The Leon Family Art Gallery wall on the second floor of the Simon Family JCC has been awash in both color and love the past few weeks.
Twelve handmade, one-of-a-kind quilts showcased the craftsmanship of their creators, members of the Tzedakah Quilting Group, part of Ohef Sholom Temple’s Caring Committee.
The four women who came to hang the quilts—along with their assistant, Marty Moody—experienced an array of emotions as they saw their pieces on display: accomplishment, compassion, amazement, pride and humility.
Celia Friedman, Laura Gilbert, Marsha Moody and Paula Russel began working on the quilts last January, using donated machines stored in the Norfolk synagogue. Other women joined, too, some veteran quilters or sewers, and some with no experience at all. The group initially met twice a month, but added a third day as they advanced in skill and grew in friendship.
“This was my first time making a quilt,” says Friedman. “I like to sew, I thought it sounded like fun and what we’re doing is a mitzvah. Also, we stick to the saying—what happens in quilt group stays in quilt group.”
The group embraced a project proposed by Marsha Moody—make eight quilts—not to use, or sell—but to give to Jewish Family Service of Tidewater, fulfilling the mitzvah of caring for the needy.
JFS counselors, in turn, would give the quilts to Jewish clients who could benefit from these specially-made gifts. Moody had donated four quilts the year before, discovered the profoundly moving reactions from recipients, and was committed to expanding the program. It wasn’t hard, she said, to get the group to participate.
The women chose a traditional heartstring pattern to follow. Working with as much donated fabric as they could gather, the ladies began weaving stories into their patterns as they cut strips of cloth, sewed them together into blocks, then stitched the blocks together, and ended with the addition of a soft, fleece backing.
Each woman created one quilt from the first stitch to last, spending between 75-80 hours in the process, which had been the initial goal. But the group chose not to stop once their individual quilts were finished and continued sewing, working together to complete four more.
Jody Laibstain, volunteer and transportation coordinator for JFS, worked as a liaison with the group. She marveled at the bright and warm creations arrayed on the gallery wall.
“These quilts will go to good use and, unlike some of the other gifts we gratefully receive, these will stay in the Jewish community,” Laibstain says.
“There are many people in the Jewish community who need things—you may never meet one of these people, but they are here—and when will these people get anything that was made with love, like this, just for them?”
“These are truly pieces of art,” says Laibstain. “They are heirlooms—something someone will keep forever—to keep warm and to treasure.”
When the quilts are taken down, Laibstain will deliver them to JFS caseworkers who already have recipients in mind. Each quilt comes with a special “gift tag;” a small patch is attached to the quilt’s back, showing the year the quilt was sewn, and these special words: “Made by our hands for you. Tzedakah Quilt Group.”
The quilters have already begun working on next year’s gifts, and are accepting donations of material, working equipment and contributions for the purchase of fleece.
For more information about the quilting group, contact Ohef Sholom Temple, 757-625-4295, or visit www.ohefsholom. org. To find out more about Jewish Family Service of Tidewater’s services or volunteer opportunities, contact 757-321-2222, or visit www.jfshamptonroads.org.