As time passed, I wore the hamsa more and more, and without fail, every time I wore it, someone made a comment – asking me about the stone, or where I got it, or what it meant. I learned that it was an opal (mine was blue, like the one in the photo), I discovered more about the person from whom my friend had bought this gift (her name was Rachelle Tratt and she was a Venice-based yoga instructor). I learned that the jewelry business was called The Neshama Project (in memory of Rachelle’s mother, Nicole), and that it also generated donations for charitable causes (Innovation Africa, Friends of Ofanim and Zeno Mountain Farm).
But the fact that people kept commenting on this little piece of jewelry, literally every time I wore it, had to mean something about the piece itself, and also about human connection in general. Also, I didn’t think it was an accident that every time someone commented, my hand flew to my neckline, hand touching stone and chain, and actively, physically remembering the piece, its fire, its point and person of origin, and that it had become literal touchstone, a physical anchor in my process of assimilating loss into – instead of permitting it to overpower - daily life.
represents a universal connection, that even though we may come from different
paths, backgrounds and faiths, we are all inter-connected. We are all
One,” Rachelle affirmed in an email interview conducted last week in
advance of Hanukkah. (Necklaces from The Neshama Project make excellent
Hanukkah presents, by the way - and you can get 10% off by using the code "holidaysoul.")
Rachelle’s bigger visions for The Neshama Project include spreading the messages of people and organizations “who are making this world a healthier, brighter, and more soulful place,” and she envisions leading spiritual /yoga minded retreats to Israel for those of all faiths, in order to bridge the gap and help educate those about life in the Middle East.“I used to dream of a way to help others shine and heal,” she reflected. “I used to dream of a way to allow my personal story to inspire others. I used to dream of a way to have my mother's spirit live on through me. But never in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that The Neshama Project would connect me with people in such meaningful ways.”
Eventually, Rachelle (who lives in Venice) and I (Pico-Robertson) met – connected by a mutual friend, in another country, by accident and with an assist from social media. But I’ll let her kick off the Q & A by telling you about that:
Rachelle: This summer in Jerusalem while I was researching organizations and manufacturers for The Neshama Project, a dear friend came to me with a rush of excitement; he had met someone who was wearing a blue hamsa (now keep in mind, everyone in Israel wears them!!!) The next part of this story is where my heart cracked open. This woman had explained that her mother had passed away a year ago, and a girlfriend bought her the necklace from The Neshama Project to mark the conclusion of her year mourning her mother. My mouth opened in amazement, and shock, and I was left speechless; a very rare quality for me! I couldn't wrap my brain around who this mysterious woman was and how she knew of The Neshama Project.
In the days that followed, after writing about the experience on my blog, the puzzle pieces started to come together. My co-worker reminded me that when she bought some necklaces for presents, one of them was in fact for her dear friend commemorating moving past her year of mourning. A few days later, a new e-mail surfaced with the subject line "connecting the dots" from Esther Kustanowitz. She had read the blog post about the Jerusalem encounter and realized she was the person at the story’s center. We became pen-pals, and eventually met when I returned from Israel, where we finally had the chance to connect about life, loss, Judaism and love. All because of a special blue hamsa.
EstherK: How did the Neshama project get its name? What about the hamsa do you find so appealing?
Rachelle: I have always been drawn to the term "Neshama" for many reasons. Neshama means soul in Hebrew. And according to Kabbala, ancient Jewish mysticism, the human soul consists of three parts: Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama, which is considered to be the highest - where one has the power and ability to fully realize and attain the awareness of God. The neshama lives on after death, and so does the spirit of my mother. The "N" in Neshama is in honor of my mother Nicole who passed away when I was nine years old. Her spirit, love for community, and commitment to chesed; acts of kindness, inspire the very fabric of my life.
The hamsa - an ancient Middle Eastern amulet symbolizing the Hand of God - is a protective sign that has always resonated with me as a reminder of the bigger picture in life, whether it be a connection with G-d, Spirit, and or Mother Nature. I have a hamsa wall in my room, from various travels and adventures, reminding me of the beauty of life, and that I am always supported and protected.
EstherK: You're also a yoga instructor and community builder. How does this business ideologically support or expand your passions in these areas?
Rachelle: Being a part of something with a greater purpose is what drives me to wake up in the morning, holds me accountable, and inspires me to be the best that I can be. Teaching and practicing yoga and the path of mindful living has brought me back to Judaism in my own way. In being a constant student of Life, and having the privilege of teaching yoga to various communities and organizations, I learn more about myself and the world every day.
The Neshama Project is all of me put into a socially conscious business. It is about building community, overcoming obstacles, and finding resilience. It is about choosing the positive path, giving hope, and letting people shine. It is about finding joy in the small things, like the color turquoise, a good ol' bowl of hummus, and belly laughter with friends.
In making the decision to be vulnerable, open, and authentic with myself and the world, it has attracted like-minded people, and created a safe space for those to be open and vulnerable in return. Many experiences have taken my breath away. Emails and conversations about love and loss, and how people purchase a hamsa as a symbol for their own personal growth and transformation - these are the moments that make IT ALL worth it. In these experiences, I can't deny the workings and inner-workings of something Greater in my life.
For more about Rachelle Tratt - and to purchase Neshama Project hamsas (use the code "holidaysoul" for 10% off) - you can visit The Neshama Project, 'like' them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.