Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation

Sephardic Do Our Bit Club

By Eugene Normand

Almost from the very start of World War II when men were joining all branches of the military (army, navy, marines and coast guard), women were also participating.  A small number of women (unmarried) signed up for active duty, but much larger numbers of them, mostly married with families, participated in a different way, through the Knit for Victory program.

In the Seattle Sephardic community, the same pattern was followed.  Large numbers of men from both Sephardic synagogues served in active duty during WWII along with a few women.  Two women from SBH, Dorothy Levy and Jean Rousso joined, as did future member Minnette Hecht Almoslino.  The married women with families created knitting groups which produced thousands of knitted, crocheted and sewn clothing items that were needed for the war effort.

One such knitting group that we know about was called the Sephardic Do Our Bit Club or Sephardic Do Our Bit Unit.  It included women from both SBH and Cong. Ezra Bessaroth and all of them were good at “lavor”, the making clothing items by hand.  There may have been other such knitting groups in Seattle that included Sephardic women, but the one that is very well known and which we will highlight is the Sephardic Do Our Bit Club.

Months before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) when the US officially entered the War, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was often seen knitting for the war effort, usually carrying her large knitting bag. She effectively launched the World War II knitting effort at a Knit for Defense tea held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on September 31, 1941.  Americans had already been knitting and preparing care packages of food and clothes called “Bundles for Britain” to help the people in London who were under siege.  Similar efforts and committees on a smaller scale were also formed to help others in need such as the American-French War Relief and A Bit for Belgium.

Further, the number of Americans in the three services had been climbing since 1939 after Germany invaded Poland and started World War II.  The US Army had 190,000 troops by the end of 1939, which increased to 270,000 by the end of 1940 and skyrocketed to 1,460,000 at the end of 1941 (most having joined during the three weeks after Pearl Harbor).  By the end of 1945, the US Army had more than 8 million servicemen, including 150,000 women (WACs).  At the same time the US Navy had grown from 160,000 in 1940 to 3.4 million at the end of 1945, including 100,000 women (WAVEs).

Thus the assistance of people on the home-front, mostly women but also men and children, in producing garments for military personnel, was of great value.  The entire knitting effort was coordinated by the American Red Cross.  In January 1942 the War Production Board designated the Red Cross as the single clearing agency for all knitting, and the War Production Board gave them priority status for receiving wool.  Many women also knit for Victory in one of the many auxiliary units to the Red Cross. For example, Seattle’s chapter of the American Red Cross had been formed in 1898 to provide war relief during the Spanish American War.  It had remained active, assisting in the production of hundreds of thousands of knitted garments for the World War I war effort (US servicemen and European refugees).

Therefore, when the Red Cross began recruiting knitting groups in January, 1942 for the World War II effort, a group of Sephardic women joined together to start such a group.  By the end of the year, the group consisted of fourteen women, “girls” as they called themselves.

The list of the members: Estreya (Mrs. Jack) Amon, Rachel (Mrs. Ray) Angel, Rachel (Mrs. Victor) Angel, Rachel (Mrs. Joseph) Benoliel, Julia (Mrs. Jack) Funes, Fortuna (Mrs. Morris) Funes, Sultana (Tani, Mrs. Isaac) Halfon, Jean (Mrs. Al) Israel, Rachel (Mrs. Isaac) Maimon, Regina (Mrs. Jack) Maimon, Lucy (Mrs. Sam) Maimon, Margaret (Mrs. Albert) Moscatel, Mrs. Regina Romey, Estreya (Mrs. Victor) Scharhon

When the group was formed they elected Regina Maimon as the Chair and Julia Funes as the Co-Chair.  The club would meet one night a week, usually on Tuesday night, when the members would bring in their completed items of clothing, discuss upcoming club events, prepare for future knitting and sewing, and occasionally even do some knitting and sewing.

Each member kept track of the number of hours that she put in throughout the year.  Records of how many hours of work each of the club members put in for the years 1942, 1943 and 1944 were maintained and were included in the club’s book of meeting minutes.  The club averaged about 2400 hours in 1942 and 1943 and increased that to about 3000 hours in 1944.  Thus for the first three years, the club put in about 8000 hours, with Rachel (Mrs. Victor) Angel having devoted the most time, 1156 hours, but nine other woman each put in more than 400 hours (between 400 and 940 hours) during those three years.  The other four women contributed fewer hours, between 105 and 355 hours.

At the May 4, 1943 meeting of the Sephardic Do-Our-Bit Club, the women decided to record minutes of their meetings, which was about 15 months after they had begun to hold these meetings.  It seems that both Rachel Angels (sister-in-laws Mrs. Ray and Mrs. Victor) served in the capacity of recording secretary during the various meetings.  The meeting minutes reported on the amount of money in the treasury (it usually held between $10-20).  The minutes recorded the names of guests who attended, friends or relatives of the fourteen members.  Some of the guests were friends and cousins from Portland, OR.  Although a number of other Seattle Sephardic women wanted to join the Club, the members decided that they would not expand beyond fourteen.  Thus, only if one of the original women resigned, would they consider accepting a new member to replace her.

The Sephardic women of the Club were also very good in the kitchen and so on occasion they would bake cookies and bring them down to the USO (United Service Organization) office.  These cookies would be provided for servicemen and women attending various USO functions that were held in the Seattle area for the benefit of the military personnel.

At times the Club also donated money to the fund set up by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) to provide money for sick and wounded service people to assist them in paying for phone calls to their families.

Once the group was officially registered with the Red Cross in its downtown Seattle office, the Club would send one or two representatives to this Red Cross office to pick up yarn which would be distributed at the members at the next Club meeting.  The representatives would also bring down the completed items and make sure that the Red Cross credited the items to the Sephardic Do Our Bit Unit (known by their acronym, the DOBU).

During the earlier months of operation of the Club, yarn was available from the Red Cross office, but as time went on and more groups were participating in the Knit for Victory program, the yarn became scarce.  Thus the Club members changed and began working on other items such as washcloth and baby shirts.

Other knitting groups in the Seattle area were similarly productive, but they did things differently.  A group of women in Enumclaw met once a week for three hours, also on Tuesdays, but in the afternoon and that is when they did their knitting.  They produced over 200 items in 62 weeks. Thus on average, they completed a garment, which ranged from a coat sweater to an afghans to a pair of gloves, in between 10-20 hours.  Based on data in the Do Our Bit Club record book, it is estimated that these Sephardic women produced a garment in approximately 8-10 hours.  The DOBU items included sweaters, helmet liners and pairs of gloves, somewhat smaller clothing items compared to what the Enumclaw women were producing and hence they were able to complete theirs in a shorter period of time.

Since all members of the DOBU were friends, the meetings also served several other purposes.  If there was a simcha in the family of one of the members (she delivered a baby, a son was bar mitzvah, etc.) members would make donations in honor of that event.  When the weather got unbearably hot, they passed an amendment postponing meetings in the case of extreme heat , which was defined to be a temperature of 96° or greater.  In order to relax, the DOBU would sometimes organize theater parties when the members would attend a movie and then have dessert after the show.

In December 1944 the DOBU received triple recognition by being congratulated for their work in articles in the Seattle Jewish newspaper, The Transcript, in the Sephardic Bikur Holim newsletter and in the Clarion, the newsletter of Cong. Ezra Bessaroth.  In February, 1945 the Red Cross sponsored a city-wide luncheon honoring Basil O’Connor, the national president of the Red Cross. Mr. O’Connor was a very prominent lawyer, a former legal adviser and law partner to Franklin Roosevelt prior to his being elected President.  The DOBU was invited to send representatives to the luncheon and two members attended.

Each year the Red Cross office acknowledges the efforts of the local units producing the knitted items in meaningful numbers by presenting them with a red stripe.  The DOBU received three red stripes for their three years of dedicated service (1942, 1943 and 1944).   The group continued meeting after World War II was ended, Sept. 2, 1945 when the Japanese signed the official articles of surrender.

The weekly meetings continued for a few more months.  The minutes of February 12, 1946 meeting called that one “the last weekly meeting” and unlike previous meetings, the minutes of the previous meeting were not read.  The chair suggested that the group knit for the Jewish refugees from Rhodes, but the members voted to continue with their regular knitting for the Red Cross.  When all the Red Cross yarn is used up and the Red Cross certificates are issued, they planned on bringing their own yarn and still continue meeting on Tuesday nights.

A few more meetings were held over the following months , and the last one at which minutes were taken was on April 30, 1946, which was Rosh Hodesh Iyar, so the “girls played cards instead of knitting”.  This seems to have been their last formal meeting.

However, about 27 years later, on February 6, 1973, they held a Reunion meeting in the home of Mrs. Isaac Maimon.  Nine women attended, and several others sent notes of regret why they could not attend.  Everyone brought “lavor” to work on.  Refreshments were served with a Red Cross decorated motif, and the coffee was served in bone china.  It was a very enjoyable evening, giving the women lots of opportunity to reminisce over the minutes and the photos that they brought from the very active years of 1942-45, when the club was in its heyday.  A motion was made to hold a second Reunion a year later, in February, 1974, but there is no evidence that this second Reunion was ever held.

Addendum: Based on women shown in the photo of the group, it appears that another woman, Zimbul Eskenazi, joined the group during the later years of its operation.

do our bit clubMembers of the Do-Our-Bit Club, Back Row, from Left: Estraya Amon, Margaret Moscatel, Rachel Maimon and Julia Funes, Fortuna Funes, Front Row, from Left: Regina Maimon, Regina Romey, Lucy Maimon, Tani Halfon, Rachel Benoliel, Rachel (Ray) Angel, Zimbul Eskenazi and Rachel (Victor) Angel

Mothers -DOB Members 1940s-b-adjustMothers/mothers-in-law of Do-Our-Bit Club members: fr Left, Sanhulla DeJaen (Zimbul Eskinazi), Sultana Romey {Regina Maimon, Rae (V.) Angel], Victoria Maimon (Regina Maimon, Lucy Maimon, Rachel Maimon), Esther Scharhon (Lucy Maimon), Sol Policar (Rachel Maimon), Cadun Calvo, Sultana Funes (Fortuna Funes)

life knitting

Left: Life Magazine cover, “How to Knit” that appeared two weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Right, Knitting patterns for servicemen from Red Heart, one of the largest yarn manufacturers in the US, which is still operating today.

Lucy Red Cross Cert-Do Our Bit-CompressMembers of the D-Our-Bit-Club, such as Lucy Maimon, received certificates of appreciation from the Red Cross

Source for numbers in military

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