By Harriet P. Gross
The Sh’ma has become my latest “fashion statement.” I don’t know whether to be proud or not as I slip the watchword of our faith on my left wrist every morning. But a Möbius strip bracelet, its endless loop inscribed in both Hebrew and English, has become an essential part of my wardrobe. I wouldn’t leave home without it, no more than I’d go out without a watch, whose closest companion this has become.
Stars of David and mezuzot: Lots of folks wear these, mostly on neck chains. From time to time I do so myself. But not all the time, because necklaces are, frankly, jewelry. Some people have several, in different styles, with or without gemstones or other decorations, to complement various outfits. Not many wear just one such item, the same one, all the time.
Once, long ago, I did. My Boubby the Philosopher gave me, as first daughter of her first daughter, her own favorite star when I reached my teens. It was marcasite-set gold on a golden chain, which I wore for several years without ever taking it off — on top of some clothing, tucked away under others, in shower and swimming pool, and to bed. But when I was 20 and working at a summer camp, its chain broke. I put the star away to await my next day off, when I could get into the city and buy a replacement. That same night, the cabin in which I slept burned to the ground. I got out; my possessions — including Boubby’s star — did not. (There’s probably some profound lesson lurking in this ironic calamity, but I’ve chosen not to read too much into it.)
After trying futilely to find another star just like Boubby’s, I “replaced” it with a mezuzah whose totally sealed silver case allowed me to wear it all the time without damaging the parchment inside. When I held my babies close, they teethed on it. Today, that tooth-marked family treasure has become one charm among many on a necklace full of memories, a conversation piece when I wear it. Which is definitely not every day.
I never thought about another everyday “amulet” until, on a trip to who-remembers-where, bored enough to page listlessly through the in-flight shopping catalog, I became totally awake and alert when I saw the bracelet. I’ve always loved the Möbius, the geometric wonder that turns two surfaces into a single continuous one. I’d seen bracelets fashioned like this before, but always engraved with Biblical quotes or portions of prayers from Christian sources. Now here, up in the air, I found the Sh’ma! (There’s probably some meaning hidden in such a high-flying discovery, too, but I haven’t tried to read a lot into this, either.)
When I got back home, I ordered one for myself, and began wearing it every single day.
There’s comfort in having the Sh’ma with me, close to me. Sometimes I find myself fingering my bracelet’s slim, smooth surface; then I become totally aware of its words, relating to them through direct touch as well as in mind and spirit. And I know that if anything should happen to me when I’m among strangers who must then search for my identity, they’ll find the real me with just a glimpse at my left wrist. There, like the once-popular ID bracelets engraved with their wearers’ names, is my own identification — of another, perhaps more important, kind.
Yet … a bracelet is still, at base, just a piece of jewelry. And since that’s true, I’ve recently acquired a second one. Now I have both silver and gold, to match and complement whatever I decide to wear at any particular time. A watch is a functional instrument, but still for me mainly a jewelry item, so I make daily choices from among several different ones. My two Möbius Sh’mas make the choice simpler: They differ only in the metals that form them. Fine metals, befitting the fine words they carry. But decorative, nonetheless. Is this an OK thing?
In my jewelry box: two marcasite-set Stars of David, my early, unsatisfying attempts to replicate the one
Boubby had given me. Next to them: a silver pin, unengraved, from the first time I ever saw a Möbius made into something wearable. None of these keepsakes will ever leave its velvet-lined home again to adorn my neck or some lapel. But my Sh’ma bracelets have become everyday, necessary companions.
Fashion statement? Yes! Does “statement of faith” also rate a “yes”? I hope so.
By Harriet P. Gross