Toilet Ritual Altar
About Siera Hanks
My Name is Siera Rayne Hanks and I am currently living in Louisville Kentucky. I am the fourth generation of Jewish Women in my family to live in the city. I study with my local synagogues as well as online with Svara: A radically traditional yeshiva. Before the pandemic I was living and working in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and before that I was recovering from a partial bowel resection. I like cooking for my loved ones, walking unreasonable distances to run errands, and reading books about historical globalization. Creatively I like beautifying functional objects for everyday use, and writing excessively over-researched midrash. Chronically ill, chronically cute, chronically over-doing it. Ask me about my seder plate and foraged acorn flour.
About Toilet Ritual Altar
This is a toilet ritual altar, in the Jewish culture I grew up in this is quite taboo. You do not bring ritual items into the bathroom. However I have a gastrointestinal disease – like enough Ashkenazi folks that just being one is listed as a risk factor in medical documentation. I have postponed care and felt impure and blighted over the deeply stigmatized nature of this condition. I was really curious and delighted to learn of the asher yatzar – a blessing for using the toilet. However, the included appreciation for all parts of a body working perfectly did not suit me and many folks I know. All my openings and hollows do not work perfectly. I laser printed a reinterpretation of a classic hamsa protection amulet and built it into a small shelf. To the asher yatzar I added text of the mi shebeirach for healing, as well as the shehecheyanu, because although it is often painful and scary I genuinely am living a part of my life in the bathroom and experiencing new and striking things there often. It is ritual. Delicately, the bathroom is a place of release and the root of Shmita is release. I want to facilitate the release of some of my shame, struggle and pain surrounding my bodily function. I also wanted to prominently and unabashedly display some of the hidden trappings of my communities’ toilet usage: tampons/pads, wipes, creams, sharps containers, UTI testing strips, and a sanitary washing pitcher. I believe having a more inclusive and accessible toilet space can be beautiful, less intimidating, and even sacred. (Please note this is a prototype, It features a truncated mi shebeirach. There may be some discrepancies in spelling and ritual language, displayed items can be endlessly reinterpreted for the needs of your community