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Rabbi's Column: The Story of a Tapestry

January 22, 2019 12:46 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)


Rabbi Barry Schwartz

A striking tapestry of Jewish art now hangs in our social hall. If you haven’t seen it, make sure to go downstairs the next time you are at the Temple. It is unlike anything you have seen before.

The tapestry was created from eleven hand embroidered Ethiopian Jewish panels. Nine of the panels depict scenes from the Bible. The other two depict an Ethiopian Jewish synagogue gathering and a celebration of the unique Ethiopian Jewish festival of Sigd.

These embroideries, originally pillow covers, were made in the 1980’s when the Ethiopian Jewish community waited to make aliya to Israel. Many had already left their tiny villages in the Gondar province and were living in a compound in Addis Ababa awaiting their fate. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry organized this project to help provide a means of support, and an expression of pride, under the most trying of conditions.

The embroideries are astonishingly intricate (some 40,000 stiches per piece) and vividly colored. I collected several of them when they were first made and used them as pillows at my Pesach seder each year. Recently I acquired the remaining Bible scenes and had the idea to turn them all into a tapestry. Fortunately my wife Debby had the skill to turn vision into reality!

The Jews of Ethiopia trace their origin all the way back to the union of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. They remained Jews through century after century of isolation and discrimination. They always dreamed of living in Israel. That dream was finally realized in two great airlifts, Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991 that brought some 25,000 individuals to Israel under extraordinary circumstances. Today that community has grown to 140,000 souls, 50 percent under the age of 19.

I also was a new immigrant to Israel in 1985 and had the opportunity to work with the newly arrived Jews of Ethiopia in Haifa, and to serve in the Israeli army with them. It is an experience I will never forget. So the story behind the tapestry is deeply personal for me even as it represents a shining moment in modern Jewish history.

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