Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Home News
Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009 | 6:15 p.m.
It had been roughly 75 years since Nathan Hymanson last wore tefillin, a Jewish ritual garment wrapped around the arm and head. When the 89-year-old tried to place the same kosher leather straps used during his bar mitzvah, the straps shredded.
He was among 30 people who came to Midbar Kodesh Temple Sunday to participate in the World Wide Wrap, sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, which encouraged Jews from all walks of life around the world to perform the mitzvah of laying tefillin.
For some like Hymanson, the ritual awakened long dormant memories, while for others like Rachel Kline, it marked a momentous first.
Tefillin consist of two black boxes, each containing verses from the Torah. One is wrapped around the head, and the other around the arm — positions symbolically forming the Hebrew letters for "God."
"I think it's a good idea to get people to be more spiritual," said Jordan Doctors, a 14-year-old who has worn tefillin regularly since his bar mitzvah. "This is part of our faith."
Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel said the tradition stretches back thousands of years, owing to a commandment in Deuteronomy: "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they should be for a reminder between your eyes."
Traditionally, the tefillin were worn at least once a day, during morning prayers. Now the ritual, among liberal streams of Judaism, has been opened to women.
"The whole idea is to act as a reminder to us about God's presence in our lives," Tecktiel said. Symbolically, the tefillin bind the wearer to God, enhancing one's senses.
"It's another tangible way of reaching out to God," Tecktiel said. "You feel your prayer."
David Gavrin finds solace in the act, which he tries to perform before starting his daily activities. Through the World Wide Wrap, he and other members of the Men's Clubs hope to expose others to the ritual, lending the leather wraps, called phylacteries, to those who have none.
On the Web Site worldwidewrap.org, videos were posted as synagogues across the globe laid tefillin throughout the day, ending with services in Hawaii. Midbar Kodesh also hosted a program for pre- bar and bat mitzvah children, explaining the garments and their significance.
Kline, vice president of Midbar Kodesh, had grown up with tefillin but was barred by cultural norms from wearing them.
"I always wanted to," she said. "Now that it's more accepted, I thought I'd give it a try."
After others assisted her in wrapping herself, she anticipated bringing more women next year to the annual event.
"It's tight, so you feel in the binds of God," Kline said. "You do feel different with it on."
Hymanson could not recall why he stopped laying them a year after his bar mitzvah.
"It was laziness, I guess," he said.
Upon being lent a new pair, he pronounced himself happy.
"I'm in good company," Hymanson said. "It's nice to revisit it after so many years."
Dave Clark can be reached at 990-2677 or [email protected].