The Tallit Project: Infusing Art with Tefillah

Jordan Herskowitz and Flora Yavelberg

At our Eric F. Ross Upper School Campus, students are embracing the newly expanded and renovated art room, which debuted last fall. Art teacher Bethanie Watson now has the ability to work on a variety of different mediums with students, ranging from painting to printmaking to pastel and pottery. One of the most popular places in the school building, the art room has become an innovative and interactive space for both middle and high school students to explore their creativity.

Golda Och Academy has had a long history of infusing art into tefillah, most notably in our 6th grade Tallit Project, which has been running for more than a decade. Throughout the year, students work on designing and crafting their own tallitot. In the art room, student’s research traditional Jewish symbols and utilize them alongside more personalized design choices to create a tallit that is both visually pleasing and reflective of their personality. The process for this artistic portion of the tallitot takes several class periods. It begins with the research and planning, creating a full color sketch, and designing using paint, fabric markers, or other materials.

With the help of their Judaics teachers, students research a text or quote that speaks to them, which they put on the atarah, the neck band. Often this quote comes from their bar/bat mitzvah Torah portion. They decorate the entire tallit in their art class, and tie the tzitzit in Judaics classes, learning the symbolism involved in the numbers of knots. The students study the texts from the Torah about tzitzit that appear in the Shema, as well as texts related to receiving Torah, as they are about to begin wearing their tallitot and in anticipation of becoming bnei mitzvah.

Around Shavuot, our sixth graders have a special tallit ceremony where the children show their tallitot to their parents and put them on for the first time for Shacharit. It’s an exciting moment for our students to be able to pray for the first time with their tallitot. Following the service, parents and students separate into groups for a study session. Students teach their findings from the text and ask questions to stimulate discussion.

Thanks to the strong interdisciplinary work between the arts and Judaics departments, the sixth grade Tallit Project remains one of the highlights of the year for our students, combining Jewish study with hands-on artwork and performance.

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HaYidion Art and Aesthetics Summer 2016
Art and Aesthetics
Summer 2016