"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, they all spoke English, but for the most part I would just be listening, just grabbing a word here and a sentence there. Little did I know that in this family gathering, I would find a way to “knit” together my Randolph, New Jersey synagogue and needy Ethiopian children in Israel.  

It’s all due to 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 wherever the need has arisen, 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 they offer 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. I was proven wrong.

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I found out that the ESRA Knitting Circle was a group of women making sweaters and scarves for Ethiopian children, whose parents were dealing with assimilation in a society worlds apart from what they knew. ESRA, along with local municipalities, funded before and after-school clubs, where these Ethiopian children would receive a meal, help with homework, and lessons on how to become Israelis.  These kind knitters 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 generally warm country, the winter months in Israel can be chilly, especially in apartments that may not be comfortably heated.  The yarn is sold at cost to the knitters, and the pattern is the same for every sweater to maximize uniformity and durability. The only difference is in the colors.

At ESRA’s annual Chanukah party the sweaters are laid out in sizes and the children get to pick which ones 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 to see.

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, so more of the children could be kept warm and cozy.

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 member Esti Monka and Randolph resident Ellen Charms’s daughter carried the sweaters to Israel to save on shipping costs. All in all, the group delivered 20 beautiful striped 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 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 office@mtfjc.org