I started wearing a tallit for the first time in my life in November of 2018 at age 39. It took me a very long time to get there at all, and I fully acknowledge my motivation came from setting an example of my belief in egalitarianism for my daughters and not from any personal connection to the physical item or its symbolism. Each week that I put it on, it felt like a costume piece I don in my role as a Jew.
Friday morning, after an hour of reading about George Floyd, police and rioting, I pulled out my tallit for the first time in 89 days. I have logged into the streamed service every week since we’ve been home, listening in the background as I read the siddur at my own pace. I don’t get dressed up anymore, picking out the perfect hat each week as I always had done before. I had taken Shavuot off work months ago because I had been assigned kitchen duty and figured it would be a good weekend to get some serious camp packing done. I gave back the days I had taken off for camp departure and return, but decided to abstain from my day job even if I hadn’t decided how (or if) I would observe Shavuot. I take a lot of comfort in the streaming option being offered right now by my synagogue. Zoom services feel more intimidating than being in person so I had to work my way up to attending.
I wasn’t brave enough to keep my camera on, but I kept my tallit on. For the first time, it didn’t feel like a costume. It felt familiar and strange all at once. It has a physical weight to it that triggered memories of how uncomfortable it was when I first started wearing it. Learning how to sit without sitting on it and keeping it on my shoulders without the distracting need to constantly tug on it. I was aware of the new sound of my tzitzit brushing against the plastic tablecloth of the table that has become my makeshift standing desk. It felt good in my hands, to fidget with the satin ribbon edging just as I would if I was sitting in the sanctuary.
During the service, my rabbi mentioned this is a time when she felt like she could have been updating her drash by the minute. I sat with that for a long time. We live in a time when we have access to post our thoughts – positive and negative – with little or no need to step back and sit with those thoughts first.
I suspect most people reading this are feeling similarly to me about violence happening in our cities right now. Angry, sad, fearful, worried, helpless and heartbroken. I have no answers. I have no words of wisdom. All I know is today, I found comfort in my community and traditions in a way I had never experienced previously.