I, of course was sleeping, but when I returned the call, I learned that she had slept through the night in her big girl bed, without rails, and without her father sleeping on the floor next to the bed. While one night does not a habit make, Nana is, nonetheless, very proud of Sophie and her new achievement.

Clay Club

I had the best time at Clay Club last night. It was at Odyssey this month and Marian Parkes and Jill Wolf made a great party. It was a nice pick-me-up, as I was feeling a little Spring Blues-y and about to write a very uninteresting song, which would have been a mistake...so thanks to all the Clay Clubbers from the Northern Territories for coming down south. And thanks to all of the South WNC Clay folk who came and showed the north that we are mighty, too. John Britt, Mike Kline and Marian Parkes have photos that will be post on various blogs, etc. See you next month for an Empty Bowl Extravaganza at John Hartom's (whom we missed very much last night).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blogging Blues

I haven't blogged for a while because I get the feeling no one is listening, with 3 followers for whom I am very grateful. Perhaps it's because the posts seems to show up on Facebook, so people don't follow the blog. I hope that's true and so I will continue.

My camera is broken. This too is a dilemma when it comes to blogging, which, more and more, seems to be the display of photographs...even more so than words. We have become a drive-through, drive-by, nation. We have no patience for the art of, well, anything. The art of language, painting, pottery or photography (the kind with film and black rooms, where the emergence of an image was part of the art). I am sad about it, and yet, the digital age is exciting, or is it just addicting? Does the solitude it requires make us more, or less, interconnected? Why do I feel this melancholy?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

500 Judaica - Lark Books

For my friends who are not craftspersons, Lark Books publishes books about crafts, home decorating, cooking, and outdoor living. They publish a series called the "500 Series", which are books that have a theme and present 500 examples of that theme. 500, Bowls, 500 Mugs, 500 Wooden Boxes, etc. Among potters and other clay artists, having a piece or pieces represented in one of these books, is an accomplishment.

Last year Lark call for entries for a 500 Judaica Book, to be published this Fall. I submitted 7 pieces for consideration, and I was notified today that 5 of them will appear in the publication.

Thanks to Marian Parkes and Joy Tanner for the fabulous photographs, the quality of which, I am sure, had more than a little to do with the entries being chosen.

This is a good day!!!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sweet Home, Chicago!!

On my way to Chicago for a week. An all Judaica Show there over the weekend. I hope there is no more snow. Catch you on the flipside, unless you find me on Twitter @oyclaypotter.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Where have you been?

Bought clay. Measured, wedged, rolled and balled clay. Threw and built clay. Dried clay (but not too dry). Carved, stamped, and marked clay. Dried clay (very dry). Loaded clay into kiln, fired clay, cooled clay, unloaded bisque. Repeated.

Waxed bisque. Dry wax. Brushed bisque. Applied oxides to bisque. Glazed Bisque. Dried. Packed bisque (very gently) Schlepped to kiln. With the help of friends: Unpacked bisque (very gently). Loaded bisque.

Now: Firing bisque.

Next: Cool. Unload pottery. Pack pottery (very carefully) . Schlep pottery home. Unload pottery. Photograph pottery. Inventory pottery. Price pottery. Repack pottery (very carefully). Load pottery into car. Drive pottery 675 miles to Deerfield, Illinois. Unload car. Set up display. Unpack pottery and place on display. Sell, sell, sell. Sleep. Sell, sell sell. Sleep. Sell, sell, sleep.

Either 1) load empty crates in to car and drive home. OR 2) pack remaining pots. Load car and drive home.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Today, at 10:45 a.m. I finished 59 years of living. As I head into my 60th year, I remember a conversation I had with my dad as he approached his 60th birthday. I was 27, it was the late 70's and I was still in the "don't trust anyone over 30" frame of mind, and was quickly becoming irrelevant, by that standard.

"Dad, what's it feel like, being sixty?, I asked. "I mean, are you scared?" He thought a moment and smiled, "Not when I consider the alternative."

While I've heard similar sentiments since then, I thought, at the time, that my father was so pragmatic and so profound at the same time. Still do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Started a new class yesterday called making faces. Recently, I have started sculpting figures and was having trouble with the faces, in particular. I started a couple of heads, but then had trouble with the eyes, in particular. Let's be clear, I need instruction on the whole body and face but these, with the hands, are particularly difficult for me as evidenced by the photos.

Oh, I almost forgot the ears, wow. I really need this class.

Anyway, I have a lot to learn, but I do love the process.

Studio cleaning today. I have a large half kiln to fill mid February, and I am way behind. So, off to the studio.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year Gregorian

If one is Jewish, there are several New Year celebrations each year. The actual beginning of the lunar Hebrew calendar is the month of Nissan, the month in which Passover occurs. The time of beginnings, Spring. Then there is Rosh Hashanah, which means, "Head of the Year", which occurs in the fall, on the new moon of Tishre, the 7th month. This Holy Day celebrates the "Genesis" of the earth, which, according to calculations made from the Torah (however inaccurate), was 5770 years ago. We also celebrate the Anniversary of the Treesor First Fruits.

It is only in the Diaspora that the Gregorian New Year is recognized. It is one of those things that we accept as "strangers" in another culture. Pope Gregory moved the New Year to January ( a relatively new month to the calendar at the time)from March after about 1,000 years of dispute about whether the birth (set in December instead of July/August which is probably more accurate) or the resurrection of Jesus should start the year.

I write these things to discuss the illusion of time and the individual importance of the way it passes.