Knitting A Community of Concern for Israel

Knitting A Community of Concern for Israel

Knitting for Israel

by Rebecca Rosenthal - MADISON, NJ

July 29, 2006

Deborah Brody could not sit back and watch terrifying news from Israel in her quiet Summit, NJ, home and do nothing. For the past year, the she and a dozen others have been clicking needles, purling and cabling their way through yarn skeins at Chabad Jewish Center of South East Morris County, NJ. Churning out fluffy baby blankets, rainbow hued shawls, lap blankets for wheelchair-bound terror survivors, the women have knitted a community out of shared concern--for Israel and for each other.

A Jewish "UPS" paid half the freight to ship boxes of hand-knit scarves and afghans to Israel last winter. Substantially more sophisticated after months of practice, the upcoming batch includes boutique quality hand-crocheted purses. Even fussily hip Israeli teenage girls will know Jews in New Jersey care. As Chabad Terror Victims Project owns no storage facilities, the boxes won’t be transported until Israel’s weather turns colder.

Ten o’clock Tuesday morning, carrying shopping bags swollen with nearly finished baby blankets, another session of the Chabad Knitting Circle begins. Aharona Lubin, Chabad’s representative in Madison, began knitting about a week before the Circle’s first meeting, eight months ago, guided by diagrams printed on a cardboard insert of instructions. Her shawls now ruffle at the edges. What Lubin gains in knitting skills and friendship, she returns by sharing her knowledge with the group.

Brief words of Torah delivered before the first stitch is cast are the only “formal” teaching at the circle. But when the Lubin girls: Chaya Mushka, 4, and Rivka, 3, wander in and recite a blessing before taking a drink and a woman asks about the reason for behind the practice, it’s a teaching moment. The circle is a way to “involve people in your daily life, and life has so much to speak about,” said Lubin.

Ranging from 26 to 98, with a dollop of women in their thirties and forties, the group is as varied as the cotton, acrylic, wool, silk and cashmere yarn in the center of the table. “We have one common thread, and it is to do mitzvot by sending our goods over to Israel,” said Brody. Women who belong to different synagogues or none at all participate, comfortable because, “Rabbi Lubin is very dynamic, very bright, very tolerant of other people’s beliefs and lack of them,” said circle mainstay, Shelley Rosenthal.

Rabbi Shalom and Aharona Lubin hit upon the knitting circle as a way to bring Jews together and into their new center at 42 Park Avenue when they heard about knitting’s surprising surge in popularity. Inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s practice of “taking a new trend and finding a way to transform something neutral into something holy and positive,” Rabbi Lubin contacted Jack, David and Dean Blumenthal at Lion Brand yarn.

Headquartered in Carlstadt, NJ, Lion Brand has donated every ball of yarn ever wound around the knitting circle’s needles. The Blumenthals care “about knitting, Jews and making a difference. They were very receptive to my request in the most generous way, and they continue to be,” said Rabbi Lubin.

Lion Brand Yarn President and CEO David Blumenthal said, “You can go to Neiman Marcus and buy a $200 cashmere baby blanket, and it doesn’t mean as much as one that’s hand knit. It’s a labor of love with thought behind every stitch.”

Knitting Circle is but one of the open ended Jewish activities. Rabbi Lubin’s discussion group at the Madison Public Library on Mondays at three is always packed. In the planning stages, along with the Hebrew school that opens this fall, is a Café Chabad event to infuse wintry Saturday nights with Jewish flavor. Chabad’s plans reflect Rabbi Lubin’s deep understanding of what works in South East Morris County, dating back to his days visiting Jewish business owners on Friday afternoons as a student at the nearby Rabbinical College of America. Alan Burnside, owner of Madison Jaguar, likened the then 18-year-old Rabbi Lubin to a “wise old man in a young man’s body” and marveled at his “unbelievable ability to communicate what happened in the Torah and make it very current and applicable to what is going on today.”

It is this wisdom, coupled with Rabbi Lubin’s desire to “continue the relationship with the people who taught me how to be a rabbi,” that compels Chabad Jewish Center to seek out new avenues for Jews to express themselves, knitting needles in hand.

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