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Michele Marill

When women rise to the bimah at this year’s Sisterhood Shabbat (January 21), they will be celebrating their spiritual connections in brilliant color. Just a few weeks before, 34 Shearith women gathered in a kind of sewing circle in Zimmerman Hall, where they learned about tallit – and made their own. The tallit-making workshop was so popular, it was literally overflowing as Shearith women crowded around the tables.

For many women who never had their own tallit, this was an expression of their full inclusion at Shearith. Erin Chernow, Sisterhood Shabbat co-chair and a longtime Jewish educator, explained the mitzvah of the tzitzit, the fringe worn on garments or prayer shawls to remind the Jewish people of God’s commandments. She also shared symbolism from the Jewish mystical practice of Kabbalah – colors denote certain attributes of God and are also associated with different parts of the body and even different foods. For example, blue is connected to wisdom, while white reflects kindness.

Erin, Jaime Sherman Wender and Annie D’Agostino had carefully selected fabric, and the shimmery and colorful pieces were folded on a back table. Jaime, a graphic designer, talked about how to match or contrast colors. Annie had already hemmed the tallit and created button holes for the fringe on four corners, and she was ready at a sewing machine to attach the Atarah – the decorative band of fabric at the neckline.

For a bit more inspiration, and a visualization of what is possible, textile artist Ruth Simon McRae showed some of the extraordinary handmade tallit that she sells and displays in galleries and museums.

Each person selected fabric, Atarah strips and other decorations that suited their style. They learned how to tie the knots and wrap the threads of the fringe. From now on, the garments they wear on Shabbat will reflect their own style and the knowledge shared by their Sisterhood friends.

Erin’s goal was for Shearith women to have “something that is spiritually connected to who you are, where you are, why you’re at the bimah. We are finding ourselves in a whole new world of egalitarian Judaism.”

Wed, April 17 2024 9 Nisan 5784