NESHOME LIKHT FOR
The Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore, MD
The central question to this work is "How do we reinvigorate Jewish traditions of mourning to honor ecological losses and build collective ritual around the climate crisis?"
In a time of ecological devastation when so much of the natural world is suffering, this project applies the Ashkenazi practice of grave-measuring to ecological relatives in peril. Grave-measuring or feldmestn was practice carried out by Eastern European women known as feldmesterin (grave measurers). The practice of grave-measuring would traditionally be performed during the month of Elul, when the veil
between the worlds of the living and the dead was thought to be thinning. Feldmesterin would measure the graves of their ancestors with cotton thread while reciting Yiddish prayers known as tkhines. These spontaneous prayers were reserved for household or domestic use, and did not need the participation of a rabbi. The thread would then become the wick for hand-dipped neshome likht (soul candles) that would burn in memory of the ancestors on Yom Kippur.
This project has had two iterations thus far; one that measured a dying cottonwood tree along the banks of the Rio Grande in Santa Fe, New Mexico and one commissioned for the Jewish Museum of Maryland's exhibition MATERIAL/INHERITANCE that was dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay.
The process of grave-measuring for an ecological relative includes researching what plants, animals, or bodies of water are endangered in the place the work will be shown, choosing an ecological relative to measure, and taking a field visit to perform a measuring practice with cotton thread. I document the process of measuring and hand-dipping the candles to accompany an installation of the finished soul
candles. A community ritual event is held when the candles are burned where people can write and offer their own tkhines.