A Birthday Tribute to Otto Lilien

A birthday tribute from Ismar David, detailing a joint project from Eretz Israel.

Jordan River water box
The packaging for an amulet containing a vial of water from the Jordan River.

In the Promised Land (so named because it is the land of promises, made, kept and broken, lived the young upright man Helios the image-maker with his family. He had settled in the land in which milk and honey flow, but his share in these blessings was meager.

To improve his lot, he took stock of his assets and decided to use his ingenious craft of image-making. Thus he would exchange images (printed ones, of course) for dough, the kind of dough that would buy some amenities and [the] additional milk and honey needed to sustain a family. He was assisted in his endeavor by another image maker of lifetime experience, who was steeped in the traditions of the land of promises and knew when to make and how to break them.

It was then that other promising chances appeared on the horizon. A man, who as organizer of caravans had contact with the outside world, had a great vision. He noticed that it was not only milk and honey that flowed through the land, but also the Jordan River and remembering that the Promised Land was also the Holy Land, he saw the Christian world craving for a symbol of the land’s holiness and himself stilling this craving by distributing minute quantities of the Jordan’s water [among] them. Needless to say that he saw himself already richly rewarded for his humanitarian act. To convert this vision into reality he sought out Helios the image-maker to create an image of holiness containing visibly the drop of holy water. The caravan organizer sounded convincing, but he did not rely on his power of persuasion. He rather suggested that a scroll of certification signed by the High Priest be attached to each packaged drop to put the minds of millions, who would behold the drop of holiness, at ease.

Here was a challenge for the image-maker. The water, he thought, should be contained in a vial. The vial should be set in wood that would protect it, but still allow the precious drop to be visible. A ribbon attached to the wood would make it wearable as an amulet and a scroll would guaranty its authenticity. All this would be in a box available for a few piasters a piece. But remember the millions waiting for the chance to own this unique certified talisman. Perhaps the simplest thing to produce was the box that was to contain the amulet and scroll. The scroll was a different matter. It was easily designed and printed, but after the high priest had signed the first 50 certificates, he had second thoughts and threatened to withhold further signatures. The wooden container, after trial and error, was satisfactory, but the vial of the small size needed became a problem for which the final solution was a section of glass tubing sealed with wax at both ends. Alas, the holy water evaporated before it reached the waiting millions. The end of a vision.

The image maker’s wife was well as the writer of these lines functioned as assistants. Names are changes so that the writer cannot be held responsible for distorting facts. I remember with affection other events and deeds of the same period, especially the image-maker’s generous and invaluable help and support for my project, the design of contemporary Hebrew letters for printing.

With my and Dorothy’s best wishes for many happy returns.

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