Ode to a Tallit

Blog Post by WOW Supporter, Noa Urbaitel

When I was 7 years old, I unknowingly picked out my first tallit. It was crisp white woven cloth with silk sewn on top, dyed all colors of the rainbow. Hanging from the wall of the Judaica shop I was in with my family, I pointed it out to my mom, noting how pretty it was. I got in the car, and my mom went back in and bought it, hiding it from me for the next five years. 

When I was 12 years old, I wore my first tallit. The package my mother had stashed in her closet for five years made its reappearance on the top of Masada during a family trip to Israel. I stood on top of this mountain with so much history and recited Torah from a piece of paper while wearing my new tallit proudly around my shoulders. 

When I was 13 years old, I wore my tallit for the first time as a bat-mitzvahed Jew. I stood in front of my congregation in Vermont and chanted Torah for the very first time.

When I was 15 years old, I wore my tallit in Jerusalem at Women of the Wall. I joined the group in the middle of the women’s section, chanting and praying and singing. I was with my friends, also American transplants, and at the time we were simply happy and proud to be a part of something. 

My rainbow tallit came with me to every synagogue service, every holiday, and sometimes summer camp. It saw my little brother get bar-mitzvahed, came with me to college, and has traveled around the world with me. 

When I was 24 years old, my crisp white woven cloth tallit with silk sewn on top, dyed all colors of the rainbow was looking a little worse for wear. My family and I were visiting Tzvat, so I made the decision to find a new tallit. One for the next set of experiences in my life.

Now, weeks after my 26th birthday, I wore my new tallit for the very first time at Women of the Wall. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to catch a train, and arrived at the Western Wall at 6:15 to see a dusty blue sky just begin to brighten. As I walked around the plaza with my friend, security stopped me. They saw my tallit bag peeking out of the top of my tote, and demanded to see what was in my bag, visibly annoyed by a woman daring to bring a tallit. Even after successfully going through security to get to the plaza in the first place, I was saddened and angered that my right to pray how I want was questioned like that. 

My friend and I took our spot with the other women. We said shehecheyanu as I donned my new tallit, and looked around proudly at what we were about to do. Prayer books were passed out, the women created a circle, and we began to pray.

Singing, breathing, praying together as other girls laughed and took pictures of us, as men whistled and yelled to drown us out. We were there simply to pray and be together, to practice and live our Jewish culture the way we feel called to do. As the chorus of women’s voices swelled, so did my feeling of connection to Jewish women around the world (including my mom in Vermont, who stayed up until 1:30am to watch the Facebook livestream). Harmonizing proudly with the people around me and listening to a woman chant Torah at the Kotel is a memory that will forever be woven into the fabric of my new tallit, and I am so happy to be able to carry that with me everywhere.

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