scvel4 Feeling The ltig Of Great•Grandfather's Tallit
By LOIS RUBY
"Who's Aunt Rhoda?"
"Oh, Judith, you remember.
She's Aunt Ellen's husband's sister
"And she's coming to the bar
Of course. You would think my
brother Jeff was being crowned
King of Israel, Kansas City branch,
and I, the mere 10-year-old sister,
was only a servant in the castle.
"Get me the guest list, will you,
Judith," my mother would say.
"We're crossing off Uncle Sidney
because he's having gallbladder
surgery. Of all times."
If you ask me, which no one
would, Uncle Sidney picked a good
time. He doesn't have to be here
watching King Jeffrey parade
through our house as if he were
inspecting his army, tossing words
of Hebrew over his shoulder.
Outside of his Torah portion, I'm
sure he knows only about six words.
I learned a hundred times more
than that just in my first year of
Hebrew. What's he been doing for
five years in Hebrew school?
The presents pour in. Jeff rips
the wrapping off and tears into each
box, only to find Roget's Thesaurus,
four more kiddush cups, six copies
of Pirke Avot, and some Israeli
bonds. No baseballs, no foreign
stamps, no gift certificates from the
such shamless pride: He has to
write thank-you notes at the rate of
10 a day for the next month. I love
Mother is baking and freezing,
and the freezer is catalogued like a
library: 12.5 dozen pieces of strudel;
6.5 dozen brownies; 4 dozen
miniature cherry blintzes, etc. On
another shelf there are foil pans of
noodle kugel and challah with sweet
poppy seeds on top. Before this
month she never baked a challah in
My father goes around smiling
and saying, "Look how he's grown
up, our boy," as if no one ever got
bowling alley, and no chocolates.
to be 13 before in the entire history
of the Jewish people. I've got news
Mother scurries around to make a
list of who sent what, with a little
for my father: Jeff will have to stand
square Jeff is to fill in when he
on a Coca Cola case to be seen
mails each thank-you note.
over the podium on the bimah.
Jeff is supposed to be humbled That's the only thing that keeps me
by the experience of becoming a
going. That, and the thank-you
bar mitzvah, isn't he? Oh, but
history never knew my brother Jeff!
On Saturday morning everyone
He has let the honor go to his
is racing around and getting
head. But he is to be punished for
dressed. The aunts are putting the
FRIDAY, NOV. 8, 1991
final touches on their little darlings,
my cousins, and I've finished
dressing in the closet. I knock on
Jeffrey's door. A weak, unkingly
voice says, "Come in." He's
standing in the center of the room
in his new blue suit and shiny
shoes. There's a satin kippah on his
head, almost hidden among his
. But what strikes me
most is the tallit draped
over his shoulders. It was
He brought it with him
when he left Russia 70
brown curls. But what strikes me
most is the tallit draped over his
shoulders. It was our great-
grandfather's. He brought it with
him when he left Russia 70 years
ago. The satin is yellowed with age,
and the embroidery of blue and
gold threads is worn and flattened
by the years. When Jeff was born, it
was folded away in our cedar chest,
waiting for just this morning.
The tallit hangs nearly to Jeff's
ankles, telling us how very tall our
great-grandfather must have been.
Jeff strokes the cloth gently with the
palm of his hand. "Beautiful, isn't
it?" he asks.
I smile and nod, knowing
suddenly that nothing else today will
compare with this moment: not the
presents or honor or speeches, not
even the privilege of being called to
the Torah. I know that this is the
moment Jeff will become a true bar
mitzvah, this moment when he has
felt the tug of generations in the
soft folds of our great-grandfather's
And I am the only one who has
shared it with him.
Reprinted from The Jewish Kids
Catalogue, Jewish Publication