The newest challah cover

My mother’s family was famed for it’s singing.  My mother’s great grandfather lived in a town in Podolia, in the Ukraine called Frampol.  Apparently, Zalman Paysakh used to sing in his sleep. He had quite a sweet voice, and I guess there wasn't all that much in the way of nightlife in Frampol. So people used to gather outside of Zalman Paysakh’s window to hear him sing in his sleep.

My grandfather inherited his father’s sweet voice. Singing z’mirot,  the Shabbat table songs was an important part of my mother’s family life.
Z’mirot  were an important part of my own Shabbat experience growing up.  Some of the melodies we used were relatively new. Some of the Chassidic melodies were set to marches or to waltzes, others were more Middle Eastern in flavor.

Every Friday night we began singing z’mirot  with Kol Mikadesh sh’viii  All who sanctify the seventh day.  the melody wasn't exactly a melody, more a very old world chant. The text isn't like most of z’mirot  a poem, but a series of biblical verses about Shabbat strung together.
When I hear this text chanted today, I instantly become a very little girl rubbing her chicken-greasy finger on the ridged pattern of the white  plastic Shabbat table cloth as I sort of sing along next to my grandmother and hearing the voices of everyone else at the table. My belly is full, I’m sleepy  and happy.

As I became older I realized that  Kol mikadesh sh’vii  also injected so much text into my head. As I studied bible  in school, again and again, there were passages that I had passively absorbed from Kol Mikadesh  Sh’vii.

Several years ago a client came to me with a pile of old linens which had belonged to her mother. Her mother had been born in Hungary, survived Auchwitz, resettled in Hungary after the war, she made Aliya in 1956 and then moved to New York.  I was charged to create a challah cover using the old textiles that somehow alluded to the mother’s life history.
I had no idea what to do with the pile of embroideries. I kept playing with them re arranging  them and nothing worked.  My client’s mother died. I attended the funeral. My client gave a eulogy about her mother.  Right after the funeral I set to work.  I took a standard made in Israel Challah cover from the 1950’s that was in the pile of embroideries.  I centered it onto a piece of black  silk shantung. I then calligrahed the entire text of  Kol Mikadhesh sh’vii  around the 1950’s challah cover. The theologically simple premise of the text, keep Shabbat and the messiah will come, seemed perfect for my client’s mother


My son, then ten came home from school and saw the challah cover on the dining room table.  He commented, “ It’s about the Holocaust isn’t it?”.  Of course he was right, even though nothing in the piece was actually directly connected to the Holocaust.

I also remember  Friday night  form several years ago. My mother in law was in the hospital.  I cooked Shabbat dinner, packed up a table cloth and paper good and we brought Shabbat to the hospital.  We ate all together  in a lounge  my mother in law in her maroon bathrobe. After dinner I began to sing  Kol Mikadesh  sh'vii. My father in law sang along with me and them reminisced about how when he was a little boy, his father sang Kol Mikadesh sh'vii if he had had a good week and felt sated by the Shabbat meal.  I realize as I type this that my father in laws's father grew up about 50 miles from Frampol.

My mother just reminded me that we also sang this chant to my father as he was dying.

Which brings me to this new challah cover. It uses the same text, not all of it but a nice chunk of the text.
Kol Mikadesh (6)Kol Mikadesh (2)Kol Mikadesh (1)
Kol Mikadesh (4)

The text was calligraphed on linen brocade that came by way from my former neighbor, Andrea. The green silk shantung was from  the very end of a bolt. I stamped the flowers using a rubber stamp. The velvet binding is from a surprise purchase of a load of vintage ribbon. The green and gold backing on this challah cover, not visible, is also from Andrea a piece of late 1980’s drapery cotton. Yes, this is for sale.

Comments

  1. Sarah, Your calligraphy is especially lovely on this piece. How do you make the ink colors blend and change that way?

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  2. The color blending and variations is easy. You work with two or three pots of color. Don't follow the advice your kindergarten art teacher told you, and don't clean your brush between colors. I more or less alternate dipping between the pots of color. I was taught this by my excellent calligraphy teacher, Ellen Alt.

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