Stories of the Torn Swaddling Cloth
"Rupture and Repair", exhibition of works nominated
for the Adi Foundation Prize for Jewish Expression in Art and Design
Artist House, Jerusalem
Torah binder, 1836, Fürth, Germany; Silk on linen, 3.2 m x 18 cm Museum of the German Speaking Jewry, Tefen, Israel
Stories of a Torn Swaddling Cloth
My grand-mother, Sarah Maximovsky, known as Sonya, received her identification card upon arrival to Israel in 1990. Due
to a mistake in the registers of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the space for “nationality” was printed with the words
“not registered”. Henceforth, Sarah, a surgeon who choose not changing her name during the “Killer Doctors” affair in the
end of Stalin’s regime in Leningrad, has become an unidentifiable agent in terms of national belonging.
I received my ID in 1993, reaching the age of sixteen. Due to a mistake in the registers of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the
year of my birth was printed as 00. Henceforth a doubt is imposed on my being in the world.
In 1997 I wanted to marry. The Rabbinate asked to verify my Jewish decent. I showed my ID, which stated in the space of
nationality: Jewish. Not convinced, they demanded to speak with my grand-mother. They called her and asked in Russian:
“Is your name Sarah?” “Yes”, - she replied. “Have you always been Sarah or have you just become Sarah?” Sarah, who due
to her age had hearing deficiency and was anxious for not answering adequately, replied: “What? Ahhh… Yes, I have
always been Sarah.” They then asked her to speak Yiddish, and she spoke as good as she could remember. Thereupon it
was decided that I am Jewish.
In the lands of Ashkenaz there used to be a tradition: after the circumcision, the mother of the newborn took the swaddling
cloth used during the ceremony, torn it into four pieces, sew them together in a long band and embroidered the following:
“So-and-so, son of So-and-so, was born on such-and-such date, may God bring him to Torah, Huppah and good deeds,
Amen Selah.” She would add decorations and illustrations according to her taste and ability. The band has been donated to
the local synagogue to be used as a Torah scroll binder or a Torah swaddling. In this way the birthday of a male child has
been documented and the covenant between the Almighty and people of Israel commemorated in mundane cloth, has been
regenerated in the familial memory.
Never a girl in Ashkenaz has received a binder.
This binder is meant for my grand-mother and myself. It is made of my old swaddling cloths, salvaged from becoming dust-
cloths. I embroider stories of my grand-mothers' name and my year of birth. In its design the binder is reminiscent of an
existing German binder of 1836, held in the collection of The Museum of the German-Speaking Jewry in Tefen, Israel.
Every letter is conceived of the whole inscription repeated several times. The tiny letter becomes a building block for the big
one. In needle and thread I learn to write anew; each letter upon its shape come as if unfamiliar. The story unrolls as a
metaphoric patchwork where each piece is unlike any other, integrating endlessly tearing apart and sewing together.
The original text of 1836:
Zvi called Hirsh Bar Yoel Shalit was born [under a good constellation] on Monday 26
Tamuz 5596 (11/7/1836) [by abbreviated era] May god (ha-shem - "the name" in
Hebrew) bring him to Torah Hupah and good deeds Amen Selah
Made by B.G. Fingerspiegel, [holy community] Furth
The reinvented text:
Sarah called Sonya, daughter of Shlomo Lioznov from Nevel born under a good
constellation on Sabbath 1 Heshvan 5680 (25/10/1919) the name [god] is not written
Akaterina, whom they wanted to name Esther, daughter of Vasily Lavorko from
Briansk, born under a good constellation on Monday 8 Elul (22/8) 00 the name [god]
did not write (or register)
Stories of a Turn Swaddling Cloth,
installation view; Jerusalem Artists
House; Rupture and Repair exhibition of
the Adi Foundation Award for Jewish
expression in art and design; May 2010
Photo by Avi Khai
Stories of a Turn Swaddling Cloth, installation view; binder: 0.18 x 4.5 m; diameter 1.5 m;
silk embroidery on cotton, perspex and metal hanging device