Changing of the Torah Covers
By Tabitha St. Bernard and Adam Jacobs
Erev Rosh Hashana
We are honored to change the Torah covers this Erev Rosh Hashanah. As always at Kolot we are changing from blue and gold to white. Historically, white signifies many things: cleanliness, grace, the garments of the angels or the priests.
White was the color worn by women in the suffragist movement. Many religions see white as signifying purity. Tabitha, as a fashion designer, knows how much extra work a white garment takes to keep clean. Every small stain is visible, every blemish is there for the world to see.
In some Jewish traditions, individuals wear black during these days, as if in mourning, but in the Talmud Yerushalmi on Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Abahu explains that since G-d is now opening the Book of Life, we act as if G-d treats us with favor. The white Torah covers signifiy a clean slate for the New Year. Our Torahs - and maybe we - will enter the year with no stains.
But will we? Sometimes symbols are just symbols, but sometimes symbols become so engrained in our psyche that we miss the larger picture. White can also signify something more: white superiority. By contrasting the everyday blue and gold to the extra holy white, we are indicating white as pure and superior.
During this new year, Kolot's Race Working Group plans to explore the intersection of Judaism and whiteness, especially in our majority Ashkenazi congregation. We hope to recognize the roles that whiteness plays in Judaism in America, even for all of us in a congregation that makes racial justice a key tenet of our work.
We're not here to feel guilty. In this context, guilt is not helpful. We’re also not here to negate anti-Semitism, which is alive and well. Rather, we want to reflect on what we see and what we have been accultured to think. We exist, and often unknowingly participate, in a system of violence and power that disproportionately affects people of color. This year, we hope we can all think and act critically to break down that system. The beautiful challenge of dressing in white is that our blemishes are out in the open. Let's use this as an opportunity, this night as a beginning to become a new truly anti-racist Kolot.