Alex: I’m originally from North Jersey. I grew up in Bergen County near Teaneck. After high school, I went to Rutgers and then moved to New York City go to go Yeshivat Hadar, where I took an Intro to Jewish Calligraphy course with Jen Taylor. That was the start of it for me. I began working with tefillin and, over time, got into doing Torah repairs. For a long time, I did this work on the side while working in museums and as a web developer.
When I first moved to DC, I was still working as a web developer, but I really wanted to grow my scribal work and I wanted to have kids and own my own business. I’ve now been doing this work full time for about two years.
Alex: In Hebrew, a sofer or soferet (depending on gender), is a person who transcribes Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzahs, and megillahs. Essentially, I spend my days both producing and fixing them.
Alex: I haven’t but I do have a graduate degree is in material culture studies, which is basically history and anthropology through objects. So that squares nicely with the work that I do now and finding ways to transmit Jewish culture through objects. In reality, I’m not that artistic, though I can pick good art!
Alex: The truth is that scribal work is controlled by specific rules as opposed to ketubahs that have fewer rules, if any. I consider myself following those rules rather than branching out when I do work on Torah scrolls, tefillin, megillahs, etc.
I am creative in other areas, though. I love cooking and exploring the history of decorative arts and art history. I don’t produce as much original artwork as some other people do. There are so many amazing women who do Jewish art and ketubahs, but not as many Jewish women scribes. Overall, Jewish art and Judaica is an area that is so well developed both for and by women, whereas having women in Sofrut (Jewish scribal arts) who belong to more liberal Jewish communities is quite rare.
For that reason, I really like going to different communities and being able to speak to people on their own terms and in their language about our Jewish scribal tradition. There is often a big cultural barrier between Jewish liberal communities and scribal arts, so I enjoy making it more accessible.
Alex: Great question. So, mezuzahs and tefillin have very specific rules about how they are written, which is why getting a good Kosher mezuzah or tefillin can be so difficult. Torah scrolls are actually a bit more relaxed.
Alex: Lately, I have had so many requests for tefillin for women. The art of tefillin making is something that has taken a long time to get into because you need specific skills and materials. I am just beginning to produce tefillin with a colleague in Canada who I know through the Women’s Tefillin Gamach from my time in New York.
Alex: NoVA has a quickly growing Jewish community with lots of people moving to the area. It’s been exciting to see how much the Jewish community is growing here. When I’m not working on my own scribal business, I am managing Stam Scribes, a network of women scribes who are in a collective together. I run and manage the website for the group.
Alex: Not surprisingly, the pandemic has made people a lot more open to virtual education, which is great. There are also so many synagogues that wanted to have their Torahs checked and maintained while no one was using them or they were being used less. The shift to virtual education has meant that there is so much more education, period. The cost is often lower and you’re just able to reach so many more people.
Alex: Definitely the importance of local relationships and people that you can see in your daily life. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we can subsist on relationships mediated by technology, but our in-person relationships are incredibly important.
Alex: My business has grown a lot over the last couple of years, so I would like to learn how to continue to grow it while also parenting a 9 year old and a 9 month old. In addition, I would like to help fellow scribes grow their businesses, too, because it’s something that brings me a lot of joy.
Alex: Anyone should feel free to email me at email@example.com or check out my website.
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Photos courtesy of Alex Casser and Congregation Or Atid