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Wimpels: Wrapped in Tradition

Rachel Bachrach

It’s a length of cloth, decorated and personalized. It accompanies a yekkishe boy from his bris to his first visit to shul to his chuppah. The fascinating minhag of wimpels.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mrs. Bracha Silberman of Cedarhurst, New York, was born and bred in Brooklyn. When her daughter Rena married Mark Nussbaum, a yekkeh from Monsey, she had quite a culture shock.

“I grew up in chassidishe Boro Park,” Mrs. Silberman said with a laugh. “I had no conscious exposure to yekkes until my daughter married one.”

Suddenly, Rena was waiting only three hours between meat and milk, washing her hands before hearing Kiddush, and preparing gruenkern soup (a soup usually served Shabbos day instead of cholent).

When Rena’s son Chanina turned two, Mrs. Silberman mentioned how excited she was that an upsheren was around the corner. The Nussbaums told her they don’t have an upsheren ceremony, but around the same age, they celebrate with a wimpel.

“A what?” Mrs. Silberman asked. She’d never heard the strange word before. 

A wimpel, they explained, is the cloth that yekkes use to bind a sefer Torah. Most Ashkenazic (i.e., non-Sephardic) shuls use standard velvet-covered elastic belts that wrap around the Torah once and fasten with Velcro or a clasp. For centuries, yekkes have used wimpels, which are made specifically in honor of a male child, decorated with his personal information, and donated by his parents to the shul. Most yekkes donate the wimpel once their son is toilet-trained, often around the age of three.

Once the shock (no upsheren?) sank in, it was basically a given that the creative and artistic Mrs. Silberman would design the wimpel. The Nussbaums were tickled pink that their son’s non-yekkishe mother-in-law would be the one making it.

Mrs. Silberman started her research by looking at old wimpels and discussing several decorating methods with the Nussbaums. They vetoed glitter (it gets all over the Torah), fringes (they unravel), and embroidery (it frays over time), before finally settling on fabric paints. Mrs. Silberman went to craft stores for advice and materials, and then she got down to business. For a week and a half, she outlined, designed, and painted the long strip of cloth nightly.

The results, Mrs. Silberman says unabashedly, were spectacular. She was especially pleased she had made a wimpel that would last.

“I wanted my grandson to be able to come to me when he’s a Tatty and say, ‘See mine? Can you make the same one for my son?'"


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