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ROCHELLE SAIDMAN (second from right) holding her contribution to the project. With her (l-r): “My friends Fern Swedlove, Shayna Shulman, and Elaine Saunders are with me as the cheering section."
By GERRY POSNER It is one thing to lift a Torah, another to read from it, and certainly even another to write one.
But, more recently a group of people from all over the world, (over 1,400 and counting) from diverse backgrounds  - like a Mormon fire chief, a Muslim immigrant from Turkey, a Mother Superior at Tyburn Convent in London and indeed, some residents of Winnipeg, all have combined to participate in a programme to cross stitch the five books of the bible, hand by hand.

Given that there are over 300,000 letters in the Torah and a scribe can take up to a year and a half to finish, the thought of cross stitching each character is, for most, a task too daunting to contemplate. But, this thought was translated into action and is now nearing completion.
The contributors include stitchers from 23 countries.
Some stitchers have split the portion given to them among others -  much like sharing season tickets to a Jets game.

The project - “Torah Stitch By Stitc”h (see www.torahstitchbystitch.org.) was created by a Toronto Judaic textile artist, Tema Gentles. Intended as a local project of engagement and education, the venture went viral. Over a number of years, she has been able to persuade, cajole and twist the arms (really the fingers) of many people through direct contact and the internet to participate in this very unusual programme.
These volunteers (each pays $ 18.00 for the kit) have received a kit containing a canvas and thread and detailed instructions to allow that person to complete his or her assigned portion of the Torah.
The threads and canvas are made from high quality material. Each section contains four verses to reflect the honour given to the four matriarchs, as in Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah.
 
The only real deviation from a real Torah is the fact that the sections are separated. Each stitcher has six months to finish the job. And in fact, most people (this writer, not being one of them owing to manual dexterity issues or lack thereof, thereby eliminating him from even starting) complete their portion in 40-60 hours. Many add taggim, (crowns over certain letters) borders and illuminations to beautify the text.

The project, consisting of 1,464 text panels, is close to completion, which is proof of its success though Gentles is quick to add, they are still taking in new participants. That the project has resonated with so many people is underscored by the fact that a premier documentary production company in Toronto, 90th Parallel,  with funding from Bravo, has produced a short film called “Stitches: A Tapestry of Spirit.” The film has appeared in numerous film festivals this past year and has won awards in several of them.
Among the people who have committed and even finished the prescribed text are four women from Winnipeg. They include Joanne Adair, Mary Ann Rosenbloom, Rochelle Saidman and Tannis Asselin. What motivated these women to take on this unusual task?
For Mary Ann Rosenbloom, the inspiration came from a presentation at a Limmud conference held in Winnipeg a few years ago.
She had an interest and ability in needle craft and was attracted by the ambitious and global nature of the project.
She says “for me, the entire project is a way of bringing the Torah to life in a much larger way than life format. Personally, working on my piece was uplifting and I not only felt connected to all the others, but also to the thousands of scribes who have written the scrolls over the millennia.”

Joanne Adair had a slightly different slant on her involvement. Because she recently lost her daughter Andrea, “this work has given me a peaceful, spiritual diversion that has assisted me in more ways than I can say.” She added that “she approached the needlework with reverence and awe and felt honoured to be a part of this amazing endeavour.”

For Rochelle (Shelley to friends) Saidman, she was introduced to the project on a cruise ship by a woman from New York and it was a natural fit as she loves fabric, decoration and Jewish art. As much as she was attracted to the project by the feeling of connection to her past, the icing on the cake “ was being able to do free design on the bottom portion as space allowed. She created a pattern from a design she had seen previously relating to the building of the menorah.
Tannis Asselin came at this endeavour from a far different point of view as she was raised in the United Church, although she  is a non-practising member today. She was hooked by an item in the media and knew immediately that she wanted to come on board. She said she wanted “to be a small part of something bigger than myself.”

The panel that Tannis stitched was Numbers 11:5.8. She was motivated by the completed panels she saw on the Torah Stitch By Stitch website. The beauty of her particular work was that she was able to observe the guidelines provided in the Torah Stitch By Stitch website. As she said, “I handled the cloth with care. I stopped stitching if making too many errors and returned to stitching when my mind was clear.”

Likely many of the people who worked on this mammoth project would endorse the sentiments of Tannis Asselin who describes what she gained from her experience. “Mostly the satisfaction of contributing to the project itself and the time contemplating the meaning of the passage. Of course, the compliments on my completed work were very nice to receive as well.”

Finally, for those of you who are itching to start stitching, go on the Torah Stitch By Stitch website and let your fingers do the rest. There are photographs of the completed panels for you to check out and a view of the intended finished product. It’s not such a stretch.

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