When most people think of this week’s Torah portion, Noach, they think of the flood, the ark, and the animals. When I think of Noach, I think of cross stitch, Canada, and connection. During my first week at WRJ, I made plans to connect with the Vice President that I would be working with, Sara Charney. While getting to know each other, I shared with her that I was a knitter. She paused before asking if I did other needle crafts. I responded that occasionally I would do a cross stitch project. Coincidentally Sara had just been introduced to a unique new project by Temma Gentiles, who was serving as an artist in residence at Sara’s synagogue, Holy Blossom Temple. Temma, a renowned textile artist in Canada, created “Torah Stitch By Stitch,” an international project to engage with words of Torah through cross stitch. Temma describes the project as “a unique and fascinating combination of big vision and small details, of slow traditional crafting and instantaneous technology, of professional calligraphic design and individual ‘folk’ creativity, and of study and passion.”
What an exciting project! I had never seen Jewish cross stitch before and I was intrigued. I filled out the form and sent in my money to participate in the project. A few weeks later I received my kit which contained the cotton aida cloth, black embroidery floss, a needle, and my four verses, Genesis 8:1-4, which was right in the middle of Noach. I worked for several months on my panel and when it was completed, I sent it in.
Over the next few years, I would receive emails with information about the project. There would be pictures of completed panels, letters from participants, and updates about the number of sections assigned. In June of 2017 I received a very exciting email; the entire Book of Genesis was complete and would be displayed at a congregation in Toronto for the next 6 months. I reached out immediately to Sara because I needed to come to Toronto and see it in person. We made plans for my visit to take place just a few weeks later, at the beginning of July. Sara sent an email RSVP to set up our tour and heard back that Temma Gentiles, the artist herself, would be joining and was looking forward to meeting me.
When Sara and I arrived at the synagogue, I practically ran inside. I couldn’t wait to see the finished panels, and especially my contribution. We had some time to explore before the official tour started, so I was able to locate my panel immediately and take dozens of pictures of it, including pictures of me pointing at it and a picture of me and Temma next to it. The finished panels were beautiful. In addition to the text, some people added illuminations and borders to their panels.
When the tour started, and our docent started telling us about the scope of the project including some of the stories of the stitchers, I started to get emotional. It was really amazing to think about being part of something that connected over 1300 people from 27 countries. Towards the end of Noach, we learn about all of the generations that descended from Noah and how we are all part of this family. Participating in this project illuminated that for me and brought me closer to Torah.
In my eyes, the project also represents accessibility to Torah. Growing up, I was able to chant Torah at my bat mitzvah, however, I had many friends who were not allowed to do so. My grandmother was confirmed, but never had a bat mitzvah and my mother had to wait until she was an adult before she had her ceremony. Today, across North America, girls are not only chanting Torah at their bat mitzvahs, but they are doing so while wearing a tallit. However, in Israel, Women of the Wall continues to fight in order to chant Torah on Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel. When Temma Gentiles put out a request for participants in the Torah Stitch by Stitch project, she opened up and made the Torah accessible to people all over the world, and in many cases allowed them to engage with Torah for the very first time.
I am forever grateful for contributing to this project while coinciding with the start of my WRJ professional journey.
Heather Lorgeree is the WRJ Manager of Programs & Affiliate Services. She handles support for all potential, new, and current affiliates and serves as the staff liaison for the WRJ Districts. Heather is an active member of Temple Beth Or Sisterhood in Washington Township, NJ, where she was proud to be honored as a WRJ Unsung Heroine and most recently, a Woman of Valor. Heather enjoys baking cakes and making ice cream and is also an avid Chicago sports fan; she supports all of the teams, but the White Sox are her favorite.