Back in December 2014, an adult education group at the Reform Temple Emanu-El of West Essex was studying the Book of Psalms under then-education director Susan Cosden. The group was inspired to make a quilt with visual representations of their favorite psalms.
Cosden enlisted fiber artist Heather Stolz of Harrison, N.Y., who designed and sewed a colorful piece of Jewish art comprised of 20 squares, each representing the subject of a psalm.
The quilt remained hanging at Emanu-El until 2017 when the Livingston synagogue closed its doors and merged with Temple Sinai in Summit, and the adult education group that commissioned the tapestry gave it to Cosden as a gift to take with her to her new position as director of congregational learning at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Ga.
While at Beth Tikvah, the quilt decorating Cosden’s office offered her some sweet memories of Temple Emanu-El.
“I would look at it a lot, almost every day,” said Cosden by phone from River Hills, Wis. “I really enjoyed working with those women. We were really involved in a lot of activities at Temple Emanu-El, including crafts and trips abroad.”
In July 2019, Cosden moved to the Milwaukee area to begin a position as director of lifelong learning at Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills. The former Temple Emanu-El quilt was left behind in Georgia.
“I had spinal surgery, and I didn’t pack my own office when I moved to Milwaukee,” Cosden said. “I can’t remember whether I gave the quilt to somebody or not.”
No one expected the work of art to become as well traveled as their former education director. The quilt had begun an interesting journey back home to New Jersey, arriving at its final destination in Summit in mid-August.
And it began on a street curb.
Jennifer Weber of Atlanta told NJJN that her neighbor, whom she knew as Roz, was moving and “put some nice things on the curbside for neighbors to go through.”
A member of a Catholic church, Weber added, “I also picked up a beautiful handmade quilt thinking I would find a place for it. It was later, when I got home, that I noticed the quilt had what looked like Hebrew writing on it and some other Jewish symbols.’’
She brought the quilt to a Jewish friend who pointed out to her that the quilt was embroidered with the name Temple Emanu-El. Weber called the Reform Temple Emanu-El of Atlanta. “But when I called the synagogue the receptionist told me they had no record of the quilt or the class that created it,” she said.
Weber didn’t give up.
“Because there were so many synagogues around the country with a similar name, I was concerned that we may not be able to find the right one,” she said. Her next step was to enlist the help of the Atlanta Jewish Times.
A staff member at the paper recognized the artist’s insignia that was sewn onto the quilt and contacted Stolz, who confirmed she made the quilt for a group in New Jersey. After tracing the history of the now-defunct Temple Emanu-El, the newspaper’s staffer got in touch with Temple Sinai and soon the quilt was on its way back to the Garden State via FedEx.
“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,” Weber said.
Former members of Temple Emanu-El of West Essex appreciate her sleuthing.
“Seeing this again, and having it back with us is just marvelous,” said Jean Goldstein of West Orange, a former student in the Emanu-El class and now a member of Temple Sinai. “It brings back memories of our old temple, which we loved.”
“The plan is to hang it at the entrance of the religious school, just like in our old synagogue,” said Goldstein.
Cosden, in an email to NJJN, said she approves. “It belongs with the merged congregations.”
Roni Robbins, associate editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times, contributed reporting.