White of Many Colours

I have never been to the spectacular cherry blossom festival in Japan, but around the corner from our place, we have our local flourish of blossoms: for about two weeks that usually coincide with the Jewish month of Ellul, two parallel streets lined with trees are adorned with the small, white blooms. The fleeting beauty is dissipated by gusts of wind that scatter the delicate petals like snowflakes that fly in the air then flutter to the ground. In our southern half of the globe, Rosh Hashanah coincides with spring, and there is a special symbolism to me that here Ellul apart from heralding in the new year also brings with it new growth, renewal. It is also significant that our street blossoms are white, a colour long associated with the Yamim Noraim, the High Holidays.

During the month of Tishrei, commencing with Rosh Hashanah, synagogues are bedecked in white: white satin curtains cover the aron hakodesh that houses the Torah scrolls also covered in white. On Yom Kippur, white clothing is de rigueur when men wear kittels, simple white belted robes over their suits and women wear white dresses and scarves. The white clothing and décor are in reference to the high priest of the Holy Temple who wore a white linen robe as he entered the Holy of Holies once a year to pray for forgiveness to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people. We have no Holy Temple now, but we read about the Yom Kippur rituals of the High Priest during the afternoon service on that day. As I listen to the recitation of this portion, lightheaded from fasting, I am transcended to a time when the Holy Temple was a reality rather than a part of our history.

We wear white to emulate the emissaries of G-d, the angels, who are in the sky and down on earth and as ethereal as the delicate petals of the blossom.

Several years ago, I had a colour analysis done by a lady who had trained in that field. After she draped numerous swathes of coloured cloth around my shoulders, she concluded that I was ‘an autumn’. My colouring was most suited to russet, burnt orange and the other warm colours of the autumn leaves. It came as no surprise to me that stark white was not a great colour for me; far from making me appear angelic, it made me look anaemic. But my colour consultant also qualified her clients’ designated seasonal sets of colours: she believes that anyone can wear any colour as long as it is the most suitable of the hue’s infinitesimal varieties and shades. I have found that a cream or pale beige, not white strictly speaking, works best for me. Perhaps I should work on my vanity as part of my Ellul preparation.

Just like the infinite gamut of colours that make up the colour wheel, each human being has their unique qualities and role on this earth. Too bad that there are some people in the world that have misconstrued the connotation of ‘colour’ and turned whiteness into a racial issue. Versions of white supremacy, including Aryanism, have resulted in some of history’s worst crimes against humanity. I challenge anyone who considers themselves white to place a blank piece of paper next to their face and then decide.

As I research the colour white, I come across a fascinating article in Britannica.com about colour models. If red, blue and green lights are separately projected onto a white surface, a white light is produced where the coloured lights intersect.1 It is a heartening thought as we approach Rosh Hashanah that apart from all the qualities attributed to white, it is also a colour of unity and inclusivity.

  1. Zelazko, Alicja. “RGB colour model”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Oct. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/science/RGB-colour-model. Accessed 5 September 2023.
About the Author
Pauline Schwarcz is a freelance writer with a background in genealogy. Formerly a health professional, she enjoys writing about family history and her reflections on life. Pauline was born and lives in Melbourne and is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
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