The Knitting Lady – keeping Israeli children warm for decades

Joyce Raymond shows off one of the sweaters she knitted in her Toronto condo. (Hannah Alberga/The CJN)

Joyce Raymond, 89, is known as “The Knitting Lady.” Every year, she knits over 100 sweaters for Israeli children and delivers them by hand.

In January 1977, she travelled to Israel for the first time and visited the Na’amat Daycare Centre in Jerusalem. Raymond and her late husband were wearing topcoats and still freezing, while the children sat on the cold stone floor with runny noses.

“I had to do something, so I came home and started knitting. I’ve been knitting ever since,” Raymond said. At the time, she had never knit before, but immediately taught herself when she returned to Canada.

Joyce Raymond, right, hands out sweaters at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in etah Tikva, Israel.

Piles of small, colourful striped sweaters and balls of yarn now consume an entire room in her Toronto condominium. Raymond isn’t planning on travelling to Jerusalem until Passover, so it’s unimaginable how crammed the room will be when the date gets closer.

For over 40 years, she has been travelling to Israel on an annual basis with duffel bags full of her handcrafted sweaters. She has a son who lives in Israel and spends six weeks of the year there, five months in Boca Raton, Fla., and the remainder of the time in Toronto. Raymond has an arrangement with El Al that allows her to take extra luggage for the sweaters and if she hears of anyone making aliyah, she asks them to add a bag to their shipment.

Over the years, she has brought sweaters to the Nina Cohen Atlantic Provinces Daycare Centre in Jerusalem, ALYN Hospital, a rehabilitation centre for disabled children in Jerusalem, and Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikva. Last year, she went from room to room at the at Schneider Children’s Medical Center with a wagon of sweaters and let each child choose one.

“For me, that was the most gratifying. You feel like you’ve done something. It’s nice to know that you’re doing your little bit for humanity,” she said.

It takes Raymond at least a week to knit one sweater, but she volunteers at a Boca Raton assisted living residence and has women there knit the bottom halves of the sweaters for her. She then knits the more difficult parts, including the striped patterns and the arms. She brings her needles and yarn everywhere, which is how she became known as The Knitting Lady.

(Hannah Alberga/The CJN)

Raymond is a lifetime member of Na’amat and Hadassah, and supports Herzog Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital and Baycrest, and volunteers with a the veterans’ program at Sunnybrook Hospital every week.

“I believe I’m trying to be a decent human being,” she said. “I feel I’m doing my bit for society, best I can.”