The journey of a quilt depicting the Psalms that made its way from Livingston, N.J., to Marietta, Ga., and back again, has as many dimensions as the illustrations stitched to its fabric. One might have thought it a magic carpet instead of a quilt, based on its nearly 1,800-mile multifaceted adventure from one Reform synagogue in the North to another in the South, nearly escaping the recycling bin, and safely returning to its creators.
In December 2014, the quilt was created by an education class from Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston. It was taught by Susan Cosden, director of congregational learning.
“They had been studying the book of Psalms and, at the end of the course, each person chose their favorite psalm as inspiration for an art piece,” said Heather Stoltz, a fabric artist and instructor who Cosden enlisted to help stitch the artwork into a quilt.
Stoltz lives in Westchester County, N.Y., about an hour from Livingston. Her website, “Sewing Stories: Fiber Art That Tells a Story,” says she creates quilted wall hangings and fabric sculptures inspired by social justice, Jewish texts and her life experiences.
The quilt is composed of 20 square patches, many depicting scenes of nature, but one containing a Jewish star and another the Hebrew phrase for making a joyful aliyah: la’alot artzah b’simcha.
It hung on the wall of the Livingston synagogue until it closed in 2017. Temple Emanu-El gave the quilt as a parting gift to Cosden, who soon assumed the same position at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell. It hung in her office there too.
Fast forward to earlier this summer, when the fabric really starts to unfold. As Cosden prepared to leave Marietta, her live-in mother, while packing and purging, placed the quilt curbside with other items for the taking.
Neighbor Jennifer Weber, who is a friend of mine, claimed a few of the discards, including the quilt and a tablecloth with Jewish stars she thought I’d like. She’s not Jewish, but her church participates in activities with my synagogue.
When Weber brought the quilt to me in mid-July, I quickly noticed the telltale patch at its bottom right corner, which offered a key to its origins: “Created by Temple Emanu-El Lunch and Learn Class on the Psalms.” Another patch on the back provided more information about the class, teacher and date of creation.
My first instinct was to direct Weber to our local Temple Emanu-El in Dunwoody. “Any luck?” I texted her later that day. “Well yes, but now it turns out it’s a different temple.” A receptionist at the synagogue “looked it up in their records and no records of that teacher or class. She also mentioned there was a temple [Emanu-El] in Florida and New York and some other places, but there were quite a few of them. What do you suggest?”
A simple Google search and I located Stoltz.
“Thank you for reaching out about the quilt you found! It’s sad to hear that it was going to be thrown away,” she wrote in an email response to my inquiry.
“I don’t know if the N.J. synagogue or any of the makers would want it back, but we can try to reach out to the community.”
A few days later, Stoltz emailed back, “The synagogue where the quilt was made has merged with another synagogue – Temple Sinai. They would love to have the quilt back so they can display it.”
Last month I received an email from Audrey Napchen, executive director of Temple Sinai in New Jersey. “I’m happy to let you know that the quilt has arrived – and it is beautiful!”
Meanwhile, back in Marietta, Weber is proud to have helped salvage an heirloom.
“The experience left me with a good feeling that we did a good deed and I am glad I was able to play a small part in this,” she emailed me recently.
In return I taught her a few Yiddish terms I don’t think she’ll hear in her usual circles, about being a mensch who performed a mitzvah.
Jed Weisberger, a reporter with the New Jersey Jewish News, contributed to this story.