Bryna Rifkind examines tzitizt at a Sept. 3 session of Or Shalom Jewish Community's tallit-making class. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Bryna Rifkind examines tzitizt at a Sept. 3 session of Or Shalom Jewish Community's tallit-making class. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

PHOTOS: At Or Shalom in SF, making prayer personal with custom tallits

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Rabbi Me’irah Iliinsky, a textile artist and needleworker, has dreamed of creating a Jewish ritual arts program for years. She’s finally made it happen at Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco through the School of Jewish-Living Arts.

“There’s a saying that ‘one mitzvah draws another,’ and I hope that’s what this school does — open the Jewish doorway to people who enjoy crafting and making,” Iliinsky said.

In its first year, the School of Jewish-Living Arts has offered classes at the Reconstructionist congregation on how to make challah, braid Havdalah candles and choose a Hebrew name. Classes are donation-based and open to all.

“The idea is if you invest yourself into making a ritual object, then you want to use it,” Iliinsky said.

J. visual intern Aaron Levy-Wolins attended a Sept. 3 session of Iliinsky’s latest class that focused on creating a tallit, or prayer shawl. On that day, participants learned to tie tzitzit — the ritual fringes representing the mitzvot of the Torah — on their nearly completed shawls.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Before class participants arrived at the congregation in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, Iliinsky measured out pieces of yarn as practice tzitzit. The students used the yarn and small paper practice shawls to test their skills.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Pat Skala holds the corner of her tallit, showing off the fabric work she had already completed.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Chana Jacobs practices tying tzitzit with yarn hole-punched through a piece of paper.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Iliinsky later gave participants boxes containing the tzitzit strings they needed for their actual tallits. Sue Yuen pulled a few strings to start the tying process.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Tying tzitzit is a delicate, focused task.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The participants worked quietly as Iliinsky encouraged them to concentrate so they wouldn’t tie their tzitzit too tightly or too loosely.


(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Finished, Pat Skala shows off a corner of her tallit, complete with tzitzit.