My Golden Sanctuary

Photo of Eva wearing her necklaces courtesy of Eva. Border designed by Judy Goldstein.

Not to be shallow, but I’m a gold girl. I always have been. All of my jewelry is gold. My bat mitzvah dress was gold, and I wore a pair of gold high-tops to match. Even my bathroom wallpaper is gold.  

According to the Talmud, gold was meant to be used in the Holy Temple because the temple was meant to be a place of sanctuary that is unlike any other place. Similarly, this metal was used in the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. Gold, as a precious substance, was a fitting material for such a precious place and important person.  

From these traditions, I inferred that the things we hold dear are meant to be adorned. I’ve realized that, in my life, my jewelry, my gold, has been a source of strength and sanctuary that allows me to connect with my family, culture, and self. My neck is rarely bare, often lined with a mess of necklaces, organized only by history and memory.  



The first necklace in my stack is a woven golden chain. When my dad’s father passed away, my grandma gave me and each of my cousins one of his items to keep. We wear them every day, and it makes us feel connected to each other and to our Papa. This chain is rugged and strong, safe from snags and knots; it's steady and solid, just like Papa. I remember sitting on his lap as a young girl and noticing him wearing this chain. He would tuck it under his brown and beige sweaters, and when I laid on his chest, I could feel it underneath. Now, I feel the weight of it on my neck often, and I think back to those moments with fondness. Papa always had a soft spot for me, given that I was the only granddaughter in a family of boys. Maybe that’s why, when Papa passed, all of the children were given mementos, but I was given something more.  

Along with the golden chain, my grandma made me a teddy bear out of the fabric of Papa’s old ties. That bear wore a kippah and tallit, and it watched over me on the bimah as I recited my Torah portion at my bat mitzvah. It now watches over me as I sleep. I like to think that Papa is sitting in the corner of my room, keeping me grounded and calm. When I reflect on my relationship with him, I find it is best encapsulated by the image of my tiny fist enveloped in his large, strong hands. This image is one of safety and security, and so his gold chain is a symbol of the sanctuary it brings me. 

The next necklace in my everyday rotation has been worn by strong women in my family for three generations. Its pendant is a gold Star of David with the word Zion inscribed on it. The star is surrounded by a silver wreath of olive branches. My maternal grandmother, Mimi, originally bought the charm in Israel when she was very young, later passing it to my mother and to me, and we have all worn it with pride. Mimi has always been the brightest light in my life. Everyone who meets her remarks on how much joy she spreads to everyone she comes across. She truly makes friends wherever she goes, and she is my biggest role model and supporter.  

Recently, though, I found out that she has been battling breast cancer for my whole life. The whole time that I knew her as happy and optimistic, she was suffering more than anyone I knew, but she didn’t let it stop her. I feel honored to get to wear her necklace as an emblem of her strength and her joy, as well as her commitment to being a proud Jew through wearing a Star of David. Like Papa, Mimi is another example of my sanctuary. Her pendant is a reminder of her eternal light, similar to the one hanging before the ark in synagogue.  

The final necklace in my stack is one that I received as a gift for my tenth birthday, and I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve taken it off since. It is a white gold choker with a little moon and star. My mom, who picked it out for me, has a matching necklace with a bigger moon and star. When my mom was born, her grandmother came up with a list of names for her parents to consider. The name “Starla” was on the list several different times. Though that wasn’t the name chosen, Gigi, my great-grandmother, was right that my mom would have “star” in her name some way, somehow. When my mom married my dad, she took his last name “Stern” and coincidentally, it means star in Yiddish. I wear this necklace to remind me that my family, my life, my mother’s life, and our ancestry was meant to happen the way it did. It was written in the stars. It was almost as if Gigi planned it. I feel sanctuary knowing that I am right where I am meant to be. Gigi knew that my mom was meant to be a star, and I’m honored to capture even a twinkle.  

I feel very privileged to come from a family that demonstrates such love, support, and grit. As a Jew, I’ve learned to think beyond raw materialism and adorn myself in things that are precious to me and provide me a sense of sanctuary and importance. Women have the strength to wear jewelry, not just for beauty, but for purpose. I wear these necklaces to intertwine the safety of my Papa, the optimism of Mimi, and the determination and creativity of my mom and Gigi. I am a strong Jew whose generational pride shines through the gold layered on my neck. 

 

 

 

 

 

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Your story kept me so involved! I love gold as well. I’m named after my paternal grandmother z’l, her name was Golda🥰

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How to cite this page

Stern, Eva. "My Golden Sanctuary." 11 December 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 23, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/my-golden-sanctuary>.