Thinking of Those Not Under the Tallis this Kol Ha’Nearim
The previous Guinness World Record for the longest hug had stood at 24 hours and 33 minutes. This past week, two Iowa State University students shattered that record and maintained a hug for 31 straight hours. When asked what motivated them they explained, “There wasn’t really anything that inspired us; we were just kind of bored during the summer.”
Each morning, when I wrap myself in my tallis before davening, I try to pause for a few breaths and experience the feeling of being wrapped in the loving embrace of the Almighty. In the prayer immediately preceding our donning the tallis, we say, oteh or ka’salma, Hashem spreads out light like a garment. If focused on what we are doing instead of going through a mindless daily ritual, when paused while wrapped in the tallis one can palpably sense the warmth of Hashem’s light and can feel the security of being under His protection. There is no better way to start the day.
Boca Raton Synagogue also set a Guinness World Record this year for a very different type of hug. BRS proudly boasts the world’s largest tallis, measuring forty feet by forty feet. The tallis is made of 49 extra-large, 100-percent wool talleisim sewn together into one huge tallis with tzitzis hanging from all four corners. The tallis will be used once again on Simchas Torah morning during Kol HaNearim, when hundreds and hundreds of children will stand or sit or be held beneath it, and have an aliyah recited on their behalf.
Watching the Kol HaNarim aliyah each year and seeing so many babies, toddlers, and young kids sitting together reminds me how our community is so incredibly blessed, individually and collectively, to boast close to a thousand children and benefit from the vibrancy, youthfulness, enthusiasm, and nachas they bring. Our hope and prayer on Simchas Torah morning is that sitting under our world-record tallis that contains many of their names, they feel the warm hug of Hashem and the loving embrace of their community.
As we get ready to spread our enormous tallis once again, it occurs to me that during Kol HaNearim we should be thinking about not only the children sitting under the tallis, but also about those absent from that special moment.
Looking at the large gathering of children, one would never know how much intervention was necessary to bring some of them into this world, the level of incredible expenses involved, and the indescribable amounts of pain experienced. While many mistakenly assume that once a decision is made to have a child, a pregnancy and childbirth will then follow easily, the story is often not so simple. There are more than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States currently struggling with infertility. Up to twenty percent of those who do become pregnant experience a miscarriage. Eighty percent of those miscarriages occur within the first trimester, when the couple is unlikely to have told anyone they were expecting and before the woman begins to show. Friends and family members thus might not even know that someone close to them went through this difficult and heartbreaking experience.
BRS has an incredible support group for those struggling with infertility or secondary infertility called Tikvateinu. It is open to the entire Jewish community, meets regularly, and often brings in speakers with either expertise or personal experience. Those with unmet dreams of having a child or more children endure great agony and pain. Our role at the very least is to be sensitive in how we speak and behave, and to try to be as supportive as possible. In that spirit, immediately before the Kol HaNearim aliyah this Simchas Torah we will recite a special Mi Shebeirach prayer for all who are trying to have children. The members of Tikvateinu have given their names to me so I can privately have them in mind. If you would like to submit your name (woman and/or man) or that of a loved one trying to have children, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a second group who will not be present under our gigantic tallis this Simchas Torah morning. They likely have never heard of Simchas Torah, don’t know that day is Yom Tov, and will probably be in school or daycare while Kol HaNearim is taking place. There are approximately 1.2 million Jewish children in the United States. The 2013 Pew Study showed that a growing number of them are not being raised Jewish and as many as 22 percent of their parents identify themselves as having no religion at all. These children have never experienced what it is like to literally or metaphorically be under a tallis. Many are hungry for a hug from Hashem and don’t know where to get one.
We are asking everyone once again to S.O.S. – Share One Shabbos. This Shabbos Chanuka, December 11th, invite someone to your home who has never experienced a Shabbos meal. Invite a co-worker, neighbor, or someone you met at the gym. In the coming weeks we will be sharing with you videos and materials to make you feel comfortable explaining all the components of a traditional Shabbos meal. All around us are Jewish brothers and sisters longing for a hug. All that is missing is an invitation from you.
As we enjoy Kol HaNearim this year, let’s do all we can to make sure nobody is missing from under our world-record tallis. Daven for those who are dreaming of having children and reach out to Jewish families who need a spiritual hug.