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Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Tallit

When I was little, my grandmother would tell me about her family and how it was when she grew up. She told me her mother was born in Germany, that her mother and her mother's family all spoke Hoch Duetsch (a very formal form of German). They were taught to respect all religions, but never to do anything that might make someone think one was Jewish. My grandmother's generation was the first to be born in the US. Her generation only learned English. She told me about how her grandmother had a wonderful, large wedding certificate hanging on the wall. That was how it was done in the old country.

When I went to college, I studied German to try to get back my heritage and my culture. It had been lost in English Only. My grandmother would ask if I were learning Hoch Duetsch. Yes, Gramma. Then she would tell me something her grandmother would say and how her grandmother spoke Hoch Duetsch. Not like that, she didn't! Gramma's German was horrible. Was it my grandmother not learning the words right? 

I remember my grandmother talking about her siblings and saying from their names: Sydney, Benjamin, Esther, Harold, Alfrieda, Naomi, they sounded as if they were Jewish. 

I started to wonder. Then I started to search. First, I discovered my grandmother's mother was born in Dittersdorf, East Prussia. The name of the town is something else now, but it's in what's now Lithuania. Hmmmm..... I wonder if the big wedding certificate was a ketubah. 

By the time my mother was born, the family really was Lutheran. And I was raised Catholic. But I never fit in well. So I tried an assortment of Protestant churches. Didn't fit in there, either. 

After I graduated from law school, I decided it was someday and I went in search of a temple where I could learn Hebrew. To my surprise, I fit in better in the temple than I had in any church I had ever gone to. About this time, my friends started asking when the conversion was going to be. Nope - not going to convert. 

A few years ago, I was reading one of Faye Kellerman's books and made a startling discovery. There was my grandmother's German - but it wasn't German. It was Yiddish. And who spoke Yiddish in 1890 in East Prussia almost in Russia? Not Lutherans. There's a direct female line from my great-great-grandmother to me. I'm Jewish. 

I started celebrating the Jewish holidays. I started going to the temple in Las Cruces. I'm Jewish, but I wasn't brought up that way. I still had one hurdle to jump. 

Tomorrow, May 1, I jump the final hurdle. The rabbi calls it "mutual adoption" or conversion. I call it reversion. As a friend of mine put it, I'm going back to a home I never knew existed. 

To celebrate, I made my tallit. I decided to put five rows of fancy stitches all in assorted shaded of purple. Purple is a color of healing and also the color of the tassel you get when you graduate from law school. Life, at least my life, is a long process of healing and working for justice. The stitches are different and the colors are different because healing and justice frequently take forms different from what we expect. 

The Hebrew on the collar piece is the first line of Psalm 139 - my favorite psalm. 

The tzitzit are made from different color cords. The white is traditional, the blue violet is also traditional but to me it symbolizes Israel, the green is for the Arabs, and the gold is because I like sparkly things. With all my heart, I wish for peace between Israel and the Arab nations so I put my prayers into my prayer shawl. 

The peach thread that I use around the borders is thread that was a gift from a friend. I used simple stitches because simple stitches are the foundation of all sewing and friends are the foundation of life. 

Rather than use a grommet for where the tzitzit go through the tallit, I used a buttonhole stitch. I used my favorite fancy thread and I used a button from my grandmother's button box to make the size of the buttonhole. My grandmother never threw away a button and I remember seeing that particular button when I was a little kid. 

And so wrapped in my prayers, tomorrow I'll step on the bima and go home. If you want to join me, at 11:00 AM MDT, think of me and smile. I know you'll be with me.  



Antonija said...

Deb--that is a great and wonderful story. Congratulations on finding your way home. And turns out we're (kinda) neighbors, as my family is from Estonia. I was also raised Catholic, but never really fit in either. Not until I got married to a Norwegian Lutheran. We Estos are Lutherans (and Vikings) through and through. THat's where my home is.
Mazel Tov!
Warmly, Toni in Milwaukee

Kimberly said...

What a beautiful story - coming home. And a reminder of how important one's roots are to one's identity.
Enjoy your day tomorrow and may God hold you in the palm of His hand...
Kim in Rhode Island

Sherryl said...

Mazel Tov Deb. Welcome back. While I grew up in a fairly religious household, I never had a Bat Mitzvah. It has been on my mind lately and I am seriously thinking about having one in about a year and a half.... in Israel. I never thought about making my own Tallit, but I think I will. My mothers family also came from Lithuania... who knows... we could be related! My fathers family came from Russia.

Mary Beth Frezon said...

Mazel tov deb!

Michigoose said...

Blessings on you. What a wonderful story and what a wonderful future for you.

Lisa Quintana

Josepha said...

Dear Deb,you made me cry. welcome bace to your home and family. may the Talit hug you with love. my ancestors came to Israel on 1882 from Lituania as well, and yes - they did speak Iddish. right now i'm making a wedding canopy (the Jewish word is huppa) and i'll be thinking about you incorporating some colors you spoke about.
Josepha from Israel

Cheryl said...

Mazel Tov, Deb. Your story brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful to find your true roots and to love being a Jew.

Sybil said...

Mazel Tov. I loved that you took the journey and made your own Tallit.

Welcome home.

Sybil Greenberg Winfield

Sybil said...

Mazel Tov. I loved that you took the journey and made your own Tallit.

Welcome home.

Sybil Greenberg Winfield

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story, I shall be thinking of you as you celebrate today. Congratulations and peace be with you. Christine (UK)

Wen Redmond said...

WOW What a story! Isn't amazing how things can get twisted. How we have to hide. Thank God that is doesn't have to be. Congrats on finding your light!

Sari Shifrin said...

Remarkable story and wonderful tallit. Thank you for sharing and Mazel Tov.
Sari in Ann Arbor

francyne said...

Congratulations on finding your true home.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations - a wonderful story - very similar to my own or my mother's really......Thinking of you on your big day. It is truly a glorious homecoming.

Nancy said...

Deb, thank you for sharing this very heartwarming story. Coming home to one's identity is a blessing in any faith. Nancy

Anonymous said...

I get it now. I used to study under a Jewish Rabbi. I have attended Messianic Jewish worship, etc. I am a Christian but I have been told we have a Jewish background. We are God's people. Blessings on you,

Rayna said...

Working backwards, I just read this post and found tears in my eyes. I knew before I got to it, that your grandma's "hoch deutsch" was Yiddish. The most wonderful, expressive language on the planet! Enjoy!

Lis said...

Welcome home Deb! Truly, home is where the heart is. And I am happy that you found what you truly believed in.

Jasper @ Best Kippah