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Home January 2024 A Legacy of Good Deeds

A Legacy of Good Deeds

An assortment of the hats Janet Kaplan makes.

Synagogue Club is Hooked on Crocheting

Harvey E. z”l was everyone’s favorite high school history teacher. Known for proctoring an exam while softly singing the answers to the test, his gentle demeanor belied a wicked sense of humor and sharp intellect.
    Harvey* and his wife Marilyn, z”l who also taught, were long-time members of Temple Beth Ahm (TBA), a midsized Conservative synagogue in Aberdeen. Both dedicated their retirement years to volunteering at a variety of organizations.
    When Harvey died in 2015, Marilyn was dealing with a severe illness that left her partially debilitated. Eventually, she decided to transition to an assisted living facility, settle their adult son into a group home, and sell their house. She asked some synagogue members help find new homes for items she no longer wanted or needed. Among them were bags of yarn, dozens of crochet hooks and piles of hand-made afghans.
    Janet Kaplan, one of Harvey and Marilyn’s friends, recalled her surprise upon finding the mound of handiwork.
    “I knew he made afghans because he had made one for each of my grandchildren,” Kaplan said. “But I could not believe what we found in the house. There were so many! And each one was beautiful! Just gorgeous,” she said. “I asked Marilyn what to do with them. She said she had more than enough, and we should donate the rest. So, I took them to the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission in Asbury Park.”
    Fellow synagogue member Kim Kaufman was among those helping. She and several others decided to store the bags of yarn and the hooks at the synagogue, assuming that at some point the shul’s nursery school or the Sisterhood might want them.

One of the early attempts at making the oblong

    Then, in the fall of 2018, Kaufman attended a knitting workshop led by a now-defunct yarn store and came away with a plan: The synagogue would use Harvey’s yarn to start a knitting and crocheting club.
    She already knew that members were interested in learning. Earlier in the year, TBA Past President Phyllis Brooks had led a Sisterhood program on how to make a kippah. “It was very well attended,” Brooks recalled. “But the problem was that no one knew how to crochet. I spent the bulk of the evening attempting to teach everyone how to do it.”
    Kaufman knew she could teach people to knit. She recruited Kaplan to teach crocheting. They decided the new Knitting and Crocheting Club would be an informal gathering, primarily meeting during the winter months, be free and open to anyone, and the goal would be to use the yarn to make items that could help others.
    As the head of the synagogue’s Social Action Committee, Kaplan oversees the synagogue’s community garden, which—in partnership with neighboring Temple Shalom—donates organically grown vegetables and herbs to the food bank run by the nearby Matawan United Methodist Church. She also organizes the synagogue’s annual One Warm Coat Drive which, she notes, annually sends well over a thousand coats to the Jersey Shore Rescue Mission. Plus, she is very well connected to other local and national nonprofits.
    Thus it is not surprising that Kaplan knew about Warm Up America! (WUA!), an organization that collects knit or crocheted 7” x 9” sections which are then pieced together to make blankets for those in need.
    “We figured people would have an easier time learning if they had a task that was achievable,” Kaufman said. “The oblongs are pretty straightforward. It’s basic stuff. And as soon as we get a pile of the blocks together, I send them off to the organization.”

Nathan Goldwasser proudly wears the vest he made for himself

     Nathan Goldwasser, president of TBA when the program began, became the star pupil. He says his participation was quite accidental.
    “The first meeting happened to be scheduled for the same night as a Security Committee meeting, which I was going to attend,” he said. “Since the Knitting and Crocheting Club started a half hour earlier, I decided I’d just stop by to see what it was all about.”
    He had an ulterior motive.
    “I had wanted to have a new white kippah for the High Holidays,” he recalled, “and I was hoping that they could teach me how to make one. It turned out they were making rectangles, which I decided to try. And I made one. It was a total mess, but I did it. That was the beginning.”
    Goldwasser eventually made his kippah. And then a vest that he could wear over a shirt and tie when attending Friday night services. He’s become so proficient that, he says, “I’ve made gifts for my family, and my latest is making baby clothes.
    “At that first meeting,” he said, “I sat next to Kim’s close friend, Erin Klein. Erin, who is also Janet Kaplan’s daughter, quit after about 20 minutes. I was hooked.”
    For Kim Kaufman—whose husband, Matthew, and her friend, Erin, are now TBA Co-Presidents—one of the most enjoyable parts of the program is how egalitarian it is.
    “We have people of all ages,” she said. “Some people bring friends. Sometimes those friends bring their friends. We have fun together while we are doing something for someone else.”
    Brooks often joins in, enjoying the opportunity to sit with others while she works on shawls she donates to the NJ Sharing Network. It is dedicated to raising awareness of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. It collects shawls to give to the families of those who have donated. Meanwhile, Kaplan has helped people make scarves and hats, which she delivers the Rescue Mission along with the coats.
    The last of Harvey’s yarn was used several years ago. But the club continues to offer free yarn to anyone who wants to learn how to knit or crochet, thanks to donations from members and friends.
    As rewarding as this process has been for both Kaplan and Kaufman, the most remarkable moment occurred when the last bag of Harvey’s yarn was almost empty. At the bottom, they found an old brochure from Warm Up America! Near it was letter, dated decades earlier, from the organization addressed to Harvey, thanking him for his continued support.
    That’s when Kaufman and Kaplan knew they had found the perfect use for the bags of yarn Harvey left behind.
    *The family’s surname is omitted due to privacy concerns. 
    For more about Warm Up America! go to https://warmupamerica.org/
    For more about NJ Sharing Network go to https://www.njsharingnetwork.org/
    To contact the TBA Knitting & Crocheting group, email CoatDrive@templebethahm.org   

Joann Abraham began chronicling Jewish life as editor of Monmouth County’s Jewish newspaper, now defunct, and has written for national and international publications. She is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.

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