Today’s post is the first in an occasional series about you - the students of JLI. This we we’re meeting Chaya Crane, who attends Rabbi Yisroel Altein’s classes in Pittsburgh, PA.
Chaya’s first exposure to Chabad came in San Francisco’s Richmond Torah Center, where she reveled in Rabbi Aron Hecht’s depth of knowledge. When she moved to Lafayette, LA, Chaya found that a community so tiny that everyone – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform – belonged to one shul. But smallness had its plusses. They shared runs up to The Kosher Cajun for meat, take turns delivering the Shabbat drashah, and supported their fellow Jews with pride and enthusiasm. High Holidays, a number of shul members stayed with Rabbi Rivkin and family in New Orleans. Chaya moved from Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina hit, but continues to photographically document its inhabitants, finding profound inspiration in the resilience of the human spirit. She witnessed how people can “not only make do, but make joy, against all odds.”
Chaya is passionate about connection, especially the link between our rich heritage and the exciting future that technological advances promise. As professor of media arts, she examines the impact of technology on design and how it shapes our choices. Her zeal for connection and art really come together in her involvement dating Jewish ritual objects rescued from post-Holocaust Europe. In a fairly miraculous turn of events she was reunited with an antique Italian Torah scroll belonging to her great-grandfather that had been lost in the Holocaust.
Chaya shared a few of her treasures, including pieces from her spice-box collection. Delicate stems bear dainty flowers, the pods hold the spices. A 10-inch tall silver castle is topped by a bird on its spire, two more perch on the elaborately curved handles on either side. But the most striking piece is her Judenstern – Jewish Star. This brass candelabrum was traditionally used for kindling Shabbat lights. Hers is probably Italian, with eight points radiating from the central oil well. As I gaze at it, time falls away, and I see Chaya - or myself, or you - lowering the Judenstern and ushering in the Shabbat.
But when I ask, Chaya says her favorite piece is a Kiddush cup found floating in the waters of Katrina. Heavily patinaed, it still bore the price tag of a local synagogue gift-shop. “Your heritage gives you strength to believe in a future.”
Chaya provided an excerpt of an article about Judenstern if you want to know more.