The Community Synagogue’s
High Holy Days Torah Covers

How does one combine six Torah covers into one story?  Aaron remembered that one of his favorite Judaic artist, Ben Shahn, had created a book called the “Alphabet of Creation.” He later used that alphabet as his “chop” or signature.  The Alphabet of Creation is a legend from the Zohar, the mystic “Book of Splendor,” written in the 13th century, which, claiming a more ancient authorship, imposed itself on later generations with almost Scriptural authority. The story recounts the rivalry among the letters of the alphabet for the glory of initiating the Creation. 

Aaron's decision was to have each Torah cover have the twenty-two letters of the alphabet on it (no final letters are used) white-on-white, outlined in silver and then create a saying that would read across the six Torah covers in a gold and white colored fabric outlined in gold thread.  It would be a monumental task for Diane Heiman, a fellow congregant,  to embroider in the applique style but he knew that she was up for the task.  Aaron communicated with Rabbi Zeplowitz his thoughts and after a few suggested quotes from Aaron, Rabbi Z honed in on the phrase “Shemai Kolenu /Hear Our Voices.” It all came together. Next, was to create an original alphabet worthy of the project. He did hundreds of sketches, numerous versions and finally decided on the one they would use.  The type font is called “Kotzk Bold” after Aaron’s illustrious ancestor, The Kotzker Rebbe.

While Aaron was creating the alphabet, Diane wasn’t sitting idly by; she experimented, took classes, learned to program the machines and leaned everything there was about the difficult art of creating applique on embroidery machines.  In the Spring of 2013 Diane and Aaron did their first walk-through to look for the proper fabrics to make the project work.  They were both aware of “Shatnez,” the orthodox prohibition against mixing cotton and wool, and were careful not to. They were on the same page in selecting the fabric colors and textures. Diane and members of Sisterhood selected the ten fabrics needed to create the Torah covers. On the finished six Torah covers there are over 500,000 stitches!

Aaron placed paper cutout of the letters on each the Torah mantles based on his design. The letters were arranged to show the tension between the letters and life in general.  The white base fabric for the different Torah mantles were created, as he and Diane say: “by measuring a hundred times and cutting once.” Diane with the help of Nancy Kaplan, Wendy Deangelis, MaryAlice Kohs, Helen Berken, Leslie Lifson, Yvette Bergman, Lita Rudy, Renee Laffer, Nancy Stambler (a friend of Diane), and Monica and Mario Desantis (they finished the wooden tops with fabric and the cord) worked daily for months spending a thousand hours (corresponding to forty days and forty nights) cutting, sewing, ironing and finishing. Diane worked many nights into the wee hours to meet the deadline of S’lichot. Steve Kaplan made the wooden boards for the tops of the Torah covers and  the entire project was assembled and finished in mid-August in time for the High Holy days (2013/5774) which as they say—came early this year.  This labor of love was started with a casual comment between Diane and Aaron and was completed with the dedication and the love that goes with creating a sacred Judaic object from a devoted team of friends and with the financial support of Sisterhood in purchasing the materials.

Morgan's typface Kotzk Bold designed for this project.
Click on the above image to learn more about the font.
Diane Heiman
created the embroidery
The top of the Torah covers were left blank to leave room for its silver finery
Preliminary sketch
with Torah measurements.
Measure 100 times, cut once