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February 02, 1990 - Image 109

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-02

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Vir hen I came
out of yeshi-
vah, I wore a
long black
coat and a
black hat," recalls Reuven
Prager, 32. But those black
garments have long since
been put aside.
Now Prager wears — and
sells — subtle but brightly
colored woven tunics, robes,
tallitot and shirts of Israeli-
> grown natural wool and
cotton.
Prager, after considerable
study and reflection, believes
these are the kind of clothes
Jews wore a millenium ago.
They are also the clothes
Prager feels Jews should be
wearing today. "I'm creating
an indigenous dress for the
inhabitants of Jerusalem," he
says.
Prager owns Jerusalem-
based Beged Ivri (Israeli
Garments). He was in Ann
Arbor recently visiting
friends and selling his wares
to customers and Judaica
retailers.
Prager's clothes are more
than mere body coverings; for
him they represent a way to
assist in what he calls the
"restoration of the house of
Israel — the rebuilding of the
Temple."
"My direction is to bring us
to a future and in order to do
that I'm going back to our an-
cient tradition," Prager says.
"We (Jews) have this collec-
tive wisdom which we, unfor-
tunately, are ignoring to a
great extent!' He believes his
designs help achieve spiritual
goals.
"I chose to be a Levite in
the sense that my respon-
sibility is to build the physical
vessels of the Tabernacle, to
create the material objects
necessary for the time that
we'll use them.
"Prager's interest in
creating clothes that are
historically accurate and, in
a way, spiritually correct is
part of an evolving journey
that he's been taking since he
first visited Israel as a high
school student.
Born in Patterson, N.J., in
a Conservative but non-
religious family, he was
brought up in Miami, where
he went to college and work-
ed as a broker in the gold

Reuven Prager wears one of his talitot and displays a traditional wedding crown.

Biblical Style

market. But he couldn't
forget Israel.
"The land captured my
soul," he says. In 1978, he
graduated from a yeshivah.
He got married, had children,
made aliyah in 1981 and
went into the army 12
months later.
He also began a quest into
how he could help bring about
the necessary transformation
that will lead to the rebuild-
ing of the Temple. "My path
was not to separate from the
community like many Or-
thodox do, but to bring about
change from within," he says.
His reason? "We're not func-
tioning as a holy nation now.
"When we do, the blessing

An American in
Israel dreams of
Jewish
Redemption —
through clothing.

SUSAN LUDMER-GLIBE

Special to The Jewish News

that's been withheld will no
longer be withheld and we
will be a light unto the other
nations."
One dawn several years ago,
Prager was standing on a
rooftop of his apartment
overlooking the Old City of
Jerusalem. "I was imagining
what Jerusalem was like at
the time of the First Temple,"
Prager recalls. "I was think-
ing about what people would
be wearing as they went to
services. And I had this vision
of a tunic."
Using the sheet from his
bed, some material purchased
in the Old City and a bor-
rowed sewing machine he
made his first garment.

"Previously, I had only sewed
patches on my Boy Scout
uniform," he says.
From that point on, Prager
began researching the
clothing worn by ancient
Jewry. Using talmudic and
biblical sources, visiting
museums, learning about
fabric discovered in ar-
cheological digs, Prager has
worked at designing
garments that he believes
reflect the past and yet can be
worn into the future. He
worked with Israeli weavers
who have home looms and
does the finishing touches on
the garments himself.
He meticulously makes tzit-
zit — ritual fringes — for the
corners of his garments.
Unlike the majority of Jews
who wear ritual fringes, his
are knotted with a string that
has been dyed in the blue-
black ink secreted from the
hillazon, a Mediterranean
mollusk. Prager explains his
insistence on making and
wearing his tzitzit this way by
referring to Numbers
15:37-41: "Speak unto the
children of Israel and bid
them that they make fringes
in the borders of their
garments throughout their
generations and that they put
upon the fringe of the borders
of a ribband of blue."
His clothes run from $65 for
a simple tunic to $800 for an
elaborate, full-length robe.
One of his recent creations is
a wedding dress and hat
made with gold fabric found
in Damascus. His clients in-
clude secular and Orthodox
Jews, Israelis and Americans.
Although it took awhile for
Beged Ivri to get off the
ground — "I starved for a cou-
ple of years," he says — lately
he's had some success. Sales
have been doubling for four
years.
And he has at least one
local admirer. "When I select
pieces to sell they have to be
aesthetically pleasing as well
as interesting," explains
Alicia Nelson, who runs a
gallery called Tradition!
Tradition! out of her
Southfield home. "I thought
that the things that he's do-
ing, that he wants to do, of
taking our tradition and mak-
ing it relevant to today, are
wonderful."



THF DETROIT JEWISH NEWS 101

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