Tying Myself Into Jewish Peoplehood with Tztzit and Friendship Bracelets
Below is our Communication Intern Hannah Elbaum's beautiful blog post, first published here on the Reform Judaism blog.
The gates read “Welcome Home,” but I had left my home five hours earlier. As my dad and I approached the table labeled “1,” we met a woman who checked my name off a list and gave me a bracelet. That, too, read “Welcome Home,” and as I watched her explain it to me, I could see in her eyes the glow of comfort and security she felt here at the URJ Kutz Camp.
Kutz, I had heard, was “like a three-week long youth group event,” something that sounded perfect for me after my freshman year in NFTY-Northeast, a regional branch of the North American Reform Jewish Movement’s youth movement. I had fallen in love with the magical community of NFTY in December of ninth grade at an event where I participated in an activity making tallitot, prayer shawls that have knotted fringes at each of their four corner and are worn during morning services.
At that first NFTY event, I sat with a few upperclassmen I didn’t know and we began to decorate our tallitot using fabric markers, paint, and stencils. At first, I worked quietly, listening to their chatter and glancing up from my own work to see how the others were using color and pattern to represent themselves on fabric. As we waited for our painted tallitot to dry, we divvied up strings and began practicing tying the tzitzit, the knots and fringe on the end of each corner. By Ashkenazi tradition, the white strings created 613 knots, symbolizing the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah. The girl next to me looked on as I wrapped one string around the other, counting carefully to ensure the proper number, and when I paused, she asked for my help. Turns out it was her first event, too – and just like that, I had made a friend.
Returning to the basement room the next day, my new friend and I walked together, grabbed our now dry tallitot, and picked the strings we wanted for our tzitzit. After a good night’s sleep, I felt more comfortable in this new environment, and on the second day, the conversation flowed more easily as we talked about home, family, and traditions. I barely noticed it was happening, but by the time the leader came around to check our progress, the group at my table had grown. We were all chatting as we knotted tzitzit.
Sitting on my bunk bed in my new cabin at camp, I was reminded of that first day, when I didn’t know anyone at my first NFTY event. As one of the few people who had driven to camp, I had arrived early and was now watching my bunkmates who arrived by plane as they unpacked and set up their spaces. To kill time, I pulled out my baggie of brightly colored string, picked a few out of the bag, and tied a knot to start making a friendship bracelet. Another bunkmate, who had also arrived early, asked if she could use some string, too, and before long, our whole bunk was sitting in a circle together – some made friendship bracelets, some snacked, and some just chatted.
Just like that, it became a ritual, and every day after that, our cabin spent its free time together. As I learned more about my new friends and told them about myself, I finished bracelet after bracelet and gave them to as many people as I could.
See the rest of Hannah's blog post on the Reform Judaism Blog.