Establish the work of our hands!

She was a weaver. Coming to it late in life, her footsteps were no longer steady, but her fingers delicately managed the small loom in her living room, balls of yarn beckoning from the nearby basket. One of her last days, I came to see her. Her daughters handed me a small, soft package, wrapped in tissue — a narrow jewel-toned scarf unrolled, marked by a label with the weaver’s name.

It was the last gift I could hold, but not the last gift she gave. She bequeathed friendship across generations, nurturing with baking, an example of values – everyone enters through the front door, her presence in community each Shabbat. Each time I wind that scarf around me, I see the weaver’s face, and hear her gentle voice. The tissue falls away, the work of her hands envelopes me. Her weaving, the work of her hands, teaches still, enduring in my hands.

As the psalmist wrote: May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!

Each of us has a scarf, or something else, not a scarf per se. We have a gift – a thing, a lesson or a word made by the hands of those we held dear — the hands of our parents or grandparents, our partners or children, our brothers or sisters, our aunts or uncles, friends or teachers. We have the work of their hands. We hold it in our hands, we hold it in our hearts.

Maybe they gave it wrapped in tissue or in a recipe. In an envelope or picture frame, a game of catch or on a court. In an office or in conversation, a holiday or meeting. Maybe it came with a note, or was labeled matter-of-factly in a call, or was a lesson of life packaged in great flourish. Maybe it’s unlabeled – instead an association with a name or reputation, or an act of kindness wrapped in humility, given unmarked, in ordinary time, at home or on the way. Maybe it’s marked on a journey, as lines on a map, or in bold strokes of a painting or drama. Is it rolled in family tradition and history? Or unrolled in a way to argue or discuss. All is the work of their hands, enduring in ours.

May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!

Those we hold dear bequeathed the work of their hands in small and large moments: in embraces & meals, letters & conversations. In the care of bodies & souls, in words we avoid, examples we choose to miss. In hammered nails and hammered values. In actions that changed the world, and words that changed our minds. In days at the office and days caring for others. In creating beauty and wringing their hands with worry. As their hands kindled lights or spun dreidels, lifted matzah or wrapped a tallis. As they held a book, or raised themselves for Kaddish, turned a steering wheel or a phone dial. When they tied our shoes or un-knotted relationships, wrote sums on homework or edits on writing. When they made music and made friends, taught students and taught themselves.

This is the work of those who came before us – this is the work of their hands as they built their lives each day, setting examples to follow, or not, teaching us in word and deed. The work of their hands endures in us. The work of their hands endures through our hands.

May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!

At this hour we reach, grasp even, we long to touch those hands, the hands of our dear ones. But we cannot. So we turn to memory, recalling what they made, what they touched. And we look within. Like the weaver making a scarf on her small loom, those who came before us wove us with rich colors, different textures. They formed us with their hands as they held, pushed, let go… We too are the work of their hands. We are here. We endure.

May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!

Yizkor gives us time to consider the work of their hands, and our own. Yizkor gives us questions: What did they give us? What do I value? What do I continue? As we “hold onto the works of those who died,”[i]  and weave their works into ours, they live. We weave their works anew with our hands. We weave their works into our own. With Yizkor we plead: May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!

וִיהִ֤י ׀ נֹ֤עַם אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֭דֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָ֥ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דֵ֗ינוּ כּוֹנְנֵֽהוּ׃

May the work of our hands endure. Establish the work of our hands!


This essay & Alan Goodis’ song included in this blog post were created for North Shore Congregation Israel’s Yom Kippur Yizkor service, 5778..


I am grateful…

to Rona Glaser z”l for friendship across generations & for the work of her hands.

to Alan Goodis for studying Psalm 90 with me, challenging me to think anew on beloved verses, and inspiring this writing through our conversation and his musical piece Psalm 90 which juxtaposes the first and last verses of the psalm, that is, the eternality of God’s presence and the temporal nature of the work of our hands. (

To Rabbi Andrea Weiss for ever teaching me and for sharing psalm texts and insights.

For the book Joy, Despair, and Hope, Reading Psalms (Rabbi Edward Feld) – thoughtful wisdom on Psalm 90 that opened my thinking and reconsideration of verses I have long cherished.


[i] Paraphrased text with gratitude to Joy, Despair, and Hope: Reading Psalms, Edward Feld, p. 129.