International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Memories
can stir up old memories. Long forgotten and sometimes wistful memories
that we wish would remain buried. It was like that one Yom Kippur.
(The Jewish Day of Atonement) when I took some solitude away from
the main synagogue and quietly slipped into the small silent sanctuary
where only a few were deep into quiet prayer on one of the holiest
day in Judaism.
There were Tallises
(prayer shawls) and prayer books by the door entrance and instinctively,
I picked up a mans Tallis.
Having grown up in a strict orthodox home, tallises were something I
was accustomed to seeing on the men in our religious community, but
never on a woman.
It was with some uncertainty that I slowly and carefully wrapped the
tallis around my head and shoulders. I sat on a bench and the tallis
encompassed me. I felt safe and protected. Here one could forget about
lifes many demands and hectic schedules. Alone with ones
self, with no distractions a time to delve into the inner soul.
Particularly on such a holy day.
The only sense that seemed to be operating for me at that time was smell.
As I breathed in I caught faint whiffs of the tallis. Tears welled in
my eyes as I connected with the scent
My fathers Tallis. Im 5 years old and Im hiding in
my fathers long and plentiful tallis. My father is standing, davenning
(praying) in unison with many other men. Some of whom, are my uncles.
Nearby is my brother. Also viaing for tallis space. My mother, sister
and aunts are upstairs peering down at the service below. I am permitted
downstairs with the men because I am little. Who can see me anyway?
Nestled comfortably between my fathers chest and tallis I am content.
The tallis feels like the wings of an angel. Safe and nurturing. "No
harm can ever happen to anyone in here." I think to myself.
It is a long and monotonous Shabbat service for a 5 year old so I stay
in there and play with the Tsistiot (fringes) wrapping them around dads
and my fingers and braiding them. There are 613 knots and wrappings
on them which signify the 613 Jewish commandments. So Im amused
for a long time.
Then my father is called to the Bimah. As a Cohen, (A priest) he has
a special honour and is called upon to bless everyone. The tallis is
pulled from me as I watch him hurriedly walk to the Bimah and cover
his head and hands with the tallis. The Cohenim, must be covered as
they are calling for the holy presence of G-D.
I know its my father up there, nevertheless these gentle people
transform into ghostly mummified figures swaying vigorously from side
to side with arms outstretched. But the soothing overtones of their
deep melancholy humming is as calming as a lullaby and my fears evaporate.
We were not allowed to look towards the Cohenim at such a holy time.
But we kids always did, in the hope of catching a glimpse of angels
There is a hushed silence in the congregation as all listen and feel
blessed by these men.
My father returns to his bench and I to his tallis. He pulls a snuff
box out of his pocket and sniffs it. It has a strong overbearing smell
but somehow it blends into the tallis, along with Judaism, Synagogue,
Father and Uncles. The service finally ends. With utmost care my father
folds up his tallis. Perhaps with more care than he would fold a shirt.
Ive enjoyed special time with my father. Eager to play I join
my mother, sister and friends.
What did my family do with that Tallis when my father died one year
I wonder as I sit in the sanctuary. More than likely, and according
to Jewish law, it was buried with him.
Now 40 years later and 7,000 miles from my hometown, I am wearing a
tallis that is now public property. It too may have had a story.
It could have sheltered many an adult and child. The history may have
been brief, but it is universal. Its familiar cloth and Tsisiot
will always be family.
© Jenny Wright June 2009
jennywright3 at hotmail.com
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.