One of my favorite parts about being a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl) artist, is that so many people have started sharing their tallit stories with me. Friends, of course, but also strangers and new acquaintances share surprisingly intimate and moving stories.
One man I met recently shared that his grandmother wove a tallit for each of her grandchildren. She embroidered different blessings onto each of the tallitot, selecting words that she felt would guide them and remind them of their strengths. Now when his extended family sits together in synagogue they can see her blessings spread out across their backs as they pray.
A rabbi in Brookline told me how he introduces the tallit to his sixth grade students during afternoon prayers. They have a basket of tallitot that students get to choose from, and they each race to prayer to try to get their favorite tallit from the basket. He told me how he works to foster wonder and appreciation for the tallit in each of his b'nai mitzah students, helping them to learn to rely on the comfort and strength that can come from wrapping yourself in a tallit.
I have a strong memory of picking out my first tallit with father. We were visiting Israel the summer before my bat mitzvah, and we left the rest of my family one evening in Jerusalem, to wind through the narrow side streets and find a shop that was still open. I tried on almost everytallit in the shop--a shimmering silk tallit painted with scenes from Jerusalem, a scratchy wool tallit with indigo blue stripes. Finally I chose a tallit that had my name, Sarah, embroidered onto one of the corners, along with the names of Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
Months later, standing on the bima at my bat mitzvah, my father told me to look out at everyone in the room and to remember this moment when I hit times of struggle or sorrow in my life. I gathered the four corners of my tallitrepresenting our ancestors, and I looked out at that room, and I felt filled with power and strength and love.
Here I am, 15 years later, blessed to get to spend my days designing tallitot, tying tzizit (fringes attached to prayer shawls), and finding ways to bring our tallitot to new families and communities. I am deeply grateful to the people who are choosing to celebrate a simcha (joyous celebration) with one of our tallitot, and to the retailers who are welcoming Advah into their community.
Every time I sit down to design an Advah tallit, I'm thinking about the sacred family stories it will become a part of. Because of course, a tallit lying by itself on a shelf is not holy--it's just beautiful fabric, with tzitzit tied onto the corners. As you join in the mitzvah (commandment) of wrapping yourself for prayer in a tallit, it is my hope that you find a sense of connection to the sacred stories in your family and your community.