A 200-Year Gift from a Mother

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 563. November 15, 1803, in other words.  Following his bris (religious circumcision) eight days later, David’s mother made this wimpel, which is probably my favorite object in the Museum’s collection:

A wimple from the Museum's collection shows a mother's handiwork

A wimpel from the Museum's collection shows a mother's handiwork

Making a wimpel is a German Jewish tradition. Women cut swaddling cloths used during a bris into strips, sew the strips together to form a long scroll, then paint or embroider a blessing upon it.  David’s mother carefully ruled lines on the cloth and sketched out the Hebrew words before painting them in.  The inscription starts 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.”  David’s mother also painted colorful flowers, leaves, trees, birds and other charming decorations.

 The wimpel would have been used at David’s Bar Mitzvah to bind the Torah, and again at his marriage, when it would be draped on the chuppah, a scene drawn lovingly, if not skillfully, by his mother upon the cloth (shown at the left in the picture above).

 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 David’s mother’s love for her son, 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, gave it to the Museum. It’s on view now in our Gural-Rabinowitz Family History Center.

Written by Nancy Johnson, Archivist

Categories: Blog, Jewish History

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