Through Ambassador Friedman, Auburn quilters give warmth to Israeli soldiers

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman presented quilts from Auburn to Israeli families.

A group of Israeli soldiers returning from Gaza and their families are feeling the warmth from Alabama, thanks to the Cotton Boll Quilt Guild in Auburn.

On March 19, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman presented dozens of hand-made quilts through Eretz Hemda, a small congregation in Jerusalem which assists returning Israeli reservists and helps restore them to family life. In many cases, the soldiers become parents while being away in combat.

The quilts were made by the guild’s women in Auburn, and were presented at an event held at the Waldorf-Astoria in Jerusalem. Friedman said that he was introduced to the guild “by my dear friend Coach Bruce Pearl of Auburn University.”

He addressed the crowd sporting an Auburn shirt, “to honor all of Israel’s friends from Auburn.” He added, “I was proud to explain to the Israeli soldiers and their families just how much love was felt for them in this small university town in Eastern Alabama.”

The guild, which is 38 years old, currently has over 40 members. Esther Flitcroft, who initiated the Israel project, said “we generally just sew for ourselves, our families and friends.” Some quilt by hand, others use computer-guided longarm machines.

She initiated a service project in 2017 after seeing a news report where police officers were comforting children in the cold. The guild made quilts for officers to have in their cars for when they encountered children in a traumatic situation, so they could be comforted, and then be able to keep the quilt.

Recently, a guild member was downsizing her home following the death of her husband. Judy Feyen, who is originally from Chicago and has Jewish ancestry, had a large amount of quilting fabric, but because of her own health issues, she could no longer quilt.

Flitcroft noted that quilting fabric is quite expensive, generally from $11 to $18 a yard. As an example, she had just done a king-size quilt where the fabric alone cost $450.

They tried to find a buyer for her fabric but were unsuccessful, so Flitcroft reminded her of the police project and said they would find a charitable use for the fabric. “She said, ‘make sure you use it for good’.”

A week after the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Flitcroft saw footage of Israelis who were evacuated from the border towns, suitcases in hand, not knowing what the next day would bring and where they would stay. “We just don’t think about that happening,” she said.

She went to a fellow guild member’s house, where they talked about doing quilts for families of the hostages, the survivors of Oct. 7 and their children. The guild board unanimously decided to form a charity quilt committee “to assist the victims of the current conflict in Israel.”

Using fabric from Feyen, they had a cutting day with about 15 members, had volunteers make packets and directions, and at a second meeting distributed them so members could start putting together the quilts at home. “By the 17th of October, we had a mission.”

Flitcroft said she told Feyen what they were doing, “and she started to cry,” concerned for “my people.”

She said they made “lap quilts” in sizes for children and adults. These are smaller than bed quilts, but with the families moving around, the smaller size is much more portable. They used most of Feyen’s fabric and finished 83 quilts. “I’m just sorry we had to stop at 83.”

A big question was how they would get the quilts to Israel and make sure they were properly distributed. A local mailing house worked with them on the best way to ship, and Pearl contacted Friedman.

They arranged a Sew Day at the Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 27, for completion of the quilts. To thank Pearl for his role in ensuring the quits would get to Israel, they also made him a quilt with Auburn fabric, with the guild members signing the label.

Since Oct. 7, Eretz Hemda has delivered over $4 million in equipment and Judaica supplies to Israeli soldiers, and hosted events for couples with a member serving in the military, focusing on mental health and relationship issues. Friedman said it was an “extraordinary experience” to visit this “very special organization.”

Seeing photos and footage from the ceremony, Flitcroft said “it was lovely to see babies wrapped” in the quilts. “It was a labor of love.”

Updated throughout on April 3 after Flitcroft interview.