Since my husband, David Margolis z"l, died, the notion of reincarnation is urgently relevant to me. I find myself especially vulnerable to the question of what awaits us after this life. The ink drawing called "Living Alone" explores this question. This is how it came about.
At Passover, before we had any idea it would be his last, my husband and I made the seder together. Our grown children were all elsewhere and, for the first time in 34 years, despite the urging from friends to join them, we decided to make our seder alone, just the two of us
As is our family custom, David began with the story about Chaim the water carrier, whose seder, it is said, was even more wonderful than the seder of the Berditchever Rebbi.1
Each year the way David tells that story bring tears to my eyes - especially at the end when he would raise his voice and, as Chaim the water carrier, cry out "And You God, You come down and Make us FREE!"
This year the telling of that story was even more inspired than ever before. Our table seemed to glow, just like Chaim the water carrier's. We enjoyed that seder together immensely, discussing the going out from Egypt, eating the delicious foods and singing the traditional songs until 3:30 in the morning.
Afterward, we took a walk in the brightness of the full moon. As we walked hand in hand in the fragrant night air, I thought to myself how grateful I was to share my life with him, and that forevermore a full moon would remind me that everything could be perfect.
David became acutely ill at Shavuot and by the full moon of Tammuz he was gone.
All through that terrible time, experiencing such obliterative" grief, I so wanted to talk with him! I began to think about reincarnation and I wondered if he saw, if he knew, where he was and if I would ever feel his presence again. I found it painful to simply be in my home, to see the things that he had touched. It hurt to even breathe. And, with the house empty, I couldn't bear to be in my studio or touch my art supplies to work. I thought I might never draw again.
One night I saw an empty box of matzah, and thought of the seder that we had made together. Without quite knowing what was coming I cut a piece of cardboard from the box. On the back I used a ballpoint pen to describe the moon and blacken out the night, leaving little specks of no ink for the stars. I put in curtains fluttering as if stirred by a breeze or spirit. Beneath the window I drew a solitary figure alone in bed.
In these last months I have made many such drawings. It is the only thing I feel like drawing. Like the exodus out of Mitzrayim, (Egypt) whose root means Narrow, it tells of a passage through a painful and difficult place. Like the Passover story, which is told over and over, it must be drawn and redrawn.
My darling husband is gone. I am desolate to be apart from him. But, still, that amazing full moon returns each month to remind me of how perfect things can be.
Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote "To apprehend the depth of religious faith we will try to ascertain not so much what the person is able to express as that which he is unable to express, the insights that no language can declare."
Making art is an opportunity to express what no language can declare.
1. "The seder of the ignorant man" from Tales of the Hasidim (the Later Masters) by Martin Buber, Translated by Olga Marx, Schocken Books, Inc. pg. 219
Judith Margolis , MFA, is an Israel-based American painter, book artist and writer. She produces limited-edition and one-of-a-kind artist's books under the imprint Bright Idea Books/Jerusalem, and is the art editor of Nashim, Journal of Jewish Women's Studies and Gender Issues , published by Indiana University Press. She writes often about art, spirituality and creative process and is currently working on an illustrated book for counting the Omer with text by Sarah Yehudit Schneider, titled Countdown to Perfection/ Meditations on the Sefrot . Her work has been exhibited and published internationally and can be viewed at www.judithmargolis.com and www.judithmargolis.com/sefirot.