Ilisse’s Musical Tallit

I’m going to let Ilisse tell her story on this one! Okay, Ilisse? 

Written by Ilisse:  “I started singing in the synagogue that my parents helped found when I was very young—the tiny girl with a big voice. Daddy and I used to attend Friday night services together, and nothing made him prouder than to have me on the bimah, singing. Time passed, and I sang less in shul, and more elsewhere. Years later, when the Conservative movement welcomed women as rabbis and cantors, and girls began to learn Torah and Haftorah, he was very upset, because it’s what he had wanted for me, for my Bat Mitzvah, rather than the Friday night version that was de rigueur back in the 1960’s….truth be told, I laughed, telling him it didn’t matter, because we couldn’t turn back the clock. 

After we lost him, in 2007, attending services in the sanctuary that he and my Mom helped build was enormously comforting, and it was there that I conceptualized the project of learning to read Torah and Haftorah. So, after studying for several months, for his second yahrzeit, on Passover 2009, which fell in the same week as the 45th anniversary of my (Friday night) Bat Mitzvah, I read Torah and Haftorah, for the first time, in his memory. Now, I’m often honored by being asked to do this; I just wish it had been in his lifetime.

Wearing a tallit became part of this experience, and I thought that it would be wonderful to have a “musical tallit,” reflecting my love of the music and the honor of reading Torah. I searched and searched….and found nothing. One night, again on line, I found Sharon’s website….and spent hours marveling at her glorious works of wearable art. When I wrote to her, telling her my story, she was immediately excited and enthusiastic, eager to help me realize this wish. I am no artist, yet Sharon took my very rudimentary sketch and figured out how to translate it to the extraordinary tallit shown here. She really “got” me–asking me, before I even suggested it, if there were a special piece of music I wanted for the notes. Of course there was: “L’Dor Vador”—from generation to generation….which was my story. 

The design went through some changes, because as I read through the stories of Sharon’s other tallit recipients or designers, I was profoundly moved, often to tears, by the history and love that each represented, and eagerly borrowed concepts from several of them, in helping Sharon create mine. “L’Dor Vador” is on the atarah, because this tallit, and the reason I wear it, is not about me, but about my parents and their love, that surround me. Their names, and that of both sets of grandparents, are on the corners, along with my name, and, so fitting, the tree of life.  “Shiru chadash,”  ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song…’ is there as well. The music on the tallit is an actual excerpt from a beautiful version of “L’Dor Vador” that I learned in my Manhattan synagogue.

My tallit, and all of Sharon’s tallitot, are so much more than ‘mere’ religious objects. Each has a unique, personal story; yet each, in essence, represents the love of Judaism and family. Each is a reflection of something deeply personal and meaningful to each of us, at whatever stage in our lives we happen to be. When you read the stories, it becomes clear. Mine signifies my love of music, once again singing in the synagogue, and why. Every tallit means something to the wearer, which is reflected in the design. So, they are beautiful in themselves, but more, maybe, in what they represent to each of us.

I don’t know anyone who does what Sharon does, in this way. The creative process and collaboration that she encourages and facilitates access deep emotional issues for us, in a positive and loving project.  I told Sharon that I believe, with all my heart, that she is doing the work of Hashem, through her artistic gifts, connecting us to Torah and to each other. This is, for her, a real labor of love. And I gained a wonderful, new friend.”