By Martha Cass.
When our family started the process of planning for our eldest son Ben’s bar mitzvah, Ben’s grandparents, Joe and Marilynne Cass asked him if they could commission a special tallis to mark the occasion.
In our family, my husband’s tallis has been an important part of all of our key life cycle events. It served as our chuppah when we were married at Holy Blossom 16 years ago and we wrapped each of our three sons in it before their brit milahs. Creating a unique tallis, just for Ben seemed like a wonderful and meaningful gift.
Ben and his grandmother worked with Holy Blossom artist in residence Temma Gentles to create his tallis. It began with a meeting in which they discussed the things that were important to Ben. He wanted the Tallis to be blue to remind him of the ocean in Curacao, where he would become bar mitzvah. He also wanted it to connect to his torah portion Va’eira in which Pharoah refuses to let Moses’s people go.
When the tallis was complete, we gathered as a family to see the beautiful result. Temma explained how she had chosen fabrics and colors to represent the many characteristics of water the red corners of the tallis represented the color of the Nile when it turned to blood during the 10 plagues.
Temma then taught us the blessing for tying the tzitzit and we each had the chance to tie the fringe – his grandparents, his brothers, his parents and Ben. For me, this moment was surprisingly powerful. I was brought to tears as I thought about the life cycle moments that this prayer shawl might be a part of as Ben starts his adult life as a Jew. Knowing that our prayers will be woven into these moments is incredibly special for our family.
Ben will be reading a second portion on May 6 at Holy Blossom to mark his bar mitzvah with his Toronto community and he will proudly be wearing his beautiful tallis.