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Wrapping Oneself in Creative Prayer

2017 Jewish Arts Month Essay Contribution: “Identify and discuss how creating Judaic art defines, enhances and expresses your spirituality.”

Wrapping Oneself in Creative Prayer

Hiddur Mitzvah- literally the beautifying of a mitzvah is expressed so perfectly in a handmade prayer shawl- a tallit. I’ve been making them for over 20 years since my oldest became a Bar Mitzvah. It was my dream to make one for my four sons and other family members, so that there would be several rows filled with family wearing my handmade tallitot. Over the years I’ve taught dozens of women and one man to make them as well. It brings such joy to the maker and the receiver!

It can enhance and elevate the spiritual experience of wearing a tallit during prayer when there are personal messages, music , meaning and memories infused into the fabric and design.

My teacher and huck mentor, Ellen Temkin created the idea of a huck fabric tallit made with Swedish Weaving and designed a Torah and and a Star of David stitch I often use and experiment with. She also showed me how to do MUSIC on a tallit- that has opened many ideas for me! A young student of mine created her own tallit for her Bat Mitzvah and put the music for Hatikvah on her tallit. I made one with musical themes that included my grandfather’s Adon Olam on it. I recently made one for my daughter in law and put the first lines of Billy Joel’s song, “ She’s Got A Way” which was the first dance with my son at their wedding. I also just completed one for a family whose grandfather sang the song, “ Hey There Delilah” to his granddaughter, and that song is now on her Bat Mitzvzh tallit. Wearing a tallit with meaningful music on it truly envelopes you in song and spirit. You can feel the love from the moment, from the music and it surely becomes it’s own prayer.

Another way to enhance spirituality in a handmade tallit is to add fabric from a deceased relative, or from childhood. I added small squares of a beloved baby blanket on two of my son’s tallitot for their Bar Mitzvah. When they hold the four corners together they are reminded of their childhood- it must be a sweet and nostalgic moment! 

When my “new” rabbi arrived a few years ago I wanted to make him a tallit of course! I knew his mother has passed away recently and I asked if there was any meaningful fabric I could incorporate into the tallit. His father, ( also a rabbi) brought the jacket she wore to her son’s Bar Mitzvah! I was so moved to use this incredible fabric that represented a moment in his life that was transformative and memorable. I used the button holes on the inside four corners for the tzitzit to go through.  I then created a tallit bag using more of the fabric, and then made a baby quilt for his first son using scraps of the jacket, as well as a bookmark. There is still fabric left for future life cycle events- truly living out the wonderful children’s book and story, “ Something from Nothing”.

Using fabric and music helps bring us closer to our authentic selves, our own history, and uplifts our prayer. Truly surrounded by a handmade tallit infused with meaning is a spiritual experience. It is an honor to help create these prayer shawls and share them with people I love.

Cantor Deborah Katchko-Gray


1 Comment

  • Eve Siegel - March 15, 2017 at 6:12 pm -

    What a lovely essay!

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