Knitter of Sinatra’s $10,000 kippa unravels the mystery of its origin
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Stitched notes spell out first bars of 'New York, New York'

Knitter of Sinatra’s $10,000 kippa unravels the mystery of its origin

Marcia Freedman, responsible for historic yarmulke recently sold at Sotheby’s, says in 1981 she was a stay-at-home mom making skullcaps on the side

Yaakov Schwartz is The Times of Israel's deputy Jewish World editor.

Frank Sinatra performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, September 1, 1980. (David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images via JTA); Marcia Freedman, shown with some of her handmade kippas, knitted one for Frank Sinatra that recently sold at auction for nearly $10,000. (Courtesy)
Frank Sinatra performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, September 1, 1980. (David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images via JTA); Marcia Freedman, shown with some of her handmade kippas, knitted one for Frank Sinatra that recently sold at auction for nearly $10,000. (Courtesy)

The lid has been blown off the mystery surrounding a now-famous kippa gifted to Frank Sinatra in 1981 that sold at auction last month for nearly $10,000.

It was recently reported that the kippa – which was decorated with musical notes and the name “Frank” – was presented to Sinatra by well-known journalist and radio host Samuel “Sonny” Schwartz at an annual awards dinner held by the Hebrew Academy of Atlantic County. But the provenance of the skullcap was even harder to trace.

Sotheby’s, which sold the Hebraic headgear last month to an anonymous buyer, gave no indication in its catalog as to who made or gave the kippa to Ol’ Blue Eyes, though it did note his lifelong sympathy for a host of Jewish causes.

Reaching out to The Times of Israel, the kippa’s maker, Marcia Freedman of Edison, New Jersey, was able to help uncover its history. Freedman was also able to explain the musical notation on the kippa – which spells out the first two-and-a-half bars of Sinatra’s classic, “New York, New York.”

“I spent a lot of time on it because I wanted it to mean something,” said Freedman. “I did have some piano background. I’m not a great piano player, but I remember playing around with it.”

At the time, Freedman was a stay-at-home mom taking care of her first child, and occasionally sold her handmade kippas at a local Judaica store owned by the sister and brother-in-law of the Hebrew Academy’s president, Rubin Wishkin, who also happened to be her first husband’s uncle.

Sonny Schwartz, one of the organizers of a 1981 fundraiser for the Hebrew Academy of Atlantic County, NJ, presents Frank Sinatra with a personalized yarmulke at the event, held in a kosher hotel in Atlantic City. (Courtesy of Pauline Schwartz)

It was Wishkin who tapped her to make kippas for Sinatra, Schwartz, famous club owner Paul “Skinny” D’Amato – that year’s honoree – and school principal Rabbi Mordechai Weiss.

The fundraising gala was also attended by Rat Pack notables Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr., and Weiss recalled the entire ballroom being converted into a nightclub with a stage spanning nearly the length of the room.

It was an exciting time, which Freedman promptly filed away and forgot to even mention when she married her second husband, Andrew.

“I don’t talk a lot about those days,” Freedman said. “So when my husband found out, he said, ‘You made a kippa for Frank?’ He’s a musician and he loves Frank Sinatra, and I guess I just put it in the back of my head with that part of my life. And he was ecstatic, he was just jumping up and down.”

The original sketch for the kippa presented to Frank Sinatra at the 1981 awards dinner for the Hebrew Academy of Atlantic County. (Courtesy Marcia Freedman)

“Nobody seemed to know who made it, because Rubin [Wishkin] had passed away many years ago, so there was nobody really to ask,” she said. “I didn’t make a big deal because I figured Sinatra would just take the kippa afterwards, throw it in a drawer, throw it out. I didn’t think he would keep it.”

Ever a fan, Freedman’s husband — a doctor who plays French horn in two local bands — seemed to know Sinatra better than that.

“My husband told me that Frank was a very meticulous man, and that he would probably have kept it. I saw the picture and it was in great shape for something that’s 38 years old, so he probably kept it in a good place — and that’s why I was so surprised when it sold for so much money,” she said.

While she was at it, Freedman managed to clear up another mystery: why Sinatra’s name appears in all lowercase letters.

“Somebody asked me that,” she said. “Really, it just looked more interesting that way.”

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