Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Modern Tallit

Pomegranates and the 613 Mitzvot Tallit designed and painted by Beth Surdut
When my Russian-born grandfather was 18 years old, his two brothers, studying to be Torah scribes, were murdered by Cossacks. My grandfather came to America in 1905 and fathered three sons. My decision to become a designer and painter of prayer shawls, wedding canopies, Torah covers, and healing scarves is, in part, a way to say Kaddish for these family members, along with my mother and my father, each time I hand letter a prayer in Hebrew. 
I see a prayer shawl as an invitation to step out of the chatter of daily life-- and life has become very noisy-- and into a meditative space. Designing each silk tallit for a specific client, I draw, paint, sew, and tie tzitzit to form a portable house of prayer.
Wisdom Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut
As I look through notes I've taken while I interviewed clients and their families, I find the girl who wanted an owl flying in a night sky over the Jemez Mountains, the woman in the desert who felt at peace by the sea, the man who freely sang his heart to God every week, the scientist who admired the Periodic Table, and many more. Jews by birth, Jews by choice, seasoned adults and 13-year-olds about to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah-- each one bringing me to new places of study as I searched for prayers that spoke to each person. 
Like many people, I tend to avoid the Book of Job, yet in that catalogue of tsurris I found one of my favorite questions for an atarah:
"Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?" asked Job, the guy we all run from until we meet him face to face in the mirror. 
"If not now, when?" asked Hillel. Autumn Tallit custom designed and painted by Beth Surdut

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