Canopy honors young woman who lived for youngsters

On Simchat Torah, Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn unfurled a unique memorial to a former member.

A 40-foot long, ‘0-foot wide tallit bearing the name Riva Blatt Weinstein was used as a canopy, held over the many young children of the congregation when they were called to the Torah during the kol ha-na’rim aliyah.

The canopy dedicated to Riva, who died last year at the age of 30, was carried up to the bimah and affixed to 18 10-foot poles. It “billowed over the heads” of the men who transported it to the front of the main sanctuary, said Riva’s mother, Michele Blatt.

While Shomrei Torah generally houses several concurrent minyanim on Shabbat and yom tov, the congregation comes together for one joint service on Simchat Torah.

Blatt said that she and her husband, Jake, first thought of commissioning a tallit/canopy and donating it to the synagogue several years ago in memory of Jake’s father.

But longtime friends of the couple decided that the canopy would be a particularly appropriate memorial for Riva, who, her mother says, “loved working with children.” Trained to deal with autistic children, Riva had worked in regular classrooms as well as special education venues, serving as a teacher, counselor, and tutor.

The canopy, hand-painted in acrylic on white silk, has an overhang of 18 inches all around. According to Fair Lawn artist Jeffrey Packard, who designed and produced the piece, members of the congregation will be invited to add their children’s and grandchildren’s names to this border. The work will be done by a single embroiderer.

Pictured on the canopy are images derived from Shabbat and yom tov, “which were central to Riva’s life,” says Packard. There is a large table with two candles in candlesticks, a covered challah, a Kiddush cup, and an open siddur.

A raw white circle containing a blue Star of David is situated in the center of the canopy so that it lines up directly above the shul’s reading table. Riva’s name has been inscribed in English and Hebrew on the inside of the overhang facing the synagogue’s ark. “The piece has a light, kinetic feel, a living energy,” says Packard.

The canopy is particularly appropriate for Simchat Torah, says Packard, who inscribed both the first and the last lines of the Torah around its perimeter. Also depicted are small images depicting the six days of creation.

Packard has been responsible for much of the art adorning Shomrei Torah, including the stained glass windows, donor wall, mosaic at the entrance of the mikvah, Holocaust memorial, and the design and fabrication of the Aron Kodesh, as well as the furniture on the bimah.

Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, the synagogue’s religious leader, remarked that the entry of the tallit into the sanctuary was “breathtaking,” according to congregant Debbie Friedman.

There was total silence for several minutes, said Friedman. “All the men on the bimah were crying, along with many others, but not in a sad way. It is a very grand piece, and the way it fluttered… made it seem full of life.”

“The canopy is not just in memory of Riva but belongs to the entire shul,” says Blatt. “It’s a living thing.”