Monday, October 3, 2011

My grandmother's tefillin bag

[Interesting development in an on-going saga: Have tzedakah organizations crossed the line?]

My grandmother made the above-pictured tefillin bag for me, for my bar mitzvah, more than 25 years ago. At the time there was a trend for custom-embroidered zeklach; I see them often among others my age. Thank Gd, it has held up very well; the zipper isn't great, but the rest is intact.

I still remember when my grandmother asked me about the design, and about the colors. I remember when I first held it. {Side note: I have no idea why I wanted red, green and silver on the crown. I think I remember my parents asking me, "Are you sure?" and me not knowing why they were asking. Now, when I put my tefillin bag down among strangers, I know they are wondering what the deal is with those colors.}

My bag is important for me, independent of the tefillin it holds. I don't get to see my grandmother very often, so this is like having her with me wherever I go. I am connected to my tefillin, of course, but this bag is emotionally irreplaceable.

Do you have a mitzvah-peripheral item like that, which carries meaning independent of the mitzvah object itself?


  1. One of my grandfathers brought back from Israel an enameled copper vertical-style esrog container for my other grandfather. The grandfather picked it up the day before he left for the states, the person doing the monogram messed up, and so it bears the recipient's first name, and the giver's last name. Otherwise, the whole thing is very much in the "Sabra" aesthetic of the State of Israel's earlier years.

    When I was 10, the recipient grandpa passed away, and I received the holder as an inheritance. It's simple, a little dinged, and hot oil dripped on it one Chanukah and smeared the marble-look of part of the enameling. Add that to the non-existent person named on it, and the whole thing is far from "perfect". But I love that esrog case. It not only speaks to me of both my grandfathers, now gone, but also of a love and harmony among wings of my extended family.

  2. We have a besamim box. It was brought to England by my maternal grandmother's father around a hundred years ago from somewhere in eastern Europe (we aren't sure where, probably Poland). We don't use it, it just sits on display. I sometimes look at it and think of my family history. It's not valuable and I would quite like to use it for havdalah, but it is slightly damaged (which adds to its interest for me) and delicate, so we don't use it, although I remember using it when staying with my grandparents, from whom my mother later inherited it.

  3. R' Micha, Daniel-
    Thanks for adding yours; that's exactly the sort of thing I was contemplating.

  4. I too, have an embroidered tefillin bag from my grandmother z"l, with a far stranger color scheme than yours. Broken zipper to boot. And despite that, I hope to never get a different one.

  5. Sentimentality has no place in Judaism.

  6. The zippers can be replaced, so don't fret.

  7. Sorry anonymous but sentimentality has a big place in Judaism. It's what spurs on the members of one generation of a family to tell stories to the next generation about the previous generation. It's what causes certain family customs to be carried down through the generations. And sentimentality about possessions can serve as a touchstone for those who may have known the person whose item it was or who gave a gift of that item, or it may connect those who never knew the original owner or giver in person but see the evidence that they were here and will ask questions about them.

    If Jews weren't sentimental, of what possible use would wedding pictures and films be? Or pictures of any kind of family members and occasions? We don't need them for ID--their purpose is a sentimental one.

    If you don't see the point of sentimentality then fine, it's your personal decision to make. But please, there are enough crazy chumras out there without someone adding that sentimentality is not a Jewish idea or value.

  8. Ezra-
    I'll have to take a look at Shacharis tomorrow; I don't remember it seeming odd to me.

    Anonymous 12:31 PM-
    Can you elaborate?


    I'm not sure he's talking chumra. I suspect he means something else entirely. Let's see if he talks.

  9. I have a talit bag that was my father's ע"ה. I might not have kept it, but he had actually written his name inside to identify it in shul. Each Friday I put my talit in it, and use it as my talit bag in the beit midrash. During the week I use a larger talit bag I already had which also holds a pair of tefillin and few small books.

    I have a tefillin bag from my father's father. It is a bit tatty, and just big enough for my small pair of tefillin. I keep them in it, and the whole thing is inside a small nylon stuff sack. This way I can keep using Grandpa Scher's tefillin bag without it falling apart.

    We have kiddush cups from my mother's grandfather, but I don't consider those mitzvah-peripheral since I do the mitzvah with them. We do use them every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

  10. As a dealer of tefillin I still see a number of boys with tefillin bags made by their grandmothers.

    I have a few of my zaidie's kiddush cups, one of which we use for kos shel Eliyahu each Pesach.

  11. My weekday Talis and Tefillin bags were made by my Bobe for my Bar Mitzvah (I'm now going on 42). I've replaced the linings a few times and just changed the tefillin bag from a drawstring to a zipper (which is what I wanted originally anyways). It has a lot of sentimental value (and is still in pretty good condition all these years later).