When I worked at Camp Arazim for a summer, the “cool” guys all had custom made tallits, “tallitot” if you want to get technical. This was decades before the DIY movement, and years before the everyday use of the internet or Pinterest. But these guys had figured out how to make a tallit from an El-Al airplane blanket. So cool. I know. So when I went to Israel with USY the following summer, I had one task at hand: procure myself an El-Al blanket for future use. That traditional logo blanket, and an alternate plain grey one, have been patiently waiting for their turn to become tallits while on a shelf in my or my children’s closets for 23 years now. Totally worth it.
I mention the tallit since it is eponymous with our website’s name. And who didn’t love that album by R.E.M.? “Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein!” Traditionally a tallit is first given to a child as they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. As they lead services from the bimah, it will be the first time they are required to wear one. From here on out they will wear one any time they are on the bimah, or for morning or Yom Kippur services. Traditions may vary by family customs and by what is required at your own synagogue.
The tallit wraps the wearer in a reminder of a higher power, and has an accompanying prayer to recite as it is put on. The fringes on the four corners of the tallit are there as a reminder of G-d, and of all of the commandments declared in the Torah. Wearing the tallit and looking at the tzitzit (fringes) can help the wearer remember to do good deeds and to become a better person. This tallit can be kept to pass on to future generations, and can be used at a future wedding ceremony and other memorable occasions.
Buying a Tallit
There are several ways to go about finding the right tallit. They can be purchased at Judaica stores in person or online, or at synagogue gift shops. Your child may have a relative or friend who wants to pass theirs down. Or if you know someone going to Israel you can ask them to buy one for you. When choosing your own tallit, you will want to keep in mind the feel of your synagogue or service venue, the time of year, and the floral or other sanctuary decor as well as what the Bar/Bat Mitzvah boy or girl will be wearing. You may want to coordinate with your partner if you have one as well.
DIY-ing a Tallit
You can also create your own tallit! When choosing the fabric for your tallit, think about how you want to wear it and what future uses you would like it to have. Do you want to wear it around your neck so it hangs like a scarf, or do you want to wrap it around you more like a shawl? Do you want to display it somewhere at home, or use it in the future to encompass your whole family at a baby naming (that is thinking far ahead I know) but you may want to keep your options open! If you have a pouch in mind where you would like to keep it, you want to make sure it will fit too. Mine is still in the plastic pouch it came in. My husband keeps his in a velvet pouch that used to be his father’s.
New fabric or fabric you design yourself
A favorite sheet or blanket you are ok with cutting up
Tye dye fabric
A serape or sarong or other fabric found while traveling
A shawl or scarf
Tzitzit: can be found in many Judaica shops and even some online craft retailers
Needle and thread or a sewing machine
Choose a fabric which looks nice on both sides.
Don’t pick anything too thick which will be too warm and hard to sew.
Make sure you are ok with transforming your fabric of choice.
Here are more details on creating your own tallit.
Look at photos from previous Bar/Bat Mitzvahs to see what style of tallit appeals to you and your child.
Consider taking a tallit making workshop if you want to make your own.