The children at Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah were blessed this year in a new and special way. Evan and Diana Zisholtz commissioned a stunning, handmade Kol HaNearim tallit that was used for the first time this past Simchat Torah. It was dedicated in loving memory of Evan’s mother, Vivian, who passed away in August.
Vivian adored and was devoted to her four children and three grandchildren, and had an infectious zest for life that came from a perspective of joyful gratitude. “She prepared us for life’s challenges and we hope to transmit that to our children. Now, every year, as the tallit envelops the children of our congregation, our hope is that God not only watches over them and protects them, but for us personally, that it should be a reminder to our children of their roots, to recognize life’s priorities, and that Vivian’s memory perpetuates through them as we continue the chain of gratitude and understanding that life may be short but it is what you make of it,” Evan and Diana told The Jewish Link.
The Zisholtzes originally got the idea for the tallit on a visit to Atlanta, where a similar tallit is used for Kol HaNearim at the Young Israel of Toco Hills, where Vivian, z”l, lived with her husband, Barry, for the last 28 years, and where Evan grew up. Evan and Diana contacted the Atlanta-based artist, Barbara Fisher, and commissioned her to make another, roughly double in size, to ideally cover all the children at the main minyan at Ahavath Torah, a large and continually growing shul that now welcomes approximately 800 children each week.
After Vivian’s passing, there was no question that Evan and Diana wanted to donate the tallit in her memory. “She loved children, and was an occupational therapist by profession who helped so many in so many varied ways. Hearing the 300 children, especially our daughters, make the bracha under the tallit and sing Hamalach Hagoel, a blessing of protection, that originated from Yaakov Avinu when he was blessing his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe, was indescribable,” said Evan.
“Although Vivian was taken from us too soon, she emphasized that she felt blessed,” said Diana. “She was well-known for building and decorating a beautiful and lively home that was always filled with guests from all walks of life, and having a garage with 70+ signs that lined the walls with feel-good phrases and sayings—so that when you entered and exited her home you knew it embodied one of life, love and family. One such phrase is ‘Don’t count the days; make the days count,’ and this epitomized her,” she added.
Fisher was honored to have been asked to make the tallit, both professionally and personally. “Being a part of a project in Vivian’s memory was extremely meaningful as she was a dear friend and I feel blessed that she was part of my life,” Fisher told The Jewish Link. “To me she was the perfect role model of a Jewish woman. She was dynamic, beautiful inside and out, classy, friendly to one and all, creative and a true leader,” she added.
“Designing and decorating this enormous tallit was a labor of love. Vivian brought much color and joy to everyone she met. I hope this colorful tallit, created in her memory, brings joy to many people for many years to come,” said Fisher.
“She knew about the tallit project and was proud that we were bringing a beautiful idea that we had seen in the YITH in Atlanta over to our shul in New Jersey,” said Evan. Each detail of the tallit was hand chosen by Evan and Diana. “We chose beautiful, bright colors for the border of the 13-by-24-foot tallit, and included the ‘Hamalach Hagoel’ [pasuk] for which each letter was cut and sewn onto the middle. We wrote a dedication that was embroidered and sewn on. It was huge,” said Diana. In fact, the tallit covers 312 square feet, and the 12-inch border runs over 73 linear feet, according to an article about the tallit in the Atlanta Jewish Times.
Even though the tallit is very big, with the way the shul is growing it may not be big enough. “With time, we would like to expand the tallit to accommodate our growing community,” said Evan.
For Fisher, in addition to knowing the family so well, the tallit will also have pride of place as her (physically) biggest-ever project. “Although I have been commissioned by people all across the country to create artwork for decades, this was by far the largest piece I have ever worked on. Because it was so massive, I had to create it in parts. I would design and sew four and five foot strips of design work, and then sew these long strips together. As an avid puzzle enthusiast, I really enjoyed the process of putting these complicated designs together in a seamless manner.
“Knowing that it was so meaningful to an extraordinary family, and that it would be used to enhance the mitzvah/tradition of blessing the children of a congregation; it was a very special experience,” said Fisher.
These words are embroidered on the tallit: “Vivian was a pillar of chesed in her community and beyond. She was an equally selfless and tireless devoted wife, daughter, mother, Oma, sister and friend.”
Vivian’s gift of love for community and ahavat Yisrael is evident in Evan and Diana’s involvement at Ahavath Torah as well. Evan serves on the shul’s board of directors and Diana is vice president of the sisterhood. They have two daughters: Allie, a student at Ben Porat Yosef, and Kate, who goes to Lubavitch on the Palisades.
Vivian is survived by her husband Barry, and four children, Evan (Diana), Jeremy (Katie), Stefanie (David Fishman) and Ricky (Becca), and three grandchildren (Allie and Kate Zisholtz and Jake Fishman).
By Elizabeth Kratz