Teaching a class
Last winter I had begun a tallit making workshop for a synagogue. Between session 1 and 2 the Rabbi's mother died. I was supposed to lead a session and had to cancel because my own mother was dying. We re-started the project a while back.
I suppose that if i decided ahead of time exactly what every participants tallit would look like, if I came up with some sort of a standard tallit formula I suppose it might have been an easier class to run.
It does create more of a demand from a class to ask them to really think through both what is a tallit and what is YOUR tallit ( as opposed to what is a tallit that you could purchase in a Judaica store).
The class is made up of people with a really wide range of sewing skills (from zero to highly competent) as well as a similarly large range of Jewish knowledge and Jewish texts.
So far the sessions have all taken place in a preschool in the Bronx with teeny tables and chairs. It wasn't the easiest space for real work. I asked that this time participants meet at my home. Schlepping two machines, stacks of fabrics and tons of notions up town and then back home is hard. Participants were given times to show up.
I think the thought was that if I could focus on only one participant at a time it would be easier to push people closer to completion.
Reality was a little bit more complicated than the plan. There were more people in my apartment all at the same time.The skills I learned working with preschoolers came in handy. I still get testy if my elbows are touched while I am working. I still need people to take turns when asking me questions.
Mostly I was able to give participants tasks to work on as I focused on the needs of another class member.
I guess I am used to the fact that a tallit in progress will spend much of it's life looking like a giant mess until it pulls itself together. For the people working at my house on Sunday, each of them reached the moment where they could see their own tallit suddenly looking coherent and beautiful. They had come to my house thinking they had a mess on their hands but left with tallitot they were quite proud of.
My favorite moment of the day was when class participants admired their own work and the work of their cohorts. They loved how completely different each tallit was. And in fact they are really, really different from one another. Each one is very much a portrait of the participant and their relationship to Judaism. It would have been easier to give the participants a very narrow range of options. The end result though is a tallit that is much more about the class participants than it is about me, something that is far more personal. I will probably have one more session after Passover with this class. It has been a long complicated but ultimately rewarding adventure.
If I were less focused on teaching I would have remembered to take more photos.