Hand of religions
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all had a hand in the longtime symbol of protection against evil spirits.
The hand-shaped symbol is called a hamsa.
“Christians call it the Hand of Mary; Jews, the Hand of Miriam (Moses’ and Aaron’s sister),” Santa Barbara artist Laurie Gross Schaefer told the News-Press.
Islam refers to the symbol as the Hand of Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Muhammad.
“Oftentimes, you will see it displayed by the doorway so evil spirits don’t come into the home,” Mrs. Gross Schaefer, 57, said. “Or it might be hung on the crib of a baby or above the wall of a crib by a baby to protect the baby from evil spirits.”
The artist will lead people in creating a hamsa-inspired craft during Hamsa & Hops at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center, 524 Chapala St. Mrs. Gross Schaefer will guide the 90-minute workshop, which includes beer, wine and snacks.
The Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara is organizing the workshop.
Jilli Spear, the division’s coordinator, told the News-Press that it’s their first hamsa workshop.
“We decided to do something different,” Ms. Spear said. “The Young Adult Division is interested in learning about Jewish symbolism. We thought Laurie Gross Schaefer would be perfect to facilitate the event.”
Mrs. Gross Schaefer earned a bachelor’s of fine arts in art at the California College of Art and Crafts, now known as the California College of the Arts, in Oakland in 1975.
She is nationally known for her spiritually-based art. Her work has been displayed at Jewish museums and synagogues across the U.S., as well as in private collections.
Her projects have included ark doors and curtains, Torah covers, art glass windows, donor and memorial walls, and site-specific sculptures.
“My personal work is about understanding and delving into my Jewish traditions and expressing it artistically, with a big focus on creating a sacred space, both for the community and the individual in the home,” Mrs. Gross Schaefer said.
She explained that the hamsa dates back to ancient Egypt and was embraced by the Jewish culture in Northern Africa.
The word “hamsa” comes from a reference to the five fingers on the hand. The Hebrew word for “five” is “hamesh.”
Mrs. Gross Schaefer attributed the hamsa’s appeal among various religions to the fact that it’s a hand. “It’s something we all know because it’s part of our body. People gravitate toward things they understand.
“It’s a pleasing shape,” the artist noted. “A lot of people make jewelry with the hamsa design —necklaces, bracelets. A lot of people have the opportunity to wear it. It feels personal.”
Mrs. Gross Schaefer said she discussed the hamsa’s meaning with her husband, Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer of the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara.
“He looks at it and says that not only is it a symbol to ward off evil spirits, it is a symbol to remind you to stay away from evil inclinations,” Mrs. Gross Schaefer said. “It is a symbol to remind you to stay on the straight path, to be a good person, to be a good citizen, to love your neighbor and to always remember that when you’re presented with a choice of good and evil, to choose good.”
Ms. Spear said she sees the hamsa as a symbol of unity and peace, something that is needed after the recent massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
“It is a very important time to come together and stand in peace.”
IF YOU GO
Hamsa & Hops will feature a talk by artist Laurie Gross Schaefer and her guidance in creating a decorative hamsa craft at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bronfman Family Jewish Community Center, 524 Chapala St.
The event is organized by the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara.
Cost is $10 and includes art materials, beer, wine and snacks.
For more information, go to www.jewishsantabarbara.org.