By Bonnie Kaplan
An inspiration 37 years ago set a new course in our family history, an experience that we would like to share with other families. It is our hope that resulting involvement will bring them similar joy and special nachas.
Preceding the birth of our second child, of whom we had no acknowledged notion as to gender, it occurred to me to create a wimpel, or Torah Binder, to honor our yet-to-be born, child. This type of Torah Binder traditionally was created following the occasion of the Brit Milah, when a son was born. As it turned out, it was presented to our daughter, Rachel, at her baby naming ceremony, which took place at Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California.
The date was September 29, one month from her birth, August 29, 1979. It was especially wonderful to “record,” through the use of calligraphy and embroidery on fabric, Rachel’s name, set within the prayer commonly recorded on a wimpel. Other pertinent information included the date of her naming, Shabbat Shuvah, 8 Tishri 5740. This particular Shabbat is unique as it falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and is called so because the Haftorah (Hosea 14:2-10), alludes to the right paths to take in life. It is read on this Shabbat because the prophet exhorts Israel to return to God. Some authorities suggest that it is called Shabbat Shuvah because it falls during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. During this morning service Rachel was welcomed into the Mosaic Law Congregation. She then received her Hebrew name, “Rachel Bat Yehudah HaKohen v’Bonnie.” Her wimpel, which, prior to the service had been wrapped around the Torah scroll to be chanted from during the service, was presented. It was said to be a novelty to view, as the tradition had never before been introduced to the Sacramento community. Following its presentation, the wimpel was again bound around the closed Torah scroll to function as a binder.
We, however, broke with tradition by taking Rachel’s wimpel home following the service, rather than donating it to the synagogue, as was previously done. I was able to record upon it after each family Simcha, where it had been utilized as a Torah Binder. It became a living record of Rachel’s accumulated life cycle family events, and continued to bind her essence to the Torah in a physical manner. Her schooling, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation all found a place of importance.
On the occasion of her Confirmation, at age 16, Rachel chose to use her wimpel as the central symbol and visual aid for her confirmation speech. She presented her speech as one of four students from her class of 24. Her speech follows here.
What Being Jewish Means to Me
by Rachel Kaplan
Confirmation Class of 1996
‘What being Jewish means to me,’ I hope to project into my future in every possible way. I continue to follow values the way my family taught me, the way my Rabbi and Rebbitzen role model for me and the way experiences in USY and synagogue life impact upon me.
I was blessed by my family to have a wimpel that was created before I was born and will go with me throughout my life. Upon it is recorded a number of experiences that I have already lived. Each incident is documented on this traditional swaddling cloth.
It was my mother’s inspiration to create and update it as I have experienced my Jewish life. Just as there are notations of my birth, family origin, Jewish worldly goods, also noted is the event of my Bat Mitzvah and expressions of wisdom shared by my mother and grandmother. There is documentation of my baby naming, and a space that awaits the information of my wedding under the Chuppah. (Although Rachel now traverses through a period of searching, she readily expresses to take the step of marriage under a Chuppah). I know one day I will place on my wimpel, the Jewish names of my children, as our family cycle evolves. I and my mother together will create a wimpel for each of my children.
The above speech was delivered at Mosaic Law Congregation, 2300 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento, California by Rachel Liorah Miller Kaplan.
The occasion of Rachel’s Confirmation, (May 23, 1996 – Shavuoth 5756) was as significant to me, her mother, as was her Bat Mitzvah. Fifteen minutes before leaving our home for the synagogue, a message left by Rabbi Taff earlier in the day, requested that Rachel present her speech. She hurriedly printed a copy while I ran to get her wimpel. She rehearsed on the way to the synagogue and we were given approval to hold up the wimpel while she delivered her speech. We, her family, extended family and friends watched her with pride while she shared her thoughts. Her father, Julian Kaplan, Aunt Maureen and Uncle Stephen Mallach (coincidentally in Sacramento from South Africa), myself and her brother, Seth, held the wimpel for the congregation to see while she spoke of its significance in her life.
Two evenings later our Rebbitzen, Judy Taff, telephoned to thank us for sharing Rachel’s wimpel and graciously said that the speech had been a highlight of the evening and would I be willing to teach a class on how to make a wimpel for parents/grandparents of newborns? I was honored by the request and most ferverently replied to the affirmative.
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