MAKING MEANING WHILE MAKING A TALLIS … TOGETHER By Sharon Albert Special to HAKOL
N ORT PHOTOS: ALBERT-STEIN FAMILY CONTRIBUTED
When my son, Isaiah Albert-Stein, was about to become a bar mitzvah, his great-aunt, Deborah Avren, wanted to do something to make it more meaningful than her own had been. “When I got my first tallit at my bat mitzvah, it was just a piece of cloth, something that grownups wore. It had no connection to me. It didn’t mean anything,” Debroah said. So she decided to give Isaiah a custom-made tallit as a bar mitzvah gift. Deborah lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where there are many great fabric artists, but after considerable searching in her area and online she found the perfect artist right here in the Lehigh Valley. Stacy Hortner transforms textiles into works of art, and her Judaica pieces are full of meaning and beauty. Tremendous thought and attention to detail go into all that she does, and she ensures that what she makes is true to its purpose. Throughout the process of making Isaiah’s tallit, she asked questions and presented multiple possibilities to make sure that the tallit was as he wanted it to be and that it met all the ritual requirements for a tallit. She also ensured that it was a tallit that would be as appropriate for Isaiah in 10 or 20 years as it is for him now as a 13-year-old. As a student of the Jewish Day School for eight years and an active member of Congregation Am Haskalah, Isaiah was aware of the practical importance of his bar mitzvah, but he also knows that symbols matter. Together with learning to chant Torah and Haftorah and studying to prepare his dvar Torah, thinking about what he wanted his tallit to look like helped Isaiah to distill ideas about who he was becoming, what this moment meant for him and what he hoped for his future. Isaiah plays piano and trumpet and he knew immediately that he wanted the inscription on the atarah to be Psalms 150:6, “Kol haneshamah tehalel ya, Hallelyah,” – “Let every living thing sing God’s praises.” Musical notes fill the edges of the tallit. (It is a score that Isaiah chose very intentionally, and transcribed himself, but he prefers not to say what it is.) Picking out colors was perhaps less ritually significant, but a lot of fun, and it helped that he and Stacy had similar color tastes. For Isaiah, though, it is the people who gave it to him that make his tallit most special. “I am proud to wear my tallit,” he said. “Since I was part of designing it, it really feels like it is part of me. And it means so much that it was given to me with love by my aunt and also made with such care by Stacy.” Isaiah saw the almost-complete tallit about a week before his bar mitzvah celebration. All it was missing were the tzitzit. When great-aunt Deborah arrived in Allentown a few days before the big morning, Stacy came over and helped Isaiah and Deborah together to tie the tzitzit on to the tallit. As they tied, they discussed the significance of the strings, the number of knots, the color of the thread. Isaiah’s brother Elijah is 10 and, having watched what it means to his older brother, he’s ready for his turn. He has already decided what colors he wants, the details and even the inscription for his atarah. He’s got a few years to change his mind. In the meantime, Isaiah wears his tallit with pride.
SPECIAL EVENTS | HAKOL LEHIGH VALLEY | JANUARY 2015 5
A special section of HAKOL, the Jewish newspaper of the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania