"If only I could find a few people who speak English," I thought, as I sat with my husband's family in Tel Aviv on a month-long trip to Israel in 2016. Yes, his family spoke English, but for the most part I found myself just listening, grabbing a word here and a sentence there. Little did I know that my search for English speakers would lead me to a project that would knit together my Randolph, New Jersey synagogue and needy Ethiopian children in Israel. It all came about when I found the website for ESRA or English Speakers Resident Association. This group was founded in Israel in 1979 in Herzliya and Kfar Shmaryahu, but now includes other towns, such as Tel Aviv, Raanana, and towns thoroughout Israel, providing a framework for English speaking activities in the community.
In addition to fulfilling a social need and assisting English speakers and their families to better integrate into Israeli society, ESRA volunteers initiate and run projects via the ESRA Community Fund, to aid immigrants from distressed countries and other disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society.
And so on a lovely March day, I went online to see if I could find something that would interest me among the activities, lectures, and trips offered in English to people from America, England, South Africa, etc. As a long-time knitter, the knitter's group meeting in Raanana jumped out at me. I thought it would just be a group of women sitting around companionably knitting whatever project they were currently working on. It was much more than that. I found out that the ESRA Knitting Circle was a group of knitters making sweaters and scarves for Ethiopian children, whose parents were dealing with assimilation in a society worlds apart from the one they knew. ESRA, along with local municipalities, funds before and after-school clubs, where the Ethiopian children would receive a meal, help with homework, and lessons on how to become part of Israeli society.
They would make hundreds of sweaters and then distribute them at Chanukah parties held for the children each year. Though it sounds counter-intuitive to be making sweaters and scarves in such a warm climate, the winter months in Israel can be chilly, especially in apartments that may not be comfortably heated.
The knitters buy their yarn at cost from a knitting wholesaler, and the pattern is the same for every sweater - to maximize uniformity and durability. The only difference is in the colors and how they’re combined. At ESRA’s annual Chanukah party the sweaters are laid out by size and the children get to choose which one they want. I was told that the joy on the children's faces when they get to pick out their very own sweater, often the only piece of clothing that has not come down second hand, is truly heart-warming. I met the " Israeli knitting lady," in a small cafe in Tel Aviv and she presented me with the pattern. I told her that I was sure I could find a group of knitters back in the States who would be happy to knit these sweaters and add to the number of children who would receive them.
When I returned home I bought a ton of yarn and needles, ran off copies of the pattern, and "sold" the idea to knitters at Mt. Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph including Sherry Pollack (President of the Mt. Freedom Jewish Center), Lisa Monday and Audrey Levine who began knitting. Marsha Hoch, a synagogue member, contributed by sewing the separate parts of the sweaters together, and members Esti Monka and Ellen Charm made sure the sweaters got to Israel, saving on shipping costs.
All in all, the group delivered 20 beautiful sweaters and eight scarves. I have received a number of emails from Israel thanking us, on behalf of the children, for the warmth and love we sent, and as for us, it was a way of sending that warmth and love, one stitch at a time. Anyone interested in the pattern should contact Janet Cohen through email@example.com