I had tallis envy. Seriously.
“How come,” muttered my feminist self, “I can’t swash around the synagogue wearing one of those?”
“What,” scoffed my skeptical self, “Do the guys get from wearing one?”
So I asked the rabbi of my very inclusive, egalitarian Conservative synagogue.
She said the act of wrapping the tallis, or prayer shawl, around you concentrates your mind on prayer, which is what you’re supposed to be thinking about in synagogue. Plus, much like a mezuzah, it separates the private you from the public you.
All this really sounded neat. So I borrowed my husband’s old tallis, the small one he got for his bar mitzvah, that had been replaced during a trip to Israel by a large, blanket-sized one.
It worked, sort of. Wearing the prayer shawl did quiet my mind, helping me focus more on praying and contemplation than on the grocery list or the errands yet to be run. But it felt wrong for me. That’s when I decided I wanted my own.
This began a strange journey I looked in all the usual places: the temple gift shop, a local Judaica store, and many online sites. Nothing looked like something I’d really love to wrap myself in.
Eventually, the idea got put on hold. With the kids gone, we started to talk about downsizing. I’d really only begun to think about paring our possessions when the house sold. Suddenly, we were at warp speed, shedding trophies and treasures with abandon. My to-do list had sub-lists. And then, while clearing out a closet, I found my wedding dress, from 40 years ago.
I’d kept it, thinking I’d have it dyed, so I could wear it to someone else’s wedding. Then life got in the way, and it had gotten shoved deeper into the closet.
Nervously, I tried it on, and was stunned that it sort of fit. But my body, thanks to the triple threat of kids, life, and gravity, has a different shape now. Wearing it as a dress was clearly out of the question. However, when I put that dress on, I felt love — the love my husband and I share as well as that of all the others I loved who were at our wedding and no longer alive. It was a feeling I really didn’t want to let go of.
I wondered: Could this, my wedding dress, be made into a tallis?
Online, I found a woman who does just that. I mailed her the dress, told her what I’d like, and several weeks later she sent me exactly what I’d been looking for.
No, I’m not more observant now. But when I’m in synagogue and wrap myself in my very own tallis, my wedding dress tallis, I feel that I’m wrapping myself in love.
And I know why I’m there.