We curiously peek through the half opened door on Yanai Street in Jerusalem as we go in search for Yermiyahu, a Tallit maker who has come very highly recommended. An old man sits quietly on a wooden chair inside his shop right beside the door. As we enter, he barely lifts his head.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say in Hebrew. “Are you Yermiyahu?” He nods affirmatively without a word. He does not move.
“Our uncle Sid sent us to see you. He says you are the best Tallit maker in town.” A smile slowly spreads across his face. He cautiously stands from the chair leaning heavily with his two arms on the sides for support. In English, he begins to ask what we’re looking for.
Our granddaughter is becoming Bat Mitzvah in another month. We’re in Jerusalem and we want to bring her a Tallit “miyuchad” (original and special)
Yermiyahu’s guidance is slow. First we pick the fabric for the shawl. Stella wants it simple. We choose a satiny white on white design and feel confident that we can’t really go wrong with the natural, linen fabric. Yermiyahu tells us later, that his cloth is thicker than most. That’s one of the ways that makes it a little unique. Because Stella is tall, we ask for extra length.
Yermiyahu directs us to all his hand woven strips specifically created for the Atarah (collar) of the Tallit as well as for the four corners of the shawl. Stella wanted some pink in her shawl, and made it clear she wanted it gentle. We choose the fabric for the embellishment of the shawl.
We know, from what people have said, that Yermiyahu ties his own tzitzit. They are noticeably handmade, a bit crude perhaps, and unique.
We arrange to have a matching bag for Stella to carry her Tallit and ensure that it always stays safe and protected. The same adornments from the shawl are used.
Over the next few days we spend several hours with Yermiyahu. The Tallit becomes more alive with each moment we talk, share cups of tea, and encourage him to tell his story. As he works, Yermiyahu talks. His voice is soft and unsteady. His eyes tear throughout the storytelling. I’m not sure if it is nostalgic sadness, or, perhaps tears of honey. Perhaps there is a bit of fear that he will soon be gone. Yermiyahu tells us that when he came to Jerusalem, after emigrating from Yemen, he began to make decorations for synagogues in the neighbourhood. Later, as he became more industrious, he created Yemenite dresses. As the dresses became more popular, Yermiyahu shipped them to all parts of the world. His business thrived. He ended up being quite successful.
Now, married for 68 years, he has 6 children and 17 grandchildren. When he speaks about them all, his eyes tear again and his lower lip protrudes as the tears flow without restraint.
I end up loving this man… loving the Tallit and knowing, that we are doing absolutely the right thing. We are purchasing a whole package here, a history…not just a prayer shawl.
I hope and pray that Stella will love it too, and that she will wear it with pride, confidence and determination to make a difference in our world as Jews and as human beings, all of us, everywhere.