TAILORING TALLIT Interview with Wendy Light of Holy Thread Designs

By Laurie Gross

Talkit hanging on a clothing rack

Tallitot by Holy Thread Designs

This article begins a series for Hebrew Helpers about ways in which our collaborators and friends also look to personalize Jewish learning and life cycle events.

Whether it’s the playful turtle made from spare lamp parts that greets you at the door, or the colorful stained glass spilling light into her study, when you enter Wendy Light’s home you know you’ve entered an artist’s abode. My interview with Wendy reveals she is someone who is not only making beautiful tallitot, but weaving them with stories as well.

As soon as I enter the room I am compelled to touch the stunning tallitot, which adorn the hangers. They are all so varied in color and texture, I can’t help myself. It’s as if Wendy reads my mind; she encourages me to feel them as she begins to tell me some of the stories behind these creations.

Wendy: I received a call from a family who wanted a tallit quickly. It was 10 days prior to their son’s Bar Mitzvah and they had just lost a beloved family member, the grandfather of the Bar Mitzvah boy. Their son was so devastated by losing his grandfather that he did not want to proceed with this milestone. The parents hoped that I could create a tallit infused with the grandfather’s spirit and that this would inspire their son. Overnight, the family shipped me Grandpa’s favorite jacket – a hot pink denim blazer. Grandfather and grandson enjoyed a special bond over their love of the color hot pink. I used the jacket’s sleeves to make the tallit stripes and the back panel of the jacket for the atara (neckband). Secretly sewn into the underside of the tallit, I added the label from the jacket “42R.” The parents have shared with me that the Bar Mitzvah boy truly felt like his grandfather was right there with him as he proudly wore the tallit during his service.

Laurie: That’s an amazing story. I say as I settle in, Tell me some more.

Wendy: This magenta one is ready to be given to a local family. They lost their son in a tragic boating accident. He was only 4 years old.

I nod, and can barely say the words, 
I’m familiar with the story. We know some families in common.

At the same time we both say, “Gidi.”

Wendy: It is hard to celebrate one child while you are forever in mourning for another. Gidi loved all things pretty and sparkly, so with that in mind I made the atara especially sparkly by sewing purple and teal glass beads on it.

Laurie: It indeed sparkles and I’m sure the family will treasure it.

Wendy: I know it will comfort them. I’m glad that when Zeve wears it and the rest of the family sees it, they will lovingly think of Gidi.

Again, I am speechless as I process the meaningfulness of this and what it will represent.

Laurie: Other than being works of art, which clearly they are, they are also personalized with such beautiful meaning behind them. I guess I hadn’t anticipated that.

Wendy: Some tallitot are selected because they just simply appeal to the individual. While some people are truly going for the aesthetic value. Everyone wants something different.

Laurie: I think about how wonderful it is to have something so tailored to who you are. I guess I’m saying this on the heels of my own son’s Bar Mitzvah, which Todd officiated and was planned by Hebrew Helpers. The service was amazingly unique and personalized to fit who he is.

Wendy: Exactly. Even if I am not making a tallit out of specific materials or with hand-picked specifications to honor someone, all of them are hand-sewn, personalized creations. They fit the person for whom it is intended. In this way, it is fully in conceptual lock step to what Hebrew Helpers seeks to do – customizing the B’nai Mitzvah program to the student and their family.

Laurie: I love that. I wish I knew about these tallit a few weeks ago. Oh well, it will make a good gift in the future.

Then it occurs to me that I have been so mesmerized by the beauty of the tallitot and the incredible stories that I haven’t really learned anything about Wendy yet.

Laurie: So how did you get into making tallitot?

Wendy: Well, I taught religious school for 16 years, as well as spent three summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. I even taught Todd and Debbie during their religious school years at Congregation Adath Jeshurun [in Elkins Park, PA].

Todd has told me that he made a ceramic seder plate with Wendy in her art class at Hebrew School, that he and his family treasure and still use every Passover.

Wendy: In addition, I was the Education Director at Beth Hillel Beth El [in Wynnewood, PA] and then Ohev Shalom [in Richboro, PA] for 15 years. I was also the National Education Consultant for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for 15 years. I also am so honored to have received an Honorary Doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary. We have four kids and eleven grandkids, including the latest born on Father’s Day.

The pride she has as she states this is heart-warming. It is quite obvious she is passionate about what she is creating, with her background being deeply rooted in Jewish education. I am amazed, both by her humility and accomplishments.

One last time, I touch the organza tallit with flowers embroidered into it. I imagine wearing this while praying would bring someone great joy.

Laurie: It’s always nice to know people who are creating beauty in this world.

I thank Wendy for sharing with me, and as I drive away a butterfly almost hits my windshield. I take it as a sign that beauty is in the air.

For more information and to purchase a tallit, visit the Holy Thread Designs Etsy site. Holy Thread Designs will donate 10% of all purchases originating from the Hebrew Helpers website to The Mitzvah Learning Fund.

Laurie Gross is a contributing writer and also a proud Hebrew Helpers parent.

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