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Start by praying for peace.

Then do something about it.

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A year ago, the living room was covered with lumber, bins of paint and brushes, as our painted sukkah slowly took form.  This afternoon the boys (now men) visited to help us erect The Sukkah again, and we look forward to the week’s many breakfast and dinner visitors, and inter-faith gatherings.

With the work of contributing to the presidential campaign, it’s been a challenge to find time to tikkun-knit for the sukkah this year.  Creating a knitted lulav has been on the drawing board since last year, but since Sukkot observance was not a part of my childhood, there’s been much to learn in order to move the project forward.  What a treat to spend a few late night hours exploring the historical iconography of the ritual symbols of the holiday: the lulav and etrog.

The importance of these symbols to the creation and transmission of Jewish identity over time is remarkable.  Torah features the observance of the harvest festival (Sukkot) as the principal catalyst for the resistance that informs the Exodus narrative and its ancient model of community identity (Exodus 5:1 is the node) . The lulav and etrog number among the central symbols of Judaism on the synagogue mosaics and national coins of late antiquity, expanding their significance beyond ritual with inscriptions that proclaim the desire for peace and idependence. (source of mosaic below left; coins from the 1st Jewish Revolt, 66-73 CE, image source) and 2nd (Bar Kokhba) Revolt, 135 CE)

Knitting Sukkot

Last year my concern about the commercialization of the lulav led me to knit plastic etrogs; this concern persists, and I continue to avoid contributing to what has become a billion dollar industry (the “Jewish industrial complex”?) based on diaspora anxieties.  So I continue to work on producing my own versions of the ritual symbols.  One late evening’s labor recently yielded a knitted and felted etrog, which now joins last year’s knitted versions.

I’ve been poring over photos and descriptions of the Four Species (Arba’at Ha-Minim): the ritual Lulav‘s palm, willow and myrtle branches, and the prized etrog (citron).  With a bit of persistence (and knitting during walks to work or in rehearsal breaks), my needles will shake daily to offer their own “first fruits”.  I’m still not sure about adding scent to my etrogs (my precious bottle of organic lemon oil just can’t substitute for the extraordinary scent of the etrog).  Nonetheless, I’ll look forward to sharing them, and my knitted lulav ‘s three other species, a pair of knitted palm leaves (lulav), two willow (aravah) branches and three myrtle (hadass) branches, with neighbors when they stop by on the annual urban sukkah tour.

As always, patterns for these examples of knitted Judaica for Sukkot are or will be available as Patterns for Peacebuilders.

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A Rosh Hashanah story from a master of our tradition:

While passing through a marketplace, Rabbi Kehot of Veritch, a disciple of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, overheard a conversation between two horse dealers.  “I was thinking,” said one to the other. “What does the psalmist mean when he says, ‘Do not be as a horse, or a mule, without understanding, their mouths stopped with bit and bridle’?[Psalms 32:9.] Well, when you put a bit in a horse’s mouth, he thinks that you are giving him something to practice his chewing on. Don’t be like a horse, King David is saying. When your Heavenly Master sends something your way, understand that it is more than something to chew on…”  Rabbi Kehot related this exchange to his teacher. The Baal Shem Tov was greatly excited by the horsedealer’s insight, and was inspired to a state of d’veikut (meditative attachment to G-d). In his ecstasy, the Baal Shem Tov began to sing a melody. This is the melody to which the rebbes of Chabad would pray on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.  (source).

May the sound of the shofar this year motivate us all to recognize that we’ve been given an extraordinary opportunity this year to act for change in our country, and for a secure and peaceful future for ourselves, our children, our communities, our country and our global neighbors.  Don’t just chew … vote!

To a healthy, sweet and productive new year.
Shanah tova!

(and if you’re inclined to model action instead of chewing, to wear your politics on your sleeve – or in this case, your keppe –  make and wear your own Obamakah (Obama + yarmulkah); I embroidered mine after knitting and felting one based on CozyColeman‘s pattern (available here).  Or get a specially-printed suede Obamakah here from Jews for Obama.

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Revised 12.11.07

Hanukkah has arrived, the “Festival of Lights” celebrating both the military victory of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks (c. 165 BCE) and the purported miracle of the oil which burned in the ner tamid (eternal light) in the temple of Jerusalem after it was regained and purified ritually.

My knitted Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah) is underway. Even in progress it’s lovely with candles. Of course, we can’t light our candles on this menorah – the silver yarn is definitely not fire proof, but we’ll enjoy setting it up alongside my grandmother’s brass menorah.

Rock of Ages

This year we will move past the dreidel songs, to “Rock of Ages”, the hymn so central to Hanukkah. We wonder whether the rock is divine (as described in the hymn) or profane – Israel, or Jerusalem. We consider how we can give this lesser holiday new meaning, even greater significance. We want to re-think the boundaries of the miraculous the holiday encompasses, to expand those boundaries to include our wishes for a just peace for Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

In this spirit we’ve attempted to pursue tikkun olam through new, intentional Hanukkah practices. We’ve purchased Fair Trade beeswax candles for the menorah, and the vegetables we’ll use for our latkes are locally-produced, to reduce the strain on the environment. Our new knitted dreidel brings a smile every time we try to spin it (more information about my pattern for this nifty bit of Judaica can be found here).

To bring our observance of the holiday in line with our fervent desire for peace in Israel, we will be making all of our latkes with Fair Trade West Bank olive oil jointly-produced by Palestinians and Jews. We’ll start with oil purchased from a group in the Philadelphia area called Playgrounds for Palestine which raises funds to build playgrounds for Palestinian children in refugee camps. Then we’ll use some of the “Peace Oil” we’ve shared with our synagogue’s Hanukkah Fair, Jewish-Palestinian olive oil produced by two Israeli organizations that do wonderful peace and environmental work: Saha (also known as GreenAction and Sindyanna of Galilee. Green Action is a remarkable environmental organization that promotes fair trade and all manner of eco-justice projects, including olive oil production with West Bank farmers. Sindyanna is a collaborative of Jewish and Palestinian women who make beautiful olive oil soaps in addition to oil. These people really know how to co-exist.

This is our way of expressing the traditional injunction to use the lights of the holiday “to increase the light in the world.” Next year we’ll see about using a traditional menorah that will burn the Fair Trade olive oil rather than candles. While I can’t knit that one, I have an idea …

Another Happy Hanukkiyah

There are 8 nights of Hanukkah. I’ll share my knitted menorah pattern during the 8 nights of the holiday. I’ll post a piece of the pattern each night, and describe the process of knitting this (and other) sculpture. We can all make menorot together. And …

And we’ll knit one leaf each day for the TikkunTree Project, a community-crafted peace project to promote peace and co-existence between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. These links will take you to information and guidelines, and original patterns, for the project. I’ll revise this post daily for eight days, adding to the pattern as Hanukkah progresses. I’d be delighted to include images of your work if you send them to me at: tikkunknits (at) yahoo (dot) com. After the holiday, send your leaves for the TikkunTree to: The TikkunTree Project, P.O. Box 2088, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Chag Sameach!

Note: This patterns is one of my Patterns for Peacebuilders, and will be available free of charge during the holiday. After December the pattern will be available for a nominal contribution to a peacebuilding organization. More information can be found here.

 

The TikkunTree Menorah

4 December 2007 … 1st night of Hanukkah
Making the candle holders.

5 December 2007 … 2nd night of Hanukkah
Making the Shamash and setting up to knit the body.

6 December 2007 … 3rd night of Hanukkah
Connecting the 8 holders and Shamash, and thinking about decoration.

7 December 2007 … 4th night of Hanukkah:
Designing the shape, beginning to knit the body.

8 December 2007 … 5th night of Hanukkah: The body of the menorah and decorating options.

9 December 2007 … 6th night of Hanukkah: Decorating the body.

10 December 2007 … 7th night of Hanukkah: a candelabra-style body, and a Magen David design

11 December 2007 … 8th night of Hanukkah: the base

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A new reader, Judy K., recently responded to the knitted content of this site: “I’m interested in possibly putting more Jewish content into my knitting. I’m not even sure what that might mean. It might mean distributing finished products to Jewish organizations or actually knitting Jewish objects, ritual or otherwise. Any thoughts out there?”

Naturally, I have many thoughts on the subject, having taken knitting as the metaphor for this website’s project. Though I’ve spent much time working through the challenges of Genesis since Simchat Torah, there’s been plenty of knitting going on behind the scenes. To transform my knitting into Tikkunknitting, my choices are informed by reference to the “five w’s” from elementary school: who, what, when, where, why (and how).

Why? (and how)

You are not required to complete the work, yet you are not allowed to desist from it. Pirkei Avot 2:21

I start with the Tikkun ha-Olam, and knittivism, each understood as noun (doctrine) and verb (activity). The modern liberal Jewish community is familiar with the eco-social implications of the doctrine of tikkun olam: to heal, repair and transform the world, by working to create a world that embodies social, economic and environmental justice. Originating in the Kabbalistic philosophy of Isaac Luria, Tikkun ha-Olam was the most distinctively Jewish and the most important ethical obligation: every act of creation, divine and human, was understood to participate in the process of restoring the broken vessels of creation (Shevirat ha-Kelim), expressing the essential relationship between mankind and the divine (more about this 16th-century teacher here). The active, verb-oriented nature of the doctrine is what inspires me.

I am similarly motivated by the notion of “knittivism”, the view that needlework should be used vigorously, in controversial, unusual or challenging (even political) ways (discussed here), and keeping track of the varied “knittivist” projects created by others, motivates me greatly.

I see the intimate connection between the tradition of divine Creation and human creating expressed by Luria in the opening of an early printed edition of the Torah, in which Bereshit is expressed by the work of hands – divine creation and blessing anthropomorphised in the image of human (priestly) hands. Like so many others who imagine the work of tikkun olam in terms of hands and world (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and more – just Google “tikkun olam”!), my Sukkah’s Tikkun olam banner clearly reflects my commitment to working with my own hands to repair even a small corner of the world in which I live.

So how to “tikkun-ize” one’s needlework?

Who, What, When, and Where?

One might knit with other Jews, in a formal, synagogue-oriented group, or in a less formal knitting Havurah (“fellowship” group). “Knitzvah Corp” groups have sprung up all over the country. I’ve started a similarknitting group in my synagogue, the Rodeph Shalom Tikkun Knitters, which meets informally during Sunday morning religious school hours. In addition to using stash, we have a set of special Tikkun Knitters projects, hats and scarves made with Peace Fleece’s Baghdad Blue yarn (the purchase of which promotes peaceful collaboration between Israel’s Jews and Palestinians; more here). We plan to donate finished items to the local Jewish Family and Children’s Services, but some of us are knitting hats for the recent call from Afghans for Afghans and the Dulaan Project (so our tikkunknitting extends beyond the Jewish needy). The R.S. Tikkun Knitters will also be taking our knitting into the classrooms, to teach the children knitting as a “life tikkun skill”. I knit during Shabbat morning Torah study, often working on one of the group’s Peace Fleece projects. There’s a lively debate going on in Ravelry’s Jewish Fiberaholic group about knitting during services.

It’s also possible to look to the Jewish calendar as a guide: don’t knit on Shabbat (for traditionally observant knitters), or knit certain kinds of projects only on Shabbat (my tikkunknitting approach), or knit for “Jewish time”, the liturgical and festive life of the tradition. So, to the “what” to knit …

What?

If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when? Hillel, Pirkei Avot 1:14

What to make is easy … of course charity knitting comes quickly to mind, which means hats and scarves for children and adults, or blankets and booties, all depending on the needs of the agency that will receive the items. Ritual garments, such as kippot (yarmulkes) for Bnai Mitzvot students or tallit (prayer shawls) for loved ones, are obvious choices; a quick look through the internet or Ravelry’s discussions shows the extent to which Jewish knitters are busy making these ritual garments. My “to do” list includes knitting up a trio of Bokhara kippot for my menfolk (either felted or stranded colorwork).

The holidays are particularly inspiring for me. For Sukkot this year I knitted a harvest basket of fruits and vegetables. (Try these links for more photos, discussion and patterns).

Hanukkah is nearly here, and I’ve been working on a set of the holiday’s symbols: a dreidel and gelt (usually Chocolate coins), and a Hanukkiah – or menorah – complete with knitted candles. The dreidel has just come off the needles, and spins like a dream. Links to more photos, discussion and a pattern will be available soon.

Hanukkah foods are a special treat: my knitted latkes (with sour cream and applesauce!) and sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) are nearly ready to share.

So my approach to making my needlework more Jewish includes both “serious” and “playful” elements. Tikkunnknitting is integrating the wisdom of the past with all aspects of one’s life, committing one’s energy to the work of repairing the brokenness of our world, and saving a bit for one’s own repair, and joy, as well.

4 December 2007 Pattern Update!

Hanukkah has arrived, and you’ll find my illustrated pattern for the TikkunKnits Dreidel here.

Have some dreidel fun! And knit for peace.

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With formal Rosh Hashonah observance concluded only a few hours ago, I’ve been working on knitting grapes for the sukkah.

 

While I experiment with layers of bobbles, a rabbi’s sermon rings in my memory: her encouragement to use the period between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur (and to Sukkot, and even Chanukah if necessary) to not only seek forgiveness for offenses given, but also to shed the weight offenses received – to forgive – even if not asked to do so. If Rosh Hashonah means anything, it is the opportunity to begin the process of “choosing life” (as tradition tells us). We are led to this choice in the Torah parsha preceding the holidays, Netzavim-Vayelech:

This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live. Deuteronomy (Devarim) 30:19

Tradition considers this choice the essence of Torah. The Reform community understands this choice as the essence of freedom, of authentic engagement with the business of living.

The symbol of the choice of life is, surprisingly, the grape. Genesis narrates the first coincidence of a free choice for life and the grape in traditional texts: Noah chose life, having followed divine instructions in order to survive the flood, and upon reaching dry land immediately begins to plant vineyards (Genesis 9:20). Perhaps the special value of this choice is also expressed in the Hebrew word for grape, “Ah-nav”; with only a minor adjustment, the word means humility (“ah-nav”, or a humble man). Both grape and humble person have the capacity, when tested (squeezed, or crushed?) to express their best, to choose their proper “life”.

In antiquity, the grape was not only a symbol of spiritual freedom, but also of political freedom. During the the multiple Jewish revolts against the Roman empire in the first and second centuries of the common era, coins were often minted with images of grapes and their vines, representing the freedom of the community (Bar Kokhba (2nd) Revolt, 134 -135 CE; left). Not surprisingly, the first modern Israeli coin with modern Hebrew legends (minted 1948, nearly two thousand years later) copied the cluster of grapes (and included legends in Hebrew and Arabic)(right).

Seeds of Peace: settlement sewage and mines to vines

Given the importance of the grape as a symbol of the gift of life in the long history of the Jewish people, it is profoundly disturbing to learn of modern Israeli destruction of Palestinian vineyards. One example was recently described in a report by the well-respected NGO Global Exchange: the sewage facilities of the West Bank (Jewish) settlement of Gush Etzion have been piping contaminated water directly into the vineyards and orchards of the adjacent Palestinian village of Beit Ommar. The village’s crops of grapes, plums and apricots have been destroyed in this manner since the creation of the sewage treatment plant, depriving the farmers of their livelihood (Global Exchange’s full discussion of this deplorable situation is available here). In the West Bank village of Al-Khader, Israeli construction of the separation Wall separates civilian Palestinian farmers from their vineyards. (sources here,

and here); these farmers, “armed” with bunches of grapes from fields they can no longer harvest commercially, have attempted to publicize their situation by distributing the grapes along Israeli roads. Their non-violent efforts have been met with violence.

I share the concerns of many others about the continued political and military stalemate between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996 attempted to end shelling of northern Israel by Hezbollah (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs report); but this and similar reprisals strategically employed a degree of force which compromised the most basic living conditions of Palestinian civilians (NGO reports from Amnesty Int’l, Human Rights Watch). From the continuation of the occupation and scandalous conditions in Palestinian refugee camps, Gaza and the West Bank over half a century, Palestinian extremists are now reaping “grapes of wrath”, a new generation of violent militarists fermented in the climate of abject poverty, violence and degradation. I am ashamed. I am outraged. I grieve.

Yet there are reasons to hope for the continued vitality of the grape. A symbol of the gift of life, the grapevine is also an ancient metaphor for peace. I am curious about the recent film Grapes and Figs are in Season, a documentary about a Palestinian woman’s recollection of the Ramallah life of her childhood; this film is reportedly humorous and hopeful, and I wonder how to see it or screen it locally. I am encouraged by the work of a small organization, Roots of Peace, which has initiated a “Mines to Vines” projects, giving farmers in minefield-infested countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, and Iraq, assistance with returning the land to productive agricultural use. The project works to replace the “lethal harvest of bloodshed” with “the planting of indigenous crops and the employment of landmine victims in the cycle of planting, cultivating, and harvesting.” As described by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Roots of Peace has “turned mines into vines by replacing the seeds of death with the seeds of life.”

As I start each new row of knitted “grapelets”, I am reminded of the depth of meaning carried by the grape in Jewish history. An American Reform Jew preparing for Sukkot, I’ll begin each bobble with a groan for the vineyards of Beit Ommar, blackened by Jewish settlement waste, and finish it with a grin for the Afghani minefields-turned-vineyards, newly greened by their seeds of life. Though Sukkot is still on the other side of Yom Kippur, I choose to dedicate my harvest of grapes this year to peace in the life of the West Bank.

You’ll find updates on the progress of the sukkah and its knitted fruits and vegetables here (click this link)

Update Sept 26th, 2007

Pattern alert: The pattern for the cluster of grapes is now available here.

 

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For readers who have inquired about a pattern for an etrog, rather than using or adapting the lemon pattern, I have knitted one up as a sample (my first lemon is on the right, for comparison).

You can compare my knitted version with any image of an imported etrog from the internet, such as this one). The instructions (including revisions) are available online here.

Harvest increase

My sukkah’s garden grows every evening. Now there is a crop of carrots and cucumbers:

Grapes, figs and olives are on the way …

 

An early Chag Sameach!

You’ll find updates on the progress of the sukkah and its knitted fruits and vegetables here (click this link)

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