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The Joy of Sweaters

Sweaters are, of course, very Jewish.
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December 7, 2023
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The other day, I finally had good reason to wear one of my pullover sweaters, even around the house. Why, it must have been a frigid 58 degrees outside! It felt cozy and comforting, and none too soon at the end of November. Wearing this soft, warm sweater made me feel that not only was the natural season changing but perhaps the spiritual season as well, and with it, hopes of continuing good news from Israel and continuing the remarkable, nearly miraculous unity among Jews worldwide. 

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a sweater, even one made from thick wool. But sweaters are, of course, very Jewish. What Jewish mother’s arsenal is complete without calling after her children, husband, or even the plumber, “Don’t forget your sweater!” 

“I don’t need it.” 

“At least carry it. And take an umbrella, it might rain.” 

Not to mention that Jews have been legion in the garment industry, procuring and selling the fabrics to make our toasty warm sweaters. That’s just another thing the rest of the world should thank us for. 

My kids are all grown adults, most in their 30s, but don’t think it stops me from running after them with a jacket when they leave the house any time from the end of September through the end of June. I never have to tell my husband to wear a sweater. His body temperature runs cooler than mine and he likes to bundle up. Maybe I run warmer because I’m always yelling at everyone else to put on another layer before heading out into 66-degree temperatures.  

Since a few of our kids have moved to cities that are far colder in the winter and insanely hotter in the summer, I have been intimidated into staying silent when I’d really like to complain about L.A. weather. If I say, “It’s so hot today, 94 degrees!,” a true statement with no maternal exaggeration, our daughter will respond by taking a screen shot of her local weather in Dallas showing a hellish 108. And if I say, “It’s getting cold here — 55 degrees!” I will be met with a sarcastic laugh by a son who lives in a city where it is currently 28 degrees. I can practically see his eyes rolling even though we are not on FaceTime. Look what I have to suffer after all I’ve done for these kids.  

For several years, I bought my husband a new sweater for Hanukkah. He is a loyal sort, which is excellent news for me, but he is also overly loyal to his “vintage” clothing, which wasn’t vintage when he bought it. Certain that everyone deserves a new sweater every 15 years or so — whether they need it or not — I’d buy him a half-zip pullover — his favorite style— in a color that looks great on him. After we’d light our menorah, he’d open the gift box, look at the new sweater, thank me, and then claim, “I don’t need it.” I doggedly continued this exercise for about eight years before giving up. As a consolation prize, I bought a new sweater for myself.  

As much as I love sweaters, I’m glad to have never been invited to one of those “ugly holiday sweater” parties. My ego is healthy, but not fearless enough to show up in clothing whose sole purpose is to invite ridicule. Looking at pictures of some of those contest winners, you realize they were designed by someone who got totally sloshed at the previous year’s party.

Each year our family takes pictures as we light our Hanukkah menorah. By this point, I have loads of photos that give me a chance to admire, miss, or regret the various sweaters I have worn over the years. 

Each year our family takes pictures as we light our Hanukkah menorah. By this point, I have loads of photos that give me a chance to admire, miss, or regret the various sweaters I have worn over the years. When we still had our beagle, Ken, he’d pose with his Hanukkah bandana, though he never liked his rain trench coat. 

I have many pretty sweaters to choose from, but my choice this year is no contest at all. I’ll wear a simple, solid Wedgewood blue sweater with a white beret: Israel’s colors, the colors of Hanukkah. Our small flames will give off a warm and glorious light, celebrating miracles.


Judy Gruen is the author of several books, including “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith.” Her next book, “Bylines and Blessings,” will be published in February 2024.

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