Warm gesture

Knitters stitch together ‘Scarves of Love’ for hostages

Three Ra’anana women put out a social media call for knitters and crocheters to create pieces of clothing for those taken by Hamas — the response was immediate

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Left to right: Kate Gerstler, Shawna Goodman Sone and Saven Hilkowitz, the knitters behind 'Scarves of Love' for the hostages held in Gaza. (Courtesy)
Left to right: Kate Gerstler, Shawna Goodman Sone and Saven Hilkowitz, the knitters behind 'Scarves of Love' for the hostages held in Gaza. (Courtesy)

In the weeks following the deadly Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7, Ra’anana crocheting teacher Kate Gerstler and her friends, Saven Hilkowitz and Shawna Goodman Sone, began stitching together scarves for the hostages abducted to Gaza, aiming to knit one for each captive, and to gift it to them when they come home.

They called their project Scarves of Love, and what began as an effort to keep their hands and minds busy has become something of an international project.

Each of the original knitters immigrated to Israel from a different country: Gerstler from England, Hilkowitz from South Africa and Goodman Sone from Canada.

As they posted about their initiative on social media, they encouraged others to knit or crochet a scarf for a hostage. The response was immediate.

“We never imagined the ripple effect of it,” said Hilkowitz.

Some of the ‘Scarves of Love’ made for hostages taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Every person who contacted Scarves of Love received the name of a hostage for whom to knit or crochet a scarf, unless they already had a hostage in mind.

“As each person would knit, they would think about that hostage,” said Hilkowitz.

“We felt like we got to know them,” added Hilkowitz, who knitted one of her scarves for eight-year-old Ella Elayakim, now released. “You see their face on a poster, but when you’re knitting for them, you think, does this little girl like pink or green? Is she sporty or interested in other things?”

By December, the team had received dozens of hand-knitted scarves — the number is up to some 140 now — and the three women wrapped and packaged each finished scarf, often including a personal note from the person who knitted it.

“The letters are so deeply personal and not what we were thinking when we started out,” said Goodman Sone. “We had no idea how it would nourish so many people — [soothe] the sense of helplessness and disconnect.”

Some Scarves of Love knitters included personalized letters for the hostages taken captive to Gaza on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Something else they hadn’t considered was the logistics of the project, and how they might try to get the scarves to the families or some of the now-released hostages.

Goodman Sone, who founded the Summer Camps Israel program, was at the time working on a winter camp retreat for teen evacuees from the south and north. Through one of her partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, she was able to connect with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, and arranged to bring the scarves to a tent set up at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square.

Another friend who is connected to the Bedouin community brought scarves made for the four Bedouin hostages, two of whom were released at the end of November, to their hometown of Rahat.

“This whole thing connected us to the cause and to the reality of the situation,” said Goodman Sone. “It was about a shared interest and a little bit of social action; something to do instead of just doomscrolling.”

It’s also been an emotional process, particularly when the team were dealing with scarves knitted for those still in captivity, or those who were discovered to have been killed.

“Someone knitted for a man who had been murdered. She said she was in tears while knitting it, and she asked us to please reassign the scarf,'” said Hilkowitz.

It became a discussion, said Goodman Sone, about whether they should repurpose the scarf, although the knitter had been thinking about that particular person while they knitted it.

“We put these scarves in the best of hands,” said Hilkowitz. “It’s been their holy work.”

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