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Jewish weavers craft their own heritage at this New Jersey synagogue’s ‘Loom Room’



(JTA) — Some farms allow visitors to pick their own fruit. Some franchises let you make your own pizza. 

At a synagogue in New Jersey, you can make your prayer shawl and other woven Judaica items, drawing on an ethos that the most meaningful religious pieces are created by family members and friends.

Neve Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Metuchen, opened its Sisterhood Loom Room in 2015, offering equipment and instruction for congregants and an increasing number of visitors who want to weave a custom tallit — the familiar prayer shawls with knotted fringes, or tzitzit, attached to their four corners. The shawls, plus tallit bags, challah and matzah covers, frequently become gifts for bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other joyous life cycle events. 

“If somebody weaves a tallit for you, or they participated in its design – something that’s hand-made – it’s like being hugged by them every time you put it on,” said Cory Schneider, co-creator of the Loom Room with Neve Shalom Sisterhood president Jennifer Bullock.

More than 300 Judaica items have been woven at the Loom Room. Weavers range in age from 4 to 92, and experience levels go from beginner to expert.

Weavers are not only Neve Shalom congregants, but also visitors, largely from eastern Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. Intrepid weavers have ventured from as far as Florida, Las Vegas and Canada, Schneider said. 

The effort has grown in popularity since Schneider and her husband moved from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Somerset, New Jersey in 2014. Their granddaughter requested a custom tallit for her upcoming bat mitzvah, and Schneider introduced weaving to the congregation. Schneider came across an unused loom in the garage of a neighbor, a charitable-minded non-Jewish woman who soon donated it to the synagogue.

Bullock, Neve Shalom’s longtime Sisterhood president, was intrigued, and jumped in to learn how to weave. 

“I went from being a complete novice to, in short order, being an expert on the loom,” Bullock said.  

The woven Judaica items that have since proliferated at Neve Shalom reflect a combination of religious ritual, art and design. Each tallit’s tzitzit — which the Loom Room imports from Israel — must have four strings, intricately knotted according to prescribed instructions. Weavers must also be mindful of the biblical prohibition about mixing wool and linen, or shatnez.  

After that weavers have wide latitude on tallit design. One Neve Shalom visitor, Jared Laff, for his 2018 bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth El in Yardley, Pennsylvania, wore a tallit that included the Boston Red Sox insignia. The color scheme and pattern were designed by Laff, and the garment woven by Schneider. 

“None of them are alike. No two are identical,” Bullock said. “Each person puts their own identity into it.”

Jared Laff in his bar mitzvah tallit that included the Boston Red Sox insignia. (Congregation Neve Shalom)

The do-it-yourself spirit of the Loom Room echoes the hands-on Judaism movement of the 1970s, when Jews adjacent to the counterculture began making their own Judaica according to the principle of “hiddur mitzvah,” or beautifying the commandments. “We cheat ourselves if we don’t invest something of ourselves in making beautiful objects for everyday use,” according to one contributor to “The Jewish Catalog,” published in 1973, which included instructions for making a tallit, homemade candles and mezuzahs. 

That impulse inspired Deborah Lamensdorf Jacobs to seek out the Loom Room. Lamensdorf Jacobs’ family owns a farm in the Mississippi Delta, purchased by her great-grandfather Morris Grundfest in 1919.  Since 2005 she has had prayer shawls made by fellow Atlantan Lynn Hirsch, from cotton grown and baled on the farm.

“We have this first piece of cotton land that he purchased in 1919,” Lamensdorf Jacobs recalled. “But we don’t have the Judaica that we would hope to have had.”

Hirsch had woven the shawls for the bar and bat mitzvahs of her own three children, along with a niece. She started a home business, specializing in prayer shawls and challah covers.    

Hirsch eventually sold the loom when she and her husband downsized, leaving Lamensdorf Jacobs without a weaver for several years. Last year, in an internet search, she discovered the thriving Neve Shalom Sisterhood Loom Room, which had just obtained a second loom donated by congregant Deborah Berman. 

Jennifer Bullock and Cory Schneider weave on the newly-renovated loom that was donated by Deborah Lamensdorf Berman. (Congregation Neve Shalom)

Lamensdorf Jacobs eagerly shipped cotton-based yarn to New Jersey, to create another family tallit and a challah cover, with Schneider doing the weaving. That’s when Hirsch reentered the picture, helping Lamensdorf Jacobs with pattern designs. Jewish geography being what it is, the Neve Shalom weaving opportunities reconnected Hirsch, formerly of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and Schneider, a longtime Harrisburg resident, about 34 miles away. They had been active together years before in the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. 

Now at Neve Shalom’s Sisterhood Loom Room, requests to learn weaving are growing at a steady clip. 

“They make it accessible. They show you how to do it. They watch you for a little bit and are very patient if you make mistakes,” said Lamensdorf Jacobs, who last year visited Neve Shalom.

It’s been particularly gratifying to watch the weaving program grow in popularity not just among congregants but members of the Jewish community in and around New Jersey, and further away, said Bullock, the Neve Shalom Sisterhood president. 

“The program has very much been a labor of love,” Bullock said. “We’re helping people to create Jewish heirlooms for their family, their loved ones, which hopefully will get passed on.” 

The post Jewish weavers craft their own heritage at this New Jersey synagogue’s ‘Loom Room’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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