Beit Mikdash: The Holy House

The Beit Mikdash, more commonly referred to as the Holy Temple, was the house of worship where the Shekhina, the female manifestation and representation of God could dwell on earth. After it’s destruction in 76 CE and the Jewish community dispersed around the world, the rituals and rites typically performed in the temple by an elite class of priests were transferred over to the authority of the family home, with women being the main conduit of traditionally priestly actions. My family is no exception from this historical and cultural shift. Our homes are sanctified by meals, holidays, shivas, and seders, events which are organized and prepared for mainly by women. The matriarchs also adorn our family homes with judaica passed down or hand picked across generations. These objects might seem slightly odd to outsiders, but we choose them for their ability remind us of our family history as well as our larger identity living in the diaspora as the descendants of the shtetl. Our judaica is one outlet of how we create and sustain family and community memory.

Original Artist Dolls

The main stars of the documentary are Jewish Eastern European immigrant figurines, standing about a foot tall and equipped with all the accoutrement of a turn of the century Litvak in various occupations and stages of immigration. These dolls were created by clay artist Debbie McIntyre, who for the most part is a relatively mysterious figure. No one in my family could tell me anything concrete about the artist, which raised the question why did she create these dolls and is she herself Jewish? If not, what drew her to create dolls based off Eastern European shtetl folk? Although there were many attempts to contact McIntyre she is fairly unreachable which lends to the air of mystery that seems to define her as an artist. Her only visual representation of herself is through her work.

The Tailor

  • This doll is owned by Bubbe Judy.
  • The Tailor or ‘schnyder’ in Yiddish represents the history of Jewish garment working. My Bubbe chose this doll as a testament and reminder of her father, my great-grandfather Harry Hyman who owned and operated Hyman’s department store in Waynesboro, Virginia.
  • This doll comes equipped with all the tools needed for a ‘schynder’ to work including a small sewing machine, pins, needles, fabrics, and a measuring tape.

The Musical Rebbe

  • This doll is owned by my Aunt Weene.
  • This Musical Rebbe represents the importance of maintaining family connections across the diaspora. My Aunt Weene chose this doll as a reminder of Harry Hyman’s immigration journey from the shtetl’s of Lithuania to the United States. Harry was one of seven children, all of whom immigrated to the United States at different times. It takes constant work to keep a family together in the midst of diaspora and this doll is a reminder of the kin-keeping work of many generations.
  • The Rebbe carries letters from his children and grandchildren, tucked away in his sheet music and violin case. In his left pocket are all his travel documents including his passport and ticket for passage on a ship heading from the Netherlands to Ellis Island. His immigration card is pined onto his right lapel.

The Bubbe and Zayde

  • This doll is owned by my cousin Hilary.
  • Meet Saul and Zelda, the Bubbe and Zayde immigrating to a new life. My cousin Hilary also chose this doll as a reminder of our history as Eastern European immigrants and the centrality of family within Jewish religion and culture. No matter what comes the family sticks together. This is not only a principle we exercise with the current/living generations. We continuously speak to and teach our coming generations about those that have passed on. Our sense of identity is continuously formed by our known ancestors and their stories.
  • Saul and Zelda each have their own passports, a picnic basket that contains bagels and apples, their immigrant inspection cards, and a Yiddish newspaper.