General History of the Wimpel
The first wimpelin were made in Germany in the mid 1600s. They were created only for male children from the swaddling cloth used to hold them for their Brit Milah. This fabric was later taken, cleaned, cut and sewn in a long strip. Then as in present day, the custom continues with the prayer, inscribed on a plain fabric, including the words ‘this boy, the son of____, born under the good star of (birthdate), to grow to study Torah, marry under the Chuppah and grow to do good deeds.’ This is the central and immediate idea. Some wimpelin were embroidered, while most were decorated by the use of colored fabric inks. It was usual for a family member or talented artisan in the congregation to take on the task of creating the newborn’s wimpel.
When the young boy had reached the age of his first haircut, he was then taken to the shul with his father, wimpel in hand, which would then be presented the congregation. The wimpel was left, together with other accumulated membership family wimpelin, to be brought out for use as a torah binder at the occasions of their Bnai Mitzvah. In the past, each congregation had kept the wimpelin stored away. These Torah Binders thus provided an interesting ‘record’ of shul family membership. They were considered gifts to their congregations.
The above historical information was provided out of the reference book that originally introduced the idea to the artist and compiler of this presentation, Bonnie Kaplan. It is noted as follows and today continues to be an inspiring publication.
Strassfeld, Sharon and Michael, The Second Jewish Catalog. The JewFootnoteish Publication Society of America: Philadelphia, USA, 5737-1976, pgs. 40-43.
The Wimpel and Its Impact on the Mosaic Law Family
Time has passed and our lives have taken turns in the road. The evolvement of the wimpel project has held to its vital course in tandem. This age old folk art tradition has made an impact in our homes, hearts and spiritual growth. Our Jewish achievements have been recorded and artistically embellished on our individual wimpelin. They have been created for newly wedded couples (1), families maturing through various stages of growth (2) , B’nai Mitzvah youth (3), and newborn children. (4) The unique identities of the individual, couple, family or community organization are painted onto their wimpelin. Adequate space remains on each wimpel for future information. Photographs of many of these wimpelin can be seen on the pages to follow.
With each simcha, we witness the wrapping of these special binders around a Torah scroll. To enhance the setting, family and friends are invited. A Rabbi, Jewish scholar or teacher elevates the atmosphere, with words of welcome and inspiration. ** The custom of the wimpel has been utilized from simcha to simcha in the lives of a number of families. These couples have repeated the wrapping of the Torah for the births of their offspring, their B’nai Mitzvah youths, later the marriages of adult children and the births of grandchildren, thus carrying the original intent into the third generation. Often significant goals of scholarship and good deeds performed in the community are included as cause to celebrate, each done in gratitude for its intrinsic gift. An interesting phenomenon occurred within one family while researching their genealogical data. Before their upcoming Bat Mitzvah simcha, during the often stressful time of the planning, a special bonding experience occurred, thus making the whole period that much more meaningful.
There is a profound feeling generated by the use of this simple, yet vital tool, that lifts us spiritually. It begins during the process of creation, through the unique ritual of binding the Torah scroll*, and in conclusion, during its communal sharing with the congregation during the upcoming Shabbat service. The wimpel has taken on many qualities. It is a unique object that seems to literally transmit the feeling of binding ones essence to the Torah. It is a graphic replication of identity. As time passes, it becomes a record of chronological genealogy. When embellished properly, it can be seen as a work of art.
(1) Cheron- Shapiro, Burton – Melnick, Stolow-Erle, Cohan-Ortego (2) Fishbein, Pimstone (3) Arenson, Pollack, Taff (4) Kaplan
*The Torah binding ceremony has its own ritual and identity. On Thursday or Friday afternoon preceding the individual/family Shabbat simcha, ones family and close friends, are invited to the synagogue for the binding the Torah scroll. The Rabbi sets the tone of the occasion, leading the ceremony with meaningful words for the individual/family, while the scroll is being bound by the wimpels owner(s). When the observance is completed and the scroll is properly returned to the Aron Hakodesh, a feeling of celebration has been created for the upcoming simcha, not only for the owner of the wimpel, but all who are present. In celebration, the Shechianu may be recited, a drink L’chaim enjoyed and a donation to the Rabbi’s discretionary fund discreetly made.
**Rabbi Reuven Taff of Mosaic Law Congregation, Sacramento. CA Mr. Charles Nadler of Chabad of Sacramento, CA
Rachel Kaplan’s Wimpel
“In the Beginning…”
for Rachel Liorah Miller Kaplan
by Bonnie Jean Kaplan
The above wimpel was the first created in Sacramento, July 1979, preceding the birth of Rachel Kaplan on August 29, 1979. Colored pens, pencils and embroidery are incorporated throughout this always growing design. Over the years, with the inclusion of each simcha in Rachel’s life, this wimpel has continued in the performance of its duty to provide a chronology of her Jewish growth. When it was first conceived, there was no preconceived idea that it would take on a life of its own. Thus is had more detail from the beginning than those that were created in later years for other families. In some parts of Rachel’s wimpel, the congestion of data reflects the need to create wimpel with open spaces, left vacant for future growth.
Picture to left:
The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ flanks at the ends, encompassing the central prayer and all personal detail to support it. The prayers’ focus remains a priority that Rachel grows to the ‘study (of) Torah, be married under the chuppah (make a Jewish home) and perform good deeds.’
Picture to right:
Graphic symbols and text relevant to Rachel’s history enhances this wimpel. Her embroidered name (in Hebrew), with the hands of the Kohanim, reflect upon her paternal heritage.
Mosaic Law History, Dec., 1996 Letter
The following letter was printed in the Mosaic Law Synagogue Scroll and has been revised and updated for clarity by the author and relates Mosaic Law Wimpel History.
December 1, 1996-present
Dear Mosaic Law Family,
By now you most surely must know what a wimpel is? We have searched and found, even within our fold, wimpelin dating back 100 years. The custom found its beginnings in Germany with examples dating to the mid 1600’s. Although many wimpelin were destroyed with other ritual objects during the Holocaust, examples were often retrieved from family congregations, before the leaving of the family from Germany to settle in new countries.
Mosaic Law Congregation has rekindled the tradition within a number of our families, and has beckoned the display of examples made for fathers and sons in first half of this century. Our December 8, 1996 Torah Dedication ceremony was scheduled to include the showing of a wimpel made just outside of Heidelberg, Germany, for Harry Spatz, father of Laura Spatz Weisberg in 1929. When his family left Germany and immigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1936, the wimpel was taken along. He, in turn, brought it to America when he left Argentina, at the age of 17 in 1946.
Leisel Grausz , a longtime member of Mosaic Law Congregation, proudly displayed the well-embellished wimpel belonging to her son and brother of Susan Kuttner, Peter Edelmuth. It was made, following Peter’s Brit Milah in 1946 in Washington Heights, New York, at the prompting of Leisel’s father, a then recent immigrant to America from Germany. This wimpel includes the beautifully lettered traditional blessing to “study Torah, marry under the Chuppah and do good deeds.” It is colorfully designed with a variety of symbols of the times, holidays and family interests. On the 2nd day of Pesach, 1949, it was presented to Congregation Ha Bonem, when Peter accompanied his father to shul for the first time. It remained there until they changed congregations some time later.
Mark and Dianne Cohn, presented a very fine wimpel for their son, Nelson, on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. It was designed and created by his mother, Diane. Many loving hands shared in the effort to embroider the embellished letters of white floss on white fabric.
Monica Cheron and Scott Shapiro, who had become recently engaged to be married, created their wimpel as a symbol for their upcoming marriage. In the traditional prayer, the words, Ha Shem (quite profoundly and to the joy of the family members involved with this wimpel) set in the exact center of their wimpel fabric length. This central word placement portrays the beliefs of this special couple.
Steven and Yvette Fishbein and children first bound their family wimpel around the Torah scroll, in honor of their wedding anniversary and of their growing family. (This family has since added the births and accomplishments of their four children, Leila, Jacob, Aaron and Maya, including the recent marriage of their eldest daughter, Leila to Ovadia Noam Jacob).
It is with great pleasure, that we salute this tradition of symbolically binding ones essense to the Torah scroll in celebration of each simcha.
If you have a wimpel tucked away in a remote corner of your family history, please share it with us so this tradition may continue to sprout out of the past, while it joyously blossoms into the future.
A Historical Perspective of the Wimpel
“May the Lord let him/her grow to Torah, marriage and good deeds. Amen selah.”
The Wimpel and its Contribution to Our Family
by Bonnie Kaplan
An inspiration 23 years ago set a new course in our family history, an experience that we would like to share with other families. It is our hope that resulting involvement will bring them similar joy and special nachas.
Preceding the birth of our second child, of whom we had no acknowledged notion as to gender, it occurred to me to create a wimpel, or Torah Binder, to honor our yet-to-be born, child. This type of Torah Binder traditionally was created following the occasion of the Brit Milah, when a son was born. As it turned out, it was presented to our daughter, Rachel, at her baby naming ceremony, which took place at Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California.
The date was September 29, one month from her birth, August 29, 1979. It was especially wonderful to “record,” through the use of calligraphy and embroidery on fabric, Rachel’s name, set within the prayer commonly recorded on a wimpel. Other pertinent information included the date of her naming, Shabbat Shuvah, 8 Tishri 5740. This particular Shabbat is unique as it falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and is called so because the Haftorah (Hosea 14:2-10), alludes to the right paths to take in life. It is read on this Shabbat because the prophet exhorts Israel to return to God. Some authorities suggest that it is called Shabbat Shuvah because it falls during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah. During this morning service Rachel was welcomed into the Mosaic Law Congregation. She then received her Hebrew name, “Rachel Bat Yehudah HaKohen v’Bonnie.” Her wimpel, which, prior to the service had been wrapped around the Torah scroll to be chanted from during the service, was presented. It was said to be a novelty to view, as the tradition had never before been introduced to the Sacramento community. Following its presentation, the wimpel was again bound around the closed Torah scroll to function as a binder.
We, however, broke with tradition by taking Rachel’s wimpel home following the service, rather than donating it to the synagogue, as was previously done. I was able to record upon it after each family Simcha, where it had been utilized as a Torah Binder. It became a living record of Rachel’s accumulated life cycle family events, and continued to bind her essence to the Torah in a physical manner. Her schooling, Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation all found a place of importance.
On the occasion of her Confirmation, at age 16, Rachel chose to use her wimpel as the central symbol and visual aid for her confirmation speech. She presented her speech as one of four students from her class of 24. Her speech follows here.
What Being Jewish Means to Me
by Rachel Kaplan
Confirmation Class of 1996
‘What being Jewish means to me,’ I hope to project into my future in every possible way. I continue to follow values the way my family taught me, the way my Rabbi and Rebbitzen role model for me and the way experiences in USY and synagogue life impact upon me.
I was blessed by my family to have a wimpel that was created before I was born and will go with me throughout my life. Upon it is recorded a number of experiences that I have already lived. Each incident is documented on this traditional swaddling cloth.
It was my mother’s inspiration to create and update it as I have experienced my Jewish life. Just as there are notations of my birth, family origin, Jewish worldly goods, also noted is the event of my Bat Mitzvah and expressions of wisdom shared by my mother and grandmother. There is documentation of my baby naming, and a space that awaits the information of my wedding under the Chuppah. (Although Rachel now traverses through a period of searching, she readily expresses to take the step of marriage under a Chuppah). I know one day I will place on my wimpel, the Jewish names of my children, as our family cycle evolves. I and my mother together will create a wimpel for each of my children.
This is what Judaism means to me:
FAMILY LIFE CYCLE – FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
The above speech was delivered at Mosaic Law Congregation, 2300 Sierra Blvd., Sacramento, California by Rachel Liorah Miller Kaplan.
The occasion of Rachel’s Confirmation, (May 23, 1996 – Shavuoth 5756) was as significant to me, her mother, as was her Bat Mitzvah. Fifteen minutes before leaving our home for the synagogue, a message left by Rabbi Taff earlier in the day, requested that Rachel present her speech. She hurriedly printed a copy while I ran to get her wimpel. She rehearsed on the way to the synagogue and we were given approval to hold up the wimpel while she delivered her speech. We, her family, extended family and friends watched her with pride while she shared her thoughts. Her father, Julian Kaplan, Aunt Maureen and Uncle Stephen Mallach (coincidentally in Sacramento from South Africa), myself and her brother, Seth, held the wimpel for the congregation to see while she spoke of its significance in her life.
Two evenings later our Rebbitzen, Judy Taff, telephoned to thank us for sharing Rachel’s wimpel and graciously said that the speech had been a highlight of the evening and would I be willing to teach a class on how to make a wimpel for parents/grandparents of newborns? I was honored by the request and most ferverently replied to the affirmative.
FAMILY (Bloodline identity)
INDIVIDUAL (Jewish identity)
Mosaic Law Congregation/Torat
PRE-HOLOCAUST (circa 1650-1938)
MODERN (new perspectives: 1979-present)
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