Meet WTP Artist Andrea Sher-Leff
I was raised in Skokie, Illinois, a town that felt like everyone was Jewish. My upbringing was traditional Jewish, and Shabbat was a regular weekly event at my grandmother's.
At five, I remember going to shul with my Great-Uncle Jack and being incensed that I couldn't sit with him. Already, as a little girl, it made no sense to me that women sat behind a mechitza. I was bat mitzvah at a synagogue where I was not allowed to touch the Torah, because I was a woman. Even then, I began to question the patriarchy of my religion because I didn't believe that my worship and learning should be restricted.
In Chicago, I graduated from the International Academy of Merchandising & Design. After years of designing clothing, I became dissatisfied with the industry and was looking for a new creative outlet. Having worked with beads since childhood, I always had the desire to learn the fabrication of silver and gold. I learned to solder and began producing jewelry. Eventually, I quit working in the fashion industry and my new creative outlet became my business. For eighteen years, I have been a silversmith and jewelry designer selling at fine stores and art fairs across the country. I produced my first sterling silver mezuzah 15 years ago as a wedding present, and I continue to produce custom designed Judaica.
I live in Austin, Texas, with my husband and two children. If you had told me 15 years ago that I'd be married to a Jewish man, studying Torah, and sending my children to a Jewish Day School, I probably would have laughed and thought it unbelievable! Life circumstances take us in new directions.
I have had some wonderful Judaics teachers, both women and men, and have learned of the rich roles that women have played throughout the history of our religion and culture, even predating Moses. I have studied the powerful roles of Miriam, Ziphora, and Esther, and the spiritual Shekhinah.
Three years ago, while dancing during Simchat Torah celebrations, our rabbi turned to me and handed me the Torah. I was surprised and overjoyed. I was a full participant in the eyes of my congregation. It has been a long journey, a journey full circle.
The first time I heard of this fabulous project I was so excited that it was really happening. That a Women's Torah was coming to life, a Torah written by women! It has touched me at the deepest reaches of my soul. Contributing to the Women's Torah Project resonates deep within me and is fulfilling.
I am making the clasp for the wimple. What an honor to make the piece that holds the Torah all together. I see it as a giant hug around something infinitely precious. The designs I will use to create the clasp are inspired by life. Presently, I have two different designs. When I create I usually start out with a drawing or a whole page of drawings. I have something in mind and by the time the project is finished I may create another design. This is often something that wasn't even on the page, yet more beautiful than my original. The designs just come to me and I move them forward.
All of my work is hand fabricated. I will be using sterling silver, fine silver, gold, and perhaps enamel to create the clasp.