It was the beginning of 2009. I had recently finished active treatment for breast cancer; I had also recently reconnected with a dear friend from college, Marla Wallerstein.
Marla went to the art school of our university and was known for her combination of beauty, humor, and creativity, in everything from her class assignments to her outfits to her presence as a friend. It made sense to find that she’d begun making gorgeous jewelry. She chose as part of her work’s mission to update traditional Jewish-themed pieces (large chai necklaces and the like). She jokes that she decided to take on this task “because someone has to”—but in all seriousness, the objects she creates based around Jewish texts and Jewish faith are quite stunning.
“I design, cut, hammer, rivet, etch, and solder to create each piece,” she explains on her website. “More than a labor, it’s love.”
Marla chooses for these pieces Hebrew words or parts of prayers that particularly resonate with her. “With all your heart soul might” is etched on a necklace (English on one side, Hebrew on the other). “Where you go, I will go.” “Faith.” “Shemah.”
Though not surprised by the quality of Marla’s work when I saw it in photos, I was quite surprised when one of her creations arrived at my door, from her studio in Chicago, soon after we’d re-found each other. It’s a round silver pendant on a silver chain. Again in Hebrew and in English, it bears the etched inscription, “Light before darkness, darkness before light”—part of a text referring to the beginnings of the world: “He createth day and night, causing the light to recede before darkness and darkness before light.”
Marla was telling me that after the darkness of the diagnosis and treatment would come light again; and she was right. In fact, I would realize later, the seeds of the coming light had been planted during the darkest times.