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My Father’s Tzitzit

My Father’s Tzitzit

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When I was a little girl, I went to synagogue with my father. One of my earliest memories is being young enough to sit on his lap in the men’s section, where we shared two special games. The first he called “Find the Aleph,” the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It may sound easy, but believe me, looking at a sea of black Hebrew letters and finding every aleph on the page was quite the challenge for a child of three or four. This game was designed to keep me quiet, but unfortunately it had quite the opposite effect, since every time I’d find one I’d cry out, triumphantly, “Aleph!”

And so he devised the second, far quieter game.

My father taught me to braid his tzitzit. I don’t think he ever braided my long brown hair, but he taught me how to plait the strings that hung from his soft, white prayer shawl.

I didn’t always understand his words or his ways, but I understood his hugs

You are probably thinking: why is this significant? Of course a man can make a simple braid, and why shouldn’t he be able to impart this basic skill to his only daughter? You see, it’s that my father was an immigrant. He spoke many languages, some better than others; I didn’t always understand his words or his ways. Still, I understood his hugs, the way he tickled me under my chin, and the hard candies he always had in his pocket. And somehow, I understood his silent instructions. Over, under, over, under—the braid took shape as my little fingers learned the lessons of his big, gentle hands.

As I got older, there is very little else I remember my father actually teaching me. After all, what could he teach a girl who got straight A’s in school and wanted to go to an Ivy League college? Who valued her secular education more than any old-world folk wisdom he could possibly pass on?

And yet, today, what I remember from college seems like a big blur of intellectual trivia compared to the simple lessons of my father: he taught me to say the Shema before I went to sleep, and the Modeh An when I woke. He taught me the blessings for bread, for wine, and even for the occasional Scotch. I may not remember to always say these prayers, but I know them all by heart. The way I know my social security number . . . and my Jewish name.

When my father died after a short illness, peacefully in bed, at the age of eighty-two, a man from the Jewish burial society, the Chevra Kadisha, came to prepare his body according to Jewish law. He asked me if my father had a tallit he’d want to be buried in, as a shroud. Of course he did, I said, and I went to get his same old and treasured prayer shawl from its familiar worn velvet bag, beside his bed.

As this physical connection was broken, a new bond was formed

The man from the burial society—whose name I don’t remember, but whose kindness I will never forget—asked me a question then that, in my shock and grief, I wasn’t even sure I heard correctly. He asked if I would like to keep one of the tzitzit. I stared at him, dumbfounded, and almost laughed with sudden joy and a wave of unexpected relief. “I can really do that?” I asked, amazed that the strict laws of Jewish burial ritual would permit such a sentimental but meaningful gesture. He assured me they would, and asked for a scissors.

I got it, and tensed as he prepared to cut the cord. At that moment one of my dad’s last links to the earthly world was cut, and I felt an almost umbilical severing of the bond between the father who had filled the days of my life and the one who would come to inhabit my memory. And yet, as this physical connection was broken, a new bond was formed.

Today, every time I touch the tzitzit, it is as if I am touching my father. The braided cord—for it is, indeed, a braid I made—is a tangible reminder of one of his sweetest lessons. In the braids of his tzitzit are the cords of his life, the temporal entwined with the spiritual, in a special, private link that remains long after his soul departed. The tzitzit is now a bookmark in my prayerbook, and as I turn each page I find the alephs and remember my father, whose quiet wisdom I hope to honor every time I touch his final gift.

Jessica Klein Levenbrown is an award-winning television writer and producer. She began her career at Sesame Street, was the head writer of the daytime drama As The World Turns, and with partner Steve Wasserman wrote and produced the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. Jessica created the teen television drama Just Deal, partially based on her own experiences as a Jewish mother, and most recently produced the series Scout’s Safari.
Miriam Teleshevsky has been painting since she was a toddler, and at the age of 21 had her first art exhibition. Born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Australia, Miriam has traveled throughout the world, gaining insight and inspiration for her artwork from countries such as Israel, Panama, Russia and Africa.
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Yakov Israel Sheffield November 30, 2013

Beautiful Such a touching story. Thanks for sharing it. May G-d bless you. Reply

Anita NM August 3, 2013

Absolutely beautiful!! Reply

Kenneth Howard Weston Ludlow England May 29, 2013

Shalom Jessica I am a sculptor and artist in England, your dad's blue cords to remember what G-D told us not to forget, well that love which you and popa shared, has convinced me to get my prayer shaul out and use it again!, the wonderful thing about the love of G-d Jessica, other clothes with that tallit were moth eaten, but my linen prayer shaul untouched, the wealth of our hearts Jessica were woven into those tzitzit's, thank you sister Kenny Israel Reply

Ann again Houston, USA December 23, 2011

Daddy's tallis I forgot to mention that Daddy dovened at home every morning of his life from the time he was twelve years old...except when he dovened at shul. As a small child I knew this was his most loving time of day, and cherished it.

I still get warm fuzzies at the sight of the extra tallesim hanging on the hooks outside the sanctuary, so anyone without one to borrow one. It's as if strands of Daddy's love were hanging there.

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Anonymous Memphis, Tn December 21, 2011

This story was wonderful. Though not Jewish, my life has been blessed through my association with two fabulous Judaic studies professors who both attended Chabad synagogues. Thank you for sharing G-d's love with the rest of us. Reply

Anonymous Anon, Anon April 23, 2010

Article Beautiful article, thank you. Might make it to my Yom Kippur sermon :-)

Quick note re the tzitzit: before burial the chevra kadisha (burial society) are supposed to make the tallit "passul" (not kosher) usually by removing one of the corners. They probably did not know how much it would mean to you. Reply

Yosef Cape town, South africa March 31, 2010

Tzitzit Shalom.
I agree there is a tear drop when ever one reads your story. i never went to shul with my dad, but i'm now a dad and teach my children what needs to be known. Reply

Eleanor Goldman Halpern Livingston, N.J. via chabadcares.com June 19, 2009

My father's Tallis Anything relating to a young daughter attending shul with her father brings back warm, loving memories to me. Looking up at the beautiful stained glass dome on the ceiling kept me still, as well as watching the back of the old man's swaying head, who sat in front of my dad. For some reason these memories never left me. Reply

Jaison Guterman December 22, 2008

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful I was immediately moved and started to cry! I am blessed to still have my parents, but I do understand the significance of losing a parent... (GRANDPARENT). Your story moved me sooo & Thank you for sharing. I am sure that man you held so dear... is so proud of you. The apple never falls too far from the tree! Reply

me November 20, 2008

wow. Wow, i simply could not stop crying. Thank you so much for sharing this with us all. Reply

Allan Wilson waterford, Mi November 5, 2006

My fathers Tallis
How ironic I read this article yesterday 10/31/06 and it gave me warm feelings, as my daughter braided the tzitzis of my tallis when I could keep her in shul for a while. I put on tallis and tefillin in the morning and the braided tzitzis remind me of my daughter(now a wife and the mother of 3). I returned to print the article as I had told my wife about it, and wanted to show it to her. I decided to read the posted comments and the first one is from my sister last March regarding my late father. I didn't know she read the article, and she didn't know I had. Reply

Anonymous West Jordan, UT June 16, 2006

This was a beautiful story. Reply

David Israel Tenowitz Bet El, Israel June 15, 2006

my fathers tzitzis Im 12 and my comment is you wrote the best storey ive have read in chabad.org Reply

Tzina Nechumah Winters Toronto, Canada June 15, 2006

-Jessica: Thank-you! Tomorrow is the 38'th Yarhartz (21'st Sivan) of my father: Shepsel ben Nochum, z''l, passing. Reading your article:
has left me in tears. I was 9 years of age when G-d called him home. It is only in the past few years that I realize just how much of a void that was never filled, that his loss was to both my mother: Tzipia Etel Bais Chava, z''l,
and I. These bitter sweet tears; those of the child and adult that still cries out for her 'daddy'.
Each tear holds a memory; and finds comfort in the knowledge of our mutual father: Avinu Malkeinu, our Father our King. 'In our hearts forever'. Reply

Ann Arlosoroff Vise Nunes Houston, Texas June 14, 2006

Daddy's tallis My first grandchild had his bris last Shabbos and they named their little boy for my late father. So when I got this email, it, too, reminded me of Daddy and of his death. He did take me to shul a few times when I was little, and on those occasions I used to page through the siddur looking for instances of the Shma, which has a rolling resonance which I have always loved. And I did have to decide what to do with his tallis when he died. However, nobody told me I could keep the tsitsis. I do still have two of his older tallesim in a drawer. One of them is really old; he must have used it for years before he switched to a newer one. And he is buried in a yet newer one. I asked my brother whether he would like to swap his own newest one for Daddy's newest one, and he did that. So Daddy's newest tallis now belongs to my brother, and Daddy in his grave wears my brother's new tallis. Reply

Deborah Gruen June 13, 2006

What a beautiful, beautiful story. That one line, "...as this physical connection was broken, a new bond was formed" is one that took my breath away. My instinct is that that line gave many people a new and unexpectedly optimistic emotion with which to approach death and loss. What a gift! Thank you! Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY June 6, 2006

My Father's Tzitzis My own father Joseph Kluger passed away 21 years ago, on the 11 of Sivan of the English year 1985 (that year it was May 31). Tonight is his Yahrtzeit. My children remember fondly their Grandpa Joe and my middle son is named for him, Yosef Chaim (also my second grandson). We all loved Grandpa Joe. He left 2 daughters and no sons, but my husband says Kaddish for him. I'm sure that he sits next to your father in Gan Eden and that they both look down on us and "shep nachas" from their daughters and from the Mitzvot that we do and the Jewish, Torah-observant lives that we live. This is the greatest joy for our fathers' souls in heaven. Reply

Jessica Klein Levenbrown Los Angeles, CA April 27, 2006

Author reply Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughtful responses. It means so much to have been able to share a piece of my father with all of you. Reply

Anonymous April 18, 2006

A beautiful moving story Thank You Reply

Arlene Fairfield, CT April 3, 2006

THank you Thank you for one of the most beautiful and endearing short stories I have ever read.

My Dad is gone for 1 1/2 years and each time I touch his prayer book, which he used in the Army, I feel his energy and love of his religion surge through me.

There is nothing like the beautiful memories shared between daughter and father.

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This is no fringe mitzvah! The tallit and tzitzit serves as constant reminders of our obligations to G-d and our fellows.
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