When Yael Buechler went clothes shopping recently, the last thing she expected to come home with was a new tallit.
“I just happened to pop into H&M,” she explained, referring to the popular Swedish retailer, “and, lo and behold there were tallitot hanging next to the women’s clothing.”
The poncho was fringed, white, four-cornered and striped. In other words, everything short of tzitzit – the set of strings on each corner — to be a wearable tallit.
The price tag on the poncho, a new item in H&M’s exclusive “Spring Awakening” line, read $34.95. Buechler instantly bought two in case they sold out.
“It’s worth it because it’s fashionable,” says Buechler, a rabbi-to-be. “It’s made specifically for women, it’s a four-cornered garment, and it’s a great, great garment to own.”
Buechler, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, was featured as one of The Jewish Week’s 2010 “36 Under 36” for coordinating the women’s center’s programs there. She often makes tallit katanim (a small tallit) out of shawls to correspond with her outfits, but has never encountered a clothing item seemingly made for the transformation.
Because she is used to sewing tzitzit onto clothing, Buechler has agreed to help transform the poncho for any woman who purchases it. She presented her idea to her JTS classmates and quickly set up three appointments.
H&M did not respond to phone calls, but Buechler wonders how the design of the poncho could have been a coincidence.
“This looks so much like a tallit,” she says. “It’s hard to think that anyone else would think otherwise.”
H&M is already a popular store among Jewish women, from Orthodox shoppers seeking modest clothing to female rabbinical students looking for fashionable head coverings.
The H&M garment is by no means the first intersection of Judaism and fashion. Brooklyn designer Levi Okunov has designed pieces inspired by his chasidic upbringing. The kittel that Buechler wears on the High Holy Days is actually a jacket she once found on sale at Loehmann’s.
But Buechler is still thrilled that an item at a mainstream store so clearly resembles a specific halachic garment, and one designed especially for women.
Buechler will be ordained as a rabbi at the end of the year, which may be occasion enough for a return trip to H&M.