Warmth and caring: A Shawl-Om mitzvah grows in Calgary and beyond

Members of Shawl-Om pictured above with Jewish Family Services Calgary. Photo supplied.

By Trudy Cowan

(AJNews) – The spark of an idea that ignited just before Covid has continued to grow, providing warmth and caring throughout the Jewish community in the Calgary area and beyond – warmth and caring literally.

Early in 2019, Michele Doctoroff, founder of this community outreach, began a project to gather and distribute hand-crafted “comfort shawls” to isolated or ailing members of our community. Comfort shawls wrap cold or aching shoulders, or warm a chair, or a wheelchair-bound lap.

She gathered a team, including Sari Shernofsky, at that time the Jewish Community Chaplain, and well-known local fibre artist Marilyn Samuels, subsequently adding Esther Silberg, Nadine Waldman and Trudy Cowan to build upon the idea. Shawl-om was born, and is now a much-loved community effort.

Shawl-om has blossomed to include 35-plus creators of more than 200 hand-made shawls, lap quilts and afghans, and all those who have received the gift of one of these treasured mitzvot.

The Calgary Jewish community includes a wealth of needlework artists, people who knit, crochet, stitch, felt and quilt truly beautiful work. Many of them are members of Rimon, the local Jewish needlework guild. Their creations adorn beds and sofas, hang on walls in family homes and public galleries, and even beautify our synagogues and other Jewish buildings.

The colours, designs, materials and workmanship give satisfaction to the makers who donate their completed works, joy to those who receive and use these lovely handwork projects, and pleasure to all who view them. Rimon members continue to make and donate their work, and to spread the word about Shawl-om to other needleworkers.

Calgarians who are in residential care, some who are frail and cared for at home, and others living independently, as well as newcomers to our community from war-torn Ukraine and other places, have received Shawl-om gifts.

Everyone loves to receive a gift that is thoughtful, useful and beautiful. The responses from those who have been given a Shawl-om project are heartwarming. Being remembered or welcomed by their community is important. Being remembered with a gift made by the hands of someone who gave time, effort, skill and creativity is beyond measure.

“The blankets and shawls you have donated make a tremendous difference in the lives of our clients,” remarked Inessa Kessel, Jewish Family Service Calgary (JFSC). “They provided warmth and comfort during difficult times and reminded them that people cared about their well-being … We are honoured to be able to distribute these beautiful works of love to our clients.”

Shawl-om has expanded its connections and partnerships to JFSC, Shalom Calgary, the Foothills Hospital, Temple B’nai Tikvah, and the Banff Springs Hospital. And the mitzvah grows. Sari Shernofsky now resides in Victoria, BC, and has recently initiated a Shawl-om program there.

Each of those who have created and donated one or more works for Shawl-om has done so with gratitude for the opportunity to contribute and to make a difference.

“Making quilts is my passion, and it feels good to be part of the community, so Shawl-om is a double benefit,” says Polina Ersh who has contributed six of her beautiful quilts.

As she continues to coordinate the project, Michele Doctoroff emphasizes that Shawl-om needs and welcomes new participants. “We are now planning for the coming cold winter months and would love to have 80 to 100 new comfort shawls and lap quilts to share. You don’t have to be a Rimon member to be involved. You can be new to needlework or have many years of experience. It can be a one-time donation, or you can make as many as your time and schedule permit – as many or as few as you wish.”

Although many of the contributors have created one or two works, in fact, one devoted volunteer has made and donated 44 of them, another 39. These works are as much from each donor’s heart as their hands.

If you have someone in mind who might benefit from receiving a Shawl-om gift, or if you are a needleworker who would be interested in participating by creating a project for Shawl-om, please contact Michele Doctoroff by e-mail at switzert@telus.net, or by phone at 403-238-2919.

Shawl-om is grateful for support and encouragement from Calgary Jewish Federation, JFSC, and Rimon Calgary.

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