A 200-Year-Old Wimpel is a Mother’s Legacy of Love

With Mother’s Day approaching, I find myself thinking about a mother I’ve never met. I don’t even know her name, but her handiwork tells me that her son David was born on the 19th day of Cheshvan in the year 5563. In other words, November 15th, 1803. Eight days after his bris (religious circumcision), David’s mother completed the wimpel pictured below. Today, it is in the Museum at Eldridge Street’s collection and is a reminder of this mother’s love for her son. It is one of my favorite objects in our collection.

What is a Wimpel?

Making a wimpel is a German Jewish tradition. Women cut swaddling cloths used during a bris into strips and sew the strips together to form a long scroll. Then, they paint or embroider traditional blessings upon it.

A Mother’s Gift

David’s mother carefully ruled lines on the cloth and sketched out the Hebrew words before painting them in. The inscription begins with David’s name and birth date, then continues with this blessing: “May God grant that he be raised in the paths of the Torah and be escorted to the wedding canopy and good deeds.” Finally, David’s mother decorated the wimpel with an array of colorfully painted flowers, leaves, trees and birds.

The wimpel was likely used at David’s Bar Mitzvah to bind the Torah and then later on during his marriage, when it would be draped upon the chuppah. His mother imagined this future scene, which she drew lovingly, if not skillfully, upon the wimpel’s cloth.

A Legacy of Tradition at Eldridge Street

This wimpel, now more than 200 years old, traces the path of tradition, belief and Jewish ritual as it followed David throughout his life. It also tells us a lot about his mother’s love for her child, her respect for tradition and the power of her faith. David’s wimpel was passed down in his family for generations until 2009, when his descendants, Adriana Baker and family, donated it to the Museum.

Written by Nancy Johnson, Archivist

200 Year Old Wimpel On Display In The Museum At Eldridge Street's Gural-Rabinowitz Family History Center

David’s Wimpel

Looking for a special way to celebrate with your family this Mother’s Day, 2017? Join us Sunday, May 14th at 11 am at the Museum at Eldridge Street for our Yiddishe Mamas Walking Tour

This Lower East Side stroll focuses on the experience of Jewish women in the neighborhood. Hear about anarchist Emma Goldman; Visiting Nurse Service founder Lillian Wald; wigmaker and mikvah attendant Gittel Natelson; delicatessen queen Sarah Gellis, and others.

The tour begins at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, our magnificent 1887 landmark. We’ll have a light brunch of bagels, spreads, rugelach, and other treats from local eateries and then follow in the footsteps of pious women and prostitutes, activists and artists, freethinking feminists and tough-talking balabustas.

Tickets are $30 per person  (includes light brunch & mimosas).
Space is limited and reservations are required.

Please RSVP for this event.


Categories: Archive & Collection

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