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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


April 8, 2016  RSS feed

Text: T T T

A stitch in time…

Emilie Socash
Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fabric of our Jewish community. If you and I have met up any time in the last few months, you’ve heard me readily admit that we have plenty of work to do in patching up our community. You’ve also heard me say that on so many fronts we’re doing great work that continues to weave us together.

I come from a long line of fabric aficionados. After escaping the pogroms in the Ukraine just before 1900, my great-grandfather Benny opened up shop in Montreal as a tailor. He was an original upcycler, recrafting winter coats as his six kids grew out of them so they would fit the next kid in line. (This left my grandmother Bekah in a perpetual winter of discontent as she was the youngest of the brood.) My grandmother learned the trade and, after illegally sneaking into New York, worked at a bra factory (“I was in charge of the cup seam – the hardest seam on any bra!”) and later, moving to Toronto, at a coat factory (“I was in charge of the shoulder seam – the hardest seam on any coat!”). She skimmed money off her paycheck to purchase a commercial sewing machine, launching a mail-order business selling Christmas-themed tea cozies out of her basement. Her profits went toward the purchase of a 1951 Beetle, which relocated the family to Los Angeles, and along the way Bekah became Betty.

She taught my mother to sew at a young age, and she now runs her own quilting business, having just upgraded to a CAD-based quilting machine (that is the size and price tag of a small import car). She attends national quilt conferences, has joined traditional and modern quilt guilds, and even picked up a blue ribbon for one of her recent creations.

I remember wearing the first dress I made on my own in 5th grade. I continue to enjoy sewing: for a few years I had my own clothing design line, selling patterns on Etsy, and I’m that mom at school who makes period-appropriate outfits based on American Girl Doll movies when the class is to dress up like the 1920s. I helped with costume construction at freeFall Theatre; for a few summers I was in charge of summer camp play costumes at Camp JCC (including a dozen mermaid tails and several Charlie Brown Lucy frocks.). I’m currently working on a silk sheath dress that’s a pleasant cocoa color with a maroon geometric pattern.

In my family, our craft with fabric is our l’dor v’dor.

Woven fabric has what’s called warp and weft. Warp describes the fibers that run lengthwise to create fabric. If you think of a loom, the warp are the threads that are pulled taut and can run on forever. The weft is the fiber or thread that runs back and forth, over and under, creating what we see as cloth. Fabric that’s constructed in this fashion typically has little stretch (unless the fiber itself, like a spandex or a polyester, has stretch). Think of a man’s dress shirt: if you pull it lengthwise, or sideways, it’s not budging.

But it’s not true to say that woven fabric has no give: a key element to clothing design is a consciousness of the bias. Take that same man’s shirt and stretch it on the diagonal, and suddenly the garment has all sorts of pliability! Depending on the weave, you might get a lot or a little. When we pull on the bias, the weft and the warp work in unison and rotate and roll over each other. The weave remains the same, but there’s suddenly movement.

You might be able to see where I’m going with this: we are weaving together a community, creating warp, weft, and working with the bias.

I imagine the warp as the long strings of continuity that are strong enough to be pulled taut at the end of the looms – kind of the pillars which the weft traverses and therefore fabric is built. I think of warp like our synagogues, like Menorah Manor, like the Federation, like the Holocaust Museum: the institutions and ideals we can rely on long-term, which set direction for our shared Jewish future, which are headed in parallel directions.

Weft is my favorite because it is not stretched on the loom, and can be comprised of a more delicate fiber. The weft isn’t relied on for structure; the weft is where we get softness, patterns, textures, and the ultimate fabric. The weft of our community is our people, our ruach, our ideas, our programs, our advocacy, our shared successes and challenges.

But neither warp nor weft alone can create cloth.

All woven fabric has a “grain:” straight (with the warp); cross (with the weft); or bias, which cuts across both at a 45-degree angle. The bias allows for fluidity and elasticity, for drape, and for moldabililty.

If we pull across the warp and weft of our community, we get the bias: a flexible blend of each fiber, existing in a tension that creates give but keeps its core structure. You know how you have that one skirt that hangs “just right?” It’s probably cut on the bias (and you probably look fabulous in it).

If we examine the community on the bias, we’ll get the same result: the best of both warp and weft, working in unison for a pleasing, comfortable, and attractive form.

We still have a lot of work to do in building (and rebuilding) our community, but I hope you’ll agree: we’re weaving a new pattern, with each pass of the weaving bobbin that each of you are riding along.

Liked the column? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at

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