May AARC Mail Call! (Wimple Edition)

by Dave Nelson

Our 250-year-old Torah’s century-old wimple

When you find a 11-foot, 112-year old wimple in the mail!

As noted in the past, most of the postal mail the AARC receives takes the form of bills, checks, services we don’t need, scams, and benign crazy talk—but we also get some really nice or interesting notes from really nice and interesting people. May was a bit thin for mail, but the one piece of non-bill, non-check, non-request, non-scam mail we did get was a doozy: A package from Rabbi Ralph Ruebner in Skokie, IL containing our wimple!

What’s a “wimple” (apart from a nuns’ hat)?  This:

The wimple is an ornate, embroidered or painted cloth used to bind up a Torah scroll after it has been read. It is made from swaddling cloth used to bind a baby at his circumcision. Thus, almost from the moment of birth, a direct link is established between the child and the Torah.

The custom of preparing a wimple—the word means “cloth” or “veil” in old German—began about 400 years ago in Germany and spread from there to Alsace, Switzerland, France and the Low Countries. As German Jews emigrated to other lands, especially America, they brought the custom with them but it has remained confined to a limited section of Ashkenazic Jewry. (source)

This wimple, our Torah’s wimple—originally used to bind “Robert Hessel (corrected from Hefsel, after learning about the “Long s” see comment below) Hambuch” measures roughly 11 feet long, and is hand-painted with text and other decorative elements.  It has some … interesting discoloration whose precise nature—given its original ritual duty—I decline to meditate on.

Here’s a look at the full wimple (which, given its dimensions, is challenging to photograph) via video:

our wimple’s central panel

As you no doubt recall from your frequent perusal of the AARC Board Meeting Minutes (meticulously taken by your dedicated secretary), although we’ve had the same interestingly idiosyncratic Torah for several decades, its ownership was long unclear (due to leadership and administrative changes both in our little Hav and the congregation who loaned us the Torah to begin with).

Last year we had the good fortune to finally hear from the current Board of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim of Skokie, IL. (Niles Township Jewish Congregation lent us our Torah ~20 years ago, shortly before they merged with Congregation Ezra-Habonim).  Soon after we officially (and emphatically) purchased our Torah.

Detail of the baby’s name inscribed on the wimple; love this rainbow gradation!

Rabbi Ralph Ruebner of Skokie was kind enough to send the wimple along to be reunited with our Torah, as well as these details about this wimple, wimples in general, and the history of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation/ Congregation Ezra-Habonim, and German Jews in middle America.

A detail from near the tail end of the wimple

 

 

 

 

Hospice Volunteer Opportunity

St. Joseph Mercy is looking for hospice volunteers. Keeping company with the dying is understood to be one way of fulfilling the halachic dictate that the dying should be treated as complete people, capable of fully engaging in human affairs.  Beyond that, providing succor to the family is clearly an aspect of tikkun olam.  Details:

April AARC Mail Call!

by Dave Nelson

As your Board secretary, I do much, much more than just take notes at monthly Board Meetings and eventually revise these and post them where you can see. I also periodically pick up our mail at the JCC offices. Most of it is bills, checks, shady offers to re-asphalt our parking lot, legitimate offers to re-asphalt our parking lot, office supply catalogues, and brief form letters from well-meaning crackpots inviting us to consider the religious Grand Unification Theories they’ve posted online.

But we also get a few really nice letters from really nice people who really appreciate the little slice of diversity we bring to Washtenaw County. Below are two of these from April.

First up, we got a really nice thank-you note from Jewish Family Services, for our Purim donations, which help JFS “set up warm and welcoming new homes for incoming refugees.”

If we are a generation or two removed from a refugee/immigrant experience, it can easily seem like ancient history to our kids. I’m always really pleased that the Hav keeps this portion of the American experience in front of our eyes, so that “my dad’s dad came here from Ukraine at seven-years-old with a Detroit address on a note pined to his jacket” doesn’t become as distant and abstract as “because of what the Lord did to us when we were slaves in Egypt.” We can continue to support the JFS Refugee Resettlement Program by buying tickets (click on the picture) to the June 11 “Festival of Lights” concert.

The other nice letter from April came from the Chelsea Ministerial Association.  I urge you to give it a read; I doubt I can do it justice in summary:

They wrote this thinking of Micah 6:8, but when I read it I immediately was reminded of Malachi 3:18, which is something like:

“And you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve G_d and those who do not.”

The Curious Case of the Too-Tall Traveling Torah

by David Erik Nelson
Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Rabbi Druin points to a distinctive lamed in the AARC torah. Photo by Stephanie Rowden

Here at the AARC we are blessed with a very weird Torah that gets a tremendous amount of love.

Most Torahs rarely travel more than a dozen feet at a time, from ark to torah table. Ours gets hauled through the JCC, chauffeured to b’nei mitzvah venues, and schlepped across town to the Unitarian Universalist building for High Holidays. It is a remarkably well-loved—and notably well-traveled—oddball of a scroll. It is also old, a little delicate, and very unwieldy. Our traveling Torah badly needed a traveling case—something with wheels and handles, easy to maneuver, and able to protect our scroll from a sidewalk stumble, fender bender, or sudden downpour.

Anyone who’s been called to the AARC bimah (such as it is) has no doubt noted our scroll’s large Kabbalistic script (embellished with many little hooks, hats, and curly tails)—a relative rarity among “high use” Torahs like ours.  This calligraphy is a hallmark of Torahs crafted in the last great center of Kabbalistic learning, in Prague.  You may have noted our Torah’s age—the scroll is almost certainly several hundred years old.  If you’ve ever done hagba, you have first-hand experience of how unwieldy it can be to handle. But few folks point out how extremely tall the thing is.

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Notes, measurements, and rough sketch

Most Torahs are about two feet tall, in accordance with suggestions made by Moses Maimonides back in the 12th Century, and might weigh around 30 pounds. Ours—in accordance with the fashion of the Kabbalists of Prague—is almost four feet tall. I have no clue what it weighs, but I know it is a bear to haul up over your head.

As Amazon shoppers, you no doubt imagine that there is a robust, highly competitive global market for Torah travel cases. Thus you will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that there is a very limited selection of torah-specific travel cases for 47-inch tall Torahs.

In fact, that selection is limited to zero.

"The Vault" Hardside Golf Travel Bag

“The Vault” Hardside Golf Travel Bag

For that matter, there is a very limited market for travel cases for anything that’s four feet tall, a foot wide, and just shy of eight inches deep. No instrument case is long enough and wide enough, no gun case is deep enough, even cases for synthesizers and keyboards either fall short or are far too large—and either way, they are extremely expensive and heavy.

Fortunately, golfers love to travel. Two companies make bare-bones, hard-sided, lockable, wheeled, extra-large cases to protect those precious clubs. Our ancient, mystic Torah fits perfectly in one of these cases. Appropriately enough, this product is named “The Vault.”

And we now own it.

With the addition of a padded, custom-crafted foot-hold, The Vault holds our well-loved Torah snug as a bug in a rug. When not in use, the case tucks perfectly into the back corner of the official “office” (storage closet) of Ann Arbor’s only Reconstructionist congregation.

Now our Torah can wander in style.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!