Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Year of Mourning - My Father’s Tallit

Who knew it would be Yom Kippur Yizkor that hit me? I know holidays are supposed to be hard.... But Hanukah I was still numb. Tu B'shevat, not a big deal. Purim, I was so focused on how to observe the holiday and my year of mourning to notice. Pesach, similar to Purim. It's been to many years since my parents came for seder. They always said I was too busy with holiday prep. Shavuot, maybe I was too tired from the tikkun leyl.

But then came Yom Kippur. In the days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, I was speaking to a friend also going through his Kaddish cycle. He was lamenting not wearing a tallit he loved because he was wearing his father’s tallit. I suggested he use his tallit for the holidays. “No,” he replied, “I have to wear my father’s.”

I had been thinking about a new while tallit for the High Holidays, specifically Yom Kippur. At Pride of Israel Sean wears a red or purple tallit. Gavi’s is also red. So my brightly coloured tallitot fit right in. At Beth Tzedec my red or blue tallitot felt a little to jarring for Yom Kippur this year next to the rest of the clergy team all in white. After that conversation I thought more about my father’s tallitot. We have his bar mitzvah tallit, a nylon silk synagogue shawl type old enough it may crack. It was my father’s first tallit, my first tallit, and Gavi’s, but it’s beyond wearing. One with Hawaiian print for the atarah and corners we used for his burial. Another I’d cannibalized for Gavi. He needed a travel tallit. Since he can’t use Daddy’s first tallit anymore, I thought a new one made from another one that was Dad’s Would work. There’s fabric left, but I wanted to wrap myself, not have a shawl. But there was another. It’s white with black stripes, very traditional, but in a looser woven fabric somehow modernizing it. I’d ruled it out, but maybe, I thought, I’d give it a chance. I spent an evening (and a day) retying the tzitzit. (Usually it takes me no time, but I wanted to do Rambam tekheilet, the blue thread, and I always forget how, It takes me hours to relearn.)

And so, I stood in my office Kol Nidre eve, donning my white kittel followed by my father’s tallit. I thought of moments I wished we had, both from my childhood and now. On Yom Kippur, during the Priestly Blessing (aka duchanning), I wished I’d experienced this as a child. I thought of gathering my children under my tallit, and wished for the experience with my dad. But I also remembered shopping for that tallit. He bought it in Israel, on our first trip. I don’t remember the details of where or when, but I still have a memory of him choosing it. It’s tied to his connection to Israel, to Judaism, and to our family trip. And when I wrap myself in it, I am wrapping myself in memory and love and history, of my father, my family, and my people.

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