Embroidery has been part of my life for over two decades; it is a core Jewish practice for me, and an entry point into sacred texts. I design Judaic embroidery, starting with words from Torah or liturgy, then elucidating and interpreting the words with needle and thread.
For me, this has become a practice of enacting Jewish life, rather than documenting myself for future generations. These experiences unfold in the textual commentary and in the repetitive glide of the needle through the fabric.
Jewish life is built around repetition, as can be attested by anyone who has slogged through a Torah reading about details of Sanctuary construction. If part of the human task is to seek the Divine by emulating God’s behaviors, we embroiderers are in a good place. “God counts the stars, giving each a name; with grandeur and power, wisdom beyond measure” (my translation). God counts the stars! What patience that takes! What concentration, and attention to detail! Just like stitching — patient, intentional, repetitive, faithful. And just as God names the stars, the embroidery gives each star its own needlework pattern. The art interprets the text, but it also mimics the text, and exposes the text.
Repetition and renewal are not circumstances to be requited with permanence. Rather, they honor the individuality of seemingly identical elements. Repetition is everywhere in Jewish life: in counting stars, in the embroiderer’s steady hand on the fabric, and in Jews’ never-ending celebration of words.