"This We'll Defend"

May 2011
Sterling silver, blue topaz

I was approached by a friend to make a memorial piece for her father who had recently passed away from multiple myeloma. Her memories of him from when she was a little girl were of a man who wasn't tall, but was ruggedly handsome and extremely fit and very proud of his appearance—he was the embodiment of machismo; but a man's man who had only had daughters. She had had a difficult relationship with him in his last years—he was a gruff, regimented and proud man, a Vietnam vet and ex-drill sergeant. Complicating the relationship was the fact that he had been dying for half her life—he was diagnosed almost thirteen years before he finally passed. As she grew up, his body became ravaged by the effects of the cancer and his appearance faded, but in spite of it he continued to take meticulous care of himself and his possessions. My friend wanted a memorial that would bring her the strength he showed until the end, and always remind her of where she came from and who she is.

Above all, she wanted the piece to defend the memory of his youthful glory. "This We'll Defend" is the motto of the US Army Drill Sergeant School and the most apropos theme imaginable for both the spirit and the subject of the memorial. We chose to make a defensive amulet in the shape of a hamsa, albeit an extraordinarily abstract one. The design borrows from aspects of her father's life that made him who he was and shaped her memory of their relationship.

The bottom portion of the hamsa (where the middle three fingers in a traditional hamsa design would go) are the three chevrons of his drill sergeant's stripes, placed upside-down for the sake of the design. The banner running across the center (the "thumbs") is emblazoned with the phrase על זה נגן (al zeh nagen), the Hebrew translation of "this we'll defend."

After the war, her father was a locomotive engineer on diesel and electric trains, and collected 1/64-scale model trains. The top of the hamsa (the "palm") is designed to look like the front of a steam locomotive, complete with six giant rivets (which mark the points of an implied Star of David) surrounding a giant headlight. The blue topaz set as the headlamp has a flame etched into the back shaped like a shin (ש), a Hebrew letter that by itself can represent peace or the presence of God, a symbol for the fire that keeps his memory alive in her. When the design is regarded as a whole, the set of sergeant's chevrons becomes the cowcatcher at the front of the locomotive depicted above it.

Her father was the kind of man who kept his tools spotlessly cleaned and well-oiled no matter how work-worn they were—even his dog tags were beaten-up but sparkling. To reflect that in this piece I made it with tarnish-resistant silver so that it wouldn't get dull, but I also added a few scars to the metal to make the amulet look like it had been through a few battles and come out whole. Hopefully it would be a piece he'd be proud to have represent him and will continue to keep him connected to his daughter. May his memory be a blessing.

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