A new exhibition at New York’s Yeshiva University Museum reveals that cloth connects Jews through the centuries.
Jews have long used clothing and textiles to beautify their synagogues, tables and themselves on the Sabbath, holidays and life-cycle events. More recently, Jews purchased special clothing and textiles to both to support Israel’s economy and to show their support for Israel by wearing or displaying them in their homes.
Every one of the 40 objects in the exhibition comes from the permanent collection of Yeshiva University Museum. The exhibition was curated by Bonni-Dara Michaels, the museum’s collections curator. Many of the selections were preserved and worn or used for generations. A number have been restored by the Museum’s textile conservator in preparation for the exhibition.
“Jews attach great meaning to garments and textiles, using them to mark special occasions,” said Jacob Wisse, director of Yeshiva University Museum, “We use them to give outward, physical expression to inner, spiritual ideals and concerns. We’re delighted to showcase these beautiful objects — many of them having passed down to us through multiple generations of the same family, preserving the family’s story as well as that of our people.”
Among the highlights are an 18th-century silk matzoh cover with elaborate border decorations; a lushly embellished 19th-century ceremonial dress worn by a Sephardic woman in Sarajevo, part of the Ottoman Empire, and an 18th century lectern cover embroidered with pearls and gold thread that belonged to a former Chief Rabbi of Izmir.
The exhibition also looks at Jewish textiles through a contemporary lens. A Fifties wedding dress spotlights the pioneering work of Hattie Carnegie, born Henrietta Kanengeiser, a well-known Jewish fashion designer, while a Fifties scarf designed for the Women’s Zionist Organization depicts inspiring Israeli pioneer scenes.
From the acclaimed late fiber artist Ina Golub, “Uncommon Threads” includes the mixed-media piece “Let There Be,” which depicts the world as a blossoming flower on the sixth day of creation. And in a Jewish spin on the classic American quilt, the exhibition includes a 1963 banquet tablecloth from Queens embroidered to celebrate members of a synagogue sisterhood and their families.
Rarely seen jewelry also gets a spotlight in the exhibition, such as a fine gold bracelet that belonged to the wife of the Hatam Sofer, who was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis of European Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century, and a set of pins designed by artists like Chaim Gross and Igael Tumarkin were created as part of an initiative to boost women’s contributions to Israel Bonds.
The exhibition runs through April 19 at the museum, which is dedicated to the presentation and interpretation of the artistic and cultural achievements of Jewish life.