Sukkat Shlomecha: A Time To Tear. A Time to Sew.

By Cantor Katie Oringel

Ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha
Spread over us a shelter of peace

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all curl up under a sacred blanket of peace? A few moments of calm in the midst of this whirlwind sounds delightful. The Hebrew above is from our evening prayer, Hashkiveinu. The words feel aspirational at best in this climate, however, they did lead to inspiration.

On Rosh Chodesh Elul, every family received a bag of goodies and materials. One of the stranger items was a square of fabric. During Shabbat services on Zoom we encouraged everyone to retrieve their odd item. With the square in our hands, we discussed the Jewish tradition of tearing our clothes when someone dies. It is an outward expression of how we feel on the inside.

There are many lingering losses weighing us down. They make the work of self reflection and repentance more difficult this High Holidays. As humans, we need outlets for releasing the emotional plaque left behind by missed graduations, missed hugs and postponed simchas. For those amongst us still wrestling with zoom funerals and Covid-19 recovery, all the more so, we need help mending our hearts and souls. 

Some people recover through the endorphins of a good workout, when a grandchild receives the name of a loved one passed, the perfect hug, an honest conversation or a deep dive into a journal. Though a wound recovers as cells re-grow and fill in the gap, feelings are much harder to heal. We need symbols and representations to help the journey along. 

The method of tearing, cutting, or poking relate to the breaks each member acknowledges. Individuals experience their hurt differently. Our littlest members might cut a small hole with safety scissors for their missed school friends on the playground. A grandparent might poke many holes with a pushpin for each missed hug. The widow who buried her husband with only eight people by her side might tear the fabric in half.

The goal is not destruction of the fabric, but representational wounds. For any who turned their cloth to confetti, they were encouraged to contact us for a deeper conversation.

After the square is torn, we begin the journey of repair. Dr. Betsy Stone teaches of psychological skinned knees. Our times of pain leave behind internal scars. Just as our scars add texture to our lives, the goal is not to bring the fabric back to its original form. We will never return to the ‘old normal’ which must be the counter to a ‘new normal’ we are now living. Grounded in this understanding, we will begin the process of mending our fabric. 

We will name the songs, meals, moments and activities that helped each person heal, creating playlists, and banks of healing activities. We will share and learn from the experiences of others, acknowledging there is no singular formula to follow. We will hold one another up as we try and try again to find something that offers relief and comfort.

When we return to our disjointed square, the preschooler might attach a band aid to their gap after a zoom playdate. The grandparent might cover their holes with glue having received a handmade card from their grandchild. The widow might sew together their two pieces, each stitch representing the support of a different person, calling, cooking and caring for them. We will celebrate our individual strength and communal fortitude in the face of extreme challenge.

Throughout the year, sewers and quilters will bring together each square. The progress will be central to discussions and on view for all to see. 

With all the hopes for a sweet new year, a year from now, we will gather underneath our chuppah of healing during our healing service on Yom Kippur. We will sing beneath the beauty of resiliency. It will serve as an ongoing reminder, “Though our pain may be deep, our ability to be changed by it, is the strength of the human spirit,” Dr. Betsy Stone. We hope our chuppah of healing will spread over us a shelter of peace.

Katie Oringel serves as cantor at Temple B’nai Israel, a reform synagogue in Clearwater, Florida. She received her ordination and Master of Sacred Music from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009 and a Certificate in Jewish Education Specializing in Adolescents and Emerging Adults in 2014.