Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
For as long as I can remember, my Nana has been making things for her six grandchildren. There were the crocheted ponchos that we begged for, the needle-pointed tallit cases that we all received upon becoming b’nai mitzvah, and even blankets in the colors of our alma maters. I wanted to know how to create in this same way – to start with a ball of yarn and end with a piece of clothing. I wanted to give these things the same way she had. I wanted to create exactly what I wanted for myself, and to know that no one else possessed the same item. I wanted to learn a craft that my great-grandmother, a seamstress, made her living through. So when I was 11, I asked my Nana if she would teach me to knit.
The first item I knit was a bright red scarf, long and chunky enough to protect me from the New England winter. The edges were uneven and the stitches sloppy, but I loved it and still do to this day. It’s warm and comforting, wrapping me in the excitement of childhood and a new skill. Throughout middle school I made cell phone holders and glasses cases for my entire family, knit a scarf for my dad that he still wears today and taught many classmates how to knit. My mother, who had refused to learn knitting as a child, even joined in – together, we would sit on the couch and knit our way through television and movies.
I’m still a regular knitter today, as my friends and co-workers can attest – it soothes my fidgets and calms my nerves. I still find it just as rewarding to create something from scratch, helping to keep my loved ones warm across the country. But as I’ve traveled the South with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, I’ve discovered something else about the craft – it connects people. A knitter can usually spot a hand-knit item, and it’s not unusual for me to wear one on a visit. I’ve met knitters across the South this way, and even taught a religious school student how to knit! It’s a hobby that you wear on yourself, and one that crosses generations.
Here in Jackson, Mississippi, I take knitting classes through the local college and stop by the local yarn store when I can. I’m working on some smaller projects for family and friends, but also large ones for myself. Knitting gives me a sustained goal, but it also allows me to see my progress as I go. There’s always a new skill to learn, but they ultimately all boil down to the same comforting stitches I learned 11 years ago. It’s both social and solitary, and connects me back to my nana, whom I always keep informed about my newest project.
I come from a family of seamstresses, tailors, and furriers. While I may be a Jewish educator (don’t worry, that comes from the other side!), knitting is my own way of staying connected to the crafts of my predecessors. It keeps me busy, relaxes me, and connects me to others. Just like cozy sweaters, a good conversation never goes out of style.