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The Dress By Ellen Tilman

Moral Compass: Artists Respond to Crises

Temple Judea Museum exhibition January – March 2021


The Dress – Ellen Tilman

I hadn’t worn a dress in six months. Pants or shorts were sufficient for my cloistered needs.

In my pre-covid life, I would arise each Shabbat morning put on a dress, real shoes; and jewelry. I would walk to Shabbat morning services where my husband was awaiting me. We prayed, greeted friends over Kiddush and walked home for lunch and a Shabbat nap. Sometimes there was a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or another simcha to celebrate. We were service regulars.

Since Covid 19 created a New Normal, we remained home. We did not participate in zoom services as we were reluctant to use electronics on Shabbat. We dressed in our weekday pants or shorts and a tee shirt. I lit candles on Friday night. We made Kiddush; motzi; and recited the Grace After Meals. We ate our Shabbat hallah. We read books; took walks; and sometimes went swimming during the day.  To be honest, our Shabbat was boring! It resembled every other day of the week.

Rather than remaining totally isolated, we decided to participate in electronic services for Rosh Hashanah. Our adult daughter made plans to join us for the holiday. In one conversation, she asked: “Should I bring a dress?” I said, “You are driving with plenty of room in the car, bring a dress.”

I prepared special Shabbat and Yom Tov meals. I baked homemade round hallah; I polished our silver candlesticks and Kiddush cups; I bought flowers for the table.  I set the dining room table with a white tablecloth and our good dishes and silverware. I wanted everything to be as festive as possible. We ate a traditional and delicious Shabbat Yom Tov dinner. Alana showed us how to “cast” the phone image onto our smart TV. We participated in and enjoyed erev Rosh Hashanah services from synagogues in Elkins Park; New York; and Scotch Plains, NJ. (Our son is a Rabbi in Scotch Plains and we had never seen him officiate on Rosh Hashanah.)

Saturday morning my husband and I were eating breakfast in the kitchen. We were wearing our everyday clothes. We both looked up as Alana entered the room. “You’re wearing a dress”, I exclaimed. “You told me to bring one”, she answered. I immediately left the room and quickly changed into a dress. My husband was directly behind me and changed into a button down shirt; tie and jacket. We looked like a family ready for Rosh Hashanah services.

Following breakfast we all sat in the family room watching services on our large screen TV. It was almost magical. We prayed; heard several sermons; sang familiar tunes and listened to the sounding of the shofar at Keneseth Israel. On Sunday we again dressed for the holiday and journeyed on our television to different congregations to celebrate. We felt engaged and uplifted.  We were not physically present, yet, we experienced the spirit and majesty of Rosh Hashanah.

I learned that there are many parts of a holiday observance. We must include food; family; religious service; music and our clothes. The extra step of dressing for the holiday elevated us to a higher level of hiddur mitzvah.

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