Taking Handmade Torah Pointers Home for the Holidays

Originally published in San Diego Jewish Journal, October 2016 issue

By Natalie Jacobs

David and Marji Nightingale have had a poster of Torah pointers from the San Diego Museum of Art’s “Precious Legacy” exhibition hanging in their custom jewelry shop since 1986. The shop, still called Wechsler & Goodman Jewelry after the partners from whom the Nightingales bought the business, is on the third floor of the Jewelers Exchange building downtown. The poster of the yad hangs at the end of a long counter where David and Marji’s designs in silver, gold and gemstone are organized by style beneath impeccably smudge-free glass. Now, another glass case, this one full of real Torah pointers, joins the poster on the wall and the two make a perfect pair.

The jewelers have been collaborating on the design and fabrication of unique Torah pointers for about two years, but the display case took some convincing.

“I wanted to get a representation so I wouldn’t have someone come back and say ‘I wanted that one,’” says David Nightingale.

Marji hints that the delay may also have had something to do with an emotional attachment to the designs. In a decades-long career of repairing other people’s pieces and designing to a client’s specifications, these Torah pointers are entirely the Nightingale’s.

“Lots of rabbis bring things for me to fix,” David says, “Torah pointers, wine cups,” he offers as example.

It was after the same rabbi with the same Torah pointer came in for the fourth or fifth time that David said enough. He wouldn’t fix that Torah pointer anymore. Instead, he made the rabbi a new one.

“I made it kryptonite proof,” he says with a big mustacheoed smile.

Marji opens the case and flips the chain to free one for David to show me. With his bulbous and blackened fingers, the 30-year jeweler points to the tiny silver hand at the tip of the yad. It’s smaller than the pad of his thumb.

Before David gifted his first Torah pointer to the rabbi, he says a man from the building saw it and wanted a custom one.

“For his father’s memorial,” David says.

Each of the Nightingale’s Torah pointers are made up of at least four pieces that are either hand-cast and carved by David, or repurposed from vintage flatware that Marji collects and strips. One Nightingale yad features walrus tusk that was taken from a vanity found at an estate sale. Another includes tourmaline with a Hebrew star symbolically positioned on the back of the pointer. Marji, who confesses she’s been called the “queen of flatware,” says her favorite pointer started as a button hook from Victorian times. She points to another where the handle came from a challah knife.

Though it is obvious that each pointer is carefully and intentionally crafted with thin lines of swirling silver, when I describe them as delicate David and Marji are quick to correct me. They note that their yad are substantial pieces that are not fragile or dainty. There will be no need to take repair orders for these, if or when the couple decide to sell them.

The Nightingales say they’ve made 25 pieces so far, and 19 are on display in the glass case where they will be exhibited for an undetermined amount of time. Visitors are welcome to view the pieces anytime.

Wechsler & Goodman Jewelry, owned and operated by David and Marji Nightingale, is located at 861 Sixth Ave., Suite 318. Call (619) 235-6666 for hours and viewing information.