When the rabbi says the Torah mantles are starting to look worn, it’s time to take action.
So when Rabbi Arthur Weiner – religious leader of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus – told longtime member Irene Reiss that the synagogue’s 11 Torahs might be ready for new covers, she got right to work.
Chair of the congregation’s memorials and dedications committee, Reiss organized a small group of volunteers to deal with the problem. After looking at catalogues, the committee chose not to order ready-made covers but instead to hire an artist to design them.
They selected Ronit Salei of Teaneck to do the job. The next step, said Reiss, was to choose a theme for the project.
“We chose ‘Tales from the Torah,'” said the project chair, pointing out that this directly connects the mantles to the Torahs they cover and also serves an educational purpose.
|Debbie Grundleger works on a beaded pelican. Beth Chananie|
She noted also that the congregation actually has two additional Torahs.
“We really have 13 Torahs,” said Reiss, pointing out that the 58-year-old shul displays a Holocaust Torah in the main sanctuary and, in the small sanctuary, “an antique Torah used by itinerant rabbis in Hungary.” Those, however, were to be left in their original covers.
Looking for a way to involve more congregants in the design project, Salei and the committee came up with a way for members to help craft the mantles.
“We decided to use needlepoint and beaded appliquÃ©s,” said Reiss, who sent out a notice to member families seeking volunteer needle-workers.
“We got 26 talented stitchers,” she said, adding that each got his or her assignment at a kick-off meeting and then completed the assignment at home.
While most of the crafters were women, one man did volunteer, said Reiss, pointing out that the age range of the crew reflected the “spectrum of ages within the congregation.”
Reiss said many of the appliquÃ©d pieces are now complete and she hopes the finished mantles will be ready by the end of the year.
When they are done, they will be “offered to congregants as memorials for their loved ones.” Customized linen panels, stitched by Teaneck artist Deborah Ugoretz, will then be sewn into each mantle, bearing the names of those they memorialize.
Reiss said each mantle “will be an original work of art” and that each appliquÃ©d piece is different. For example, she said, in depicting the story of Adam and Eve, one volunteer worked on a snake while another worked on an apple.
“Some are larger, some are smaller,” she said, calling the appliquÃ©d pieces “artful nice embellishments” to the mantles.
Congregant and committee member Debbie Grundleger, who worked with the artist and the volunteers, helped decide which parts of the project should be done as needlepoint and which as beading.
After working with Salei to select the textures and colors for the threads and beads, she then chose the types of stitches needed for each needlepoint piece.
“I set up packets with the appropriate material for each volunteer and was available for help, questions, and lessons in beading,” she said.
The volunteer, who is often called upon by the shul to make decorations for fund-raising events, said she created “giant ‘stained glass’ screens” for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. She has also fashioned synagogue floats for the town’s Fourth of July parades.
Grundleger said that when the packets of sewing supplies were distributed, volunteers had an opportunity to select what they thought would best fit their skills.
“Some of the volunteers traded in their work for something different if they found it was too much of a challenge,” she said.
All stitchers met their deadline, she said.
“All (the pieces)]] are beautiful and were created with love and enthusiasm,” she said. “It is very satisfying for our congregants to feel a part of creating beautiful works of art that will become a legacy in our synagogue.”