When I imagine wearing my A four-cornered garment to which ritual fringes (tzitzit/tzitzi'ot) are affixed. The knots in the fringes represent the name of God and remind us of God's commandments. The tallit is worn during prayer and can also be drawn about oneself or around the bride and groom to symbolize divine protection. in Ferguson and afterward, I am imagining how it will help carry with me a sense of security and home—a portable home just like the Lit. hut or booth A temporary hut constructed outdoors for use during Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival. Many Jews observe the mitzvah of living in the Sukkah for the week of Sukkot, including taking their meals and sleeping in the Sukkah..
This week I commissioned the creation of the first tallit that I will own in over a decade. The choice whether or not to wear a tallit is one that I am confronted with several times a week in rabbinical school, and every time I feel two contradictory feelings: my ambivalence about wearing ritual objects I so viscerally associate with masculinity competing with how protected and comforted—and feminine—I feel when I wrap myself in a shawl. This choice is magnified by the clock that ticks towards the day when I imagine that I will need to emerge, fully formed in the image of “rabbi.”
However, the world has its own clock. This summer, Ferguson, MO, erupted in protests on August 9th after police shot and killed an unarmed teenage boy named Michael Brown, a young man who came from similar neighborhoods and circumstances as my husband and his siblings. Only two weeks earlier, we had been in St. Louis visiting home and spending most of our nights at my sister-in-law’s house one highway exit away from Ferguson. For most of August, I followed social media obsessively. It was completely surreal to see many of my rabbis,friends and fellow congregants posting live from the streets of Ferguson. My rabbi and mentor, Susan Talve, was suddenly being noticed and profiled nationally for her activism. I watched from afar, disoriented and grieving, wanting to return but unsure how to justify doing so. I knew instinctively that the time was not yet right.
I had already elected not to lead any High Holiday services this year, and as September ended I expected my school’s break between The Jewish New Year, also considered the Day of Judgment. The period of the High Holidays is a time of introspection and atonement. The holiday is celebrated with the sounding of the shofar, lengthy prayers in synagogue, the eating of apples and honey, and round challah for a sweet and whole year. Tashlikh, casting bread on the water to symbolize the washing away of sins, also takes place on Rosh Hashana. and The holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends. to be a time to rest and release some of the tension I had been collecting since August 9th. Although nothing was resolved in Ferguson, most of the national media had left, and I had begun to feel more detached from the situation. And then, I was jolted from my complacency. Instead of relaxing, I said “yes” to an invitation from organizers asking clergy and activists to come to Ferguson during Lit. Booths or huts Sukkot is the autumn harvest Festival of Booths, is celebrated starting the 15th of the Jewish month of Tishrei. Jews build booths (sukkot), symbolic of the temporary shelters used by the ancient Israelites when they wandered in the desert. Traditionally, Jews eat and sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday (seven days in Israel and eight outside of Israel). The lulav (palm frond), willow, myrtle, and etrog fruit are also waved together., in order to do civil disobedience with protestors campaigning for an end to systemic police violence. Throughout the rush to prepare for this last minute action I found one question returning to my mind: will you wear a tallit when you march?
When I finally allowed myself to answer the question, the answer was clear: “Yes. Of course.” I wanted clothing that would clearly identify me as a Jewish leader in a crowd of protestors and I wanted something to make me feel safe during the protest. I visualized marching amidst thousands, surrounded by police officers and media, and I clearly saw myself wrapped tightly in the tallit in order to not feel afraid. Whether or not I had an intellectual argument to explain why I was suddenly ok with the idea of donning a garment that for centuries was considered “male,” I longed for one so strongly that I wished I had one immediately. The tallit was now a ritual item I felt that I needed in order to perform my religious role of “rabbi as witness.”
I realize now how very fitting it is that we are creating this garment in time for Sukkot. When I imagine wearing my tallit in Ferguson and afterwards, I am imagining how it will help carry with me a sense of security and home—a portable home just like the sukkah. My hope is that it will carry me through the holiday as we commemorate when the Israelites were much less secure, and that it will continue to protect me as I march as a Jew towards a future in which everyone is safe and covered by sukkat shlomekha (God’s shelter of peace).
This blog post is the second in a three-part series by Ritualwell Intern, The first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah. Barasch-Hagans.