By Adrienne Raymer Hutt (Sarasota, FL)
At a recent Torah study, we talked about holy experiences that we felt we’ve had and what made these experiences feel holy. I did not respond during the study session as I could not remember an experience that I would describe as holy, except for the extraordinary gift of my children. Afterwards, a long forgotten memory popped into my consciousness, and I was reminded of an encounter that I had at a swimming pool on the east coast of Florida years ago.
When I had young children, we would go to Florida to visit my parents, and I would take along a knitting project. On one particular visit, when my children were about three and four, we all went to the community pool, and I brought my latest knitting project with me. As my parents played with and watched over my children, I took the opportunity to relax and knit.
I learned to knit from my mother most likely when I was old enough to be able to manipulate the needles and yarn. She and my sister were extremely fine knitters, I … well, I tried my best. My mother taught me to knit in the Eastern European fashion. Using this method, I wound the yarn to be knitted around the second finger of my non-dominant hand, and then, with a slight twist of that finger, I released the yarn as it was needed to knit. This was how everyone I knew knit. I did not know it had a name, or that there was any other way.
I understood that this way of knitting was a part of my heritage, my Jewish heritage, brought to this country by women who had emigrated from Eastern European countries. As they learned the ways of their new country, they retained ties to their European culture, and, by doing so, ensured that it was passed on to future generations. I don’t believe that was their motivation; however, it was the result, and I liked this connection to generations past and present. So, I gladly learned how to knit.
Much later on, as I observed others knitting differently than me, I learned that there was another way of knitting, an English method. No yarn was wrapped around your finger. Rather, it was manipulated by your dominant hand. It was a method that always looked cumbersome to me. The way I knit seemed to be concise and precise in its movements. And so, I continued to knit in the manner that I was taught.
At the pool that day there were neighbors socializing and swimming. A woman, who I did not recognize as a friend of my parents but who seemed to be a contemporary, approached me and said that seeing me knit in this way brought her back to the shelters in England during the bombing in WWII. She explained that she was in England during this time, having emigrated there from Russia some years before the war began.
When in the shelters, she recalled, women would knit to ease their tension and fear. Those of her community were mostly Jewish from Eastern Europe and knit using this method. She learned to knit in this way, she told me, from her mother when she was a young girl.
As a result of seeing me knit in the Eastern European manner, she expressed a sense of connection to her roots and to her frightening experiences during the times she had to take shelter. Observing me knit brought her back in time, and, feeling this connection to her past, she felt compelled to bring this connection into the present.
As she spoke, I had a deep sense of connection to this woman. I visualized all of these women sitting together, knitting. Maybe they spoke and maybe they did not; however, the rhythmic movement of the needles does have a calming effect, and so I could understand why these women grabbed their knitting before running for cover. I did not ask many questions. Instead, I let her recall whatever memories of knitting and shelters and bombing she needed to recall. Listening to her, I felt the ties to my heritage and ancestral geography. I truly marveled at how such powerful emotions—felt by me, and expressed by her—could be conveyed through the simple act of knitting.
I never saw this woman again during that visit or on subsequent visits. I do not remember her name or what she looked like. What I do remember is her gift of sharing our heritage and her memories. In walking those few steps at the pool to where I was sitting, she gave me extraordinary insight into how I feel about being Jewish and my connection to my heritage.
During our moments together, I was transfixed and transported to a holy place via her need to share some of her most poignant memories. It was holy because in that brief period I was no longer sitting at the pool. She and I were somewhere else, together. Time was meaningless. We were in the past. In her past and in our collective present. This stranger and I were in a holy space.
Until now, I was unable to understand this encounter. I now recognize that this experience has stayed with me in such detail because it was holy. I have encountered many people at a pool or elsewhere and have forgotten those experiences. This one, this holy encounter, has been patiently resting in my memory, waiting for me to identify and acknowledge it.
Now I look at knitting and at the Eastern European method that was used by our ancestors, used in shelters, used when sitting by a pool in Florida, and I can see how this particular way of wrapping the yarn around my finger stitches us all together into a tightly knit, beautiful, and holy Jewish community.
Adrienne Raymer Hutt was born and raised in Brooklyn New York. She attended Brooklyn College, graduating with a B.A. degree, and received her Masters degree from Southern Connecticut State College in Counseling, as well as a post-Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Adrienne and her husband Phil lived in Old Saybrook, Ct, where she worked as a speech pathologist, a teacher of the deaf, and, finally, as a marriage and family therapist. They are now full-time residents of Sarasota.