I’ll gloss over the bromides. The ones like: “Time goes by so quickly,” or “I remember his birth like it was yesterday.” Adam has just turned 13. He’ll try to live up to the expectations of a bar mitzvah. He’ll also need some key accessories. I think it’s fair to defer expectations for a boy who won’t actually be a man for a few more years.
Anna and her grandmother bought Anna’s tallit together in Jerusalem at a store on the Cardo – a piece of Byzantine road defined by original Roman columns. At the time there could be no other place in the world to buy our first-born’s tallit.
In the years since, life’s stresses have frequently come on fast and furious. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the old Yiddish saying that a person plans and G-d laughs. Too cynical for me. I’d like to think that G-d changes our plans – no matter how illogical and serpentine the alternatives – because it was the right thing to do. This I believe with all my heart on my better days. On my off days, I don’t exactly think G-d laughs. But the Sovereign of the Universe’s wisdom can be painfully oblique.
I was supposed to be in Jerusalem next month. My motherin law had asked me to buy Adam’s tallit on her behalf on the Cardo. Alas, I won’t be in Jerusalem next month. I’m disappointed about postponing my trip mostly because I won’t be able to bring Adam a tallit from Israel. I know there are beautiful tallitot to be had in Boston, but yet ...
If Adam’s tallit had to be purchased stateside, then it was imperative that Grandma be there to help him pick it out. I’d venture to guess that picking out a tallit for one of her grandchildren is among the top 10 things that bring my mother-in-law pure and utter joy. She also knows that tallit shopping is serious business. I don’t think she’ll mind me sharing that she is more than weary of G-d. I don’t blame her. My father-in-law died of brain cancer. My in-laws had just retired to a sweet home in Florida. He was buried nine months later in his tallit.
I found my father’s tallit in his closet shortly after he died. I never saw him wear that tallit, or any tallit for that matter. Dad’s was simply called a prayer shawl – that’s how my grandmother labeled the non-descript box I found it in. It’s a wisp of a tallit – yellowing white silk with faded blue bands and minimal fringes. I wore it for my adult bat mitzvah.
Many years ago, a friend told me she could see her children’s lives unfolding in her mind’s eye. I imagine that she could see future joys and sorrows the way a good chess player can anticipate several moves ahead in the game. I saw so much of life – past and future – as Adam tried on various tallitot.
I daresay that my mother-in law and I have impeccable taste. We both loved the tallit that had bold swathes of black and maroon near the fringes. “It matches his invitation colors,” I said, suddenly realizing that Adam’s big day had a color scheme. How pretty it might look as a chuppah covering, or worn at a baby naming or a brit. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. People plan, and G-d knows what happens for better or for worse.
Adam humored us and tried on that dazzling tallit, but he knew it wasn’t for him. (He also noted that no one had discussed a color scheme with him.) We moved on to other tallitot that he rejected as too fancy, too plain or not blue. Turns out that Adam had his own color scheme in mind: Israeli flag blue. He also wanted a tallit that evoked Jerusalem. He picked that exact tallit. When he tried it on he said, “This is the one,” and pointed to the embroidered skyline of the Old City just above the fringes.
Truth be told, it was not my favorite tallit, but that didn’t matter. I knew it was the only tallit for Adam. In that very moment, my son taught me that no matter where we bought his tallit or where he wore it he would always carry Jerusalem in his heart. We picked out a very elegant yarmulke that went well with his sparkling new Jerusalem tallit. He modeled the whole ensemble for us. Who knew? Adam has impeccable taste, too.
After all is said and done, I can’t stop myself from indulging in a sunrise-sunset moment. My son is now taller than I am. He’s outgrown the boy’s department. His shoe size is bigger than his father’s. And if I didn’t know better, I’d swear to you that he was just born.