A bat mitzvah mothers letter and the story of a tallit

By accepting this tallit, you've added another chapter to the story of a family heirloom. A few months before we got married, I gave Daddy a big prayer shawl both as a wedding gift and to serve as our chuppah, the canopy representing the Jewish home we would build together.

I found the tallit I was looking for in the pages of the Jewish Catalog, which was a kind of 1970s hippie Jewish encyclopedia and Yellow Pages. There I came across the name and address of a Protestant minister who, in his retirement, had taken up the interesting hobby of weaving tallitot. Which is how it came to pass that the Rev. W. Sydney Fisher of Bethlehem, Pa., made this tallit, in shades of blue that include the exact color of your eyes.

A few years after our wedding, Daddy and I carried you up on this bimah, a tiny bundle, swaddled in his tallit. This is where you were given the name by which you were called to the Torah: Esther Leah, a name that honors my grandmothers Esther Leah and Esther Malkah.

Lots of the people in the sanctuary today were here on our wedding day, and on the day of your naming. Some are not here today who were here then, including my father, your Opa, whose memory is a blessing and whose smile hovers everywhere today. He would have been delighted by your d'rash [interpretation of the Torah portion], by your Hebrew chanting, by the person you're becoming — just as your grandmothers are delighted and proud.

Over the years, you played with this tallit. Sitting next to Daddy and me at High Holy Day services, you played hide-and-seek underneath it; you braided and unbraided the fringes. That's what children do.

But today you are no longer a child and the tallit belongs to you. You have already made it your own, by tying the fringes–the tzitzit–yourself. Those knots represent the ties that bind you to all the people who are part of the fabric of your life. But the knots are more than that; they symbolize mitzvot, the commandments given in the Torah. As of today, as a bat mitzvah, the mitzvot are yours to study, to wrestle with and to keep.

Today, wrapped in the family tallit that now belongs to you, you accept the Torah for yourself. How will you understand the Torah, Emilia, and how will you teach it? Where will you take this tallit and to whom, eventually, will you give it?

Daddy and I look forward to finding out as you write the next chapters in the story of this tallit, as it accompanies you through the wheres and hows and whoms of your Jewish life.