Israeli women launch knitting, crafting project post-Oct. 7

Once stunned Israelis got over the initial shock that this was not another regular rocket attack from Gaza but a war, they sprang into action. People lined up for hours to donate blood and volunteered in many ways, from giving food and clothing to opening their homes to strangers who needed a place to live. Gitler watched as it seemed that everyone around was cooking, picking fruits and vegetables, babysitting, and even doing laundry for displaced families in hotels.

Mezuzot for destroyed homes

Trying to figure out what she could do to help, Gitler came up with the idea of making new mezuzot for families whose homes were destroyed. Originally, she thought maybe two to three hundred homes were destroyed and she could make the needlepoint cases herself. When she learned that the number of destroyed homes was closer to 3,000, she realized she needed more help.

Mezuzot made for homes destroyed by Hamas terrorists. (credit: WORLD MEZUZAH PROJECT)

At the same time, she arrived at the meeting at Ohel Ari and noticed that many women were doing needlepoint. Requesting to speak to the group, she shared her idea to stitch a small piece of canvas, roll the stitched canvas around a mezuzah parchment, and place it in a Lucite mezuzah case. All 20 women at the meeting liked the idea and said they would help. Most had leftover yarn from previous projects and Gitler had canvas, so they began what has become the Worldwide Mezuzah Project.

Randi Gelman participated in the original group in Ra’anana and told her sister Wendy Riback in the US about the project, and she contacted Gitler for materials and information. Within a month, the project spread to women’s and men’s groups, synagogue and school hesed (good deeds) programs all over the world: from Ra’anana to Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, to Teaneck, West Hempstead, Jamaica Estates, Kew Garden Hills, Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence, Edison and Highland Park. It also reached Tarzana and San Francisco, Miami and Boynton Beach, north to Toronto and Calgary, and south to Mexico City and Guadalajara.

An international WhatsApp group posted photos and messages of successes. The group grew and grew with pick-up and drop-off locations, and arranged volunteers to take the finished projects to Israel.

The needlepoint WhatsApp chat was abuzz with people sharing threads and canvases for the Mezuzah Project, much of it donated by the local needlepoint stores and designers. People posted photos of their completed needlepoints, which added a level of excitement to the project and sparked ideas for new designs. The chat was used to coordinate drop-off and pick-up locations for the completed needlepoints. “Everyone was willing to help. The goal was to get the needlepoints to Susie in Ra’anana, and sometimes it took a village!” said Riback.

One store in Baltimore had a mezuzah-thon with over 35 people attending and spread the project across the United States. The stitchers from the Baltimore and Pikesville area were hosted in Leslie Goldberg’s shop, who initiated the Mezuzah Project in Maryland. They raised $6,000 and are now focused solely on raising more funds.

There have been much larger successful endeavors in the New York and New Jersey area. In New Jersey, Bryna Malitsky and Marcia Weinblatt were helpful. Riback taught needlepoint to students in Jewish day schools and enthusiastically explained how the project brought out the best in so many people.

A synagogue in Boynton Beach, Florida, had an Israel night. That led to a synagogue in West Hempstead, New York, having a hesed night, and a bat mitzvah celebration in Israel. A senior citizen program in Israel spent an afternoon making needlepoint mezuzah covers. People taught their children, grandchildren, and even some husbands how to needlepoint. A teacher brought the project to a girls’ high school, and when the girls went on a solidarity mission to Israel, they delivered hundreds of their needlepoints.

The stitching of the canvases has become the easy part of the venture. Raising the money for the mezuzah parchments has taken longer. The project contracts only Israeli scribes; unfortunately, the main sofer was called up on army reserve duty. Hundreds more mezuzah parchments still must be written.

Gitler started doing needlepoint when she was a teenager. Through the project, she met many wonderful people and has been able to communicate with them through the Worldwide Mezuzah Project’s WhatsApp group.

“During these most difficult days for our nation, I cannot stress enough how people thanked me for spearheading this project and including everyone,” Gitler said, adding, “We all needed something productive to do to help.”

Starting in May, the first mezuzah is to be given and posted on the door post of a home. However, it is projected that rebuilding the homes destroyed on October 7 will take years, not months, so there is time for this project to raise its funding goals and acquire the remaining parchments.

The Worldwide Mezuzah Project has enabled thousands of individuals in and outside Israel to be on the giving side of hesed, as Riback put it, “spreading hesed, one stitch at a time.”


Leave a Comment