Eco-Friendly Mishloach Manot: Doing Good & Having Fun

by Robin Messing Bogdanoff

It started in August 2011 with, of all things, a shirt pocket. It was a very small pocket on a child’s striped tee shirt that caught my eye, because the shirt had been miraculously reinvented into a tote bag. What an inspired idea, to turn an iconic T-shirt into a bag! Strong and compact, yet expandable, colorful, playful, infinitely useful – and not difficult or expensive to make.

For my $10 purchase, Massachusetts textile artist Crispina ffrench included instructions on how to make more bags and gave me permission to share the instructions with our synagogue community in Bergen County, N.J. For the past two years, our congregation-wide Mishloah Manot program has been awash in handmade upcycled T-shirt totes as imaginative and useful as Crispina’s original!

Instead of purchasing baskets, boxes, or bags to contain our Purim goodies, our congregation solicits outgrown and unworn shirts. Between 2012 and 2013, our WRJ Sisterhood and religious school families enthusiastically responded by clearing more than 750 garments from dressers and closets throughout the county.

This year, we took the daring step of modifying Crispina’s original pattern in order to eliminate the need for sewing machines (even though our teens proved terrific at putting pedal to the metal and machine-seaming with abandon). Instead, we’ve been gathering in groups throughout the building, tying fringes, threading drawstrings and creating relationships as well as bags. Many dozens of individual congregants, from third-graders to grandparents, have participated in this year’s project so far.

The tee-totes are appealing both for being eco-conscious and green, as well as for the “hamisha,” the handmade touch. They are labor-intensive, although that, too, has a silver lining of encouraging participation and building community. We have been fortunate that the extra effort required by making each bag ourselves has been offset by delegating some of the administrative work to an online service. Ari Green and have been invaluable in providing database support for emailing congregants, soliciting volunteers, coordinating orders, and setting up driving routes – and their help has made it possible to put in the necessary hours for cutting and completing almost 400 bags.

We’ve made our dresser drawers a little neater and our earth a little cleaner by responsibly upcycling clothing that might otherwise have been thrown out. But truly, the best part of this project has been watching our wonderful Temple Beth Or community become suffused with the excitement of the alchemy of creating something wonderful out of something else – and watching that joy spill over to Purim holiday preparations. Now I’m just hoping that we can find snacks, sundries, and surprises which will be as much fun to receive as the T-shirt tote bags have been to make!

Make your own eco-friendly mishloach manot bags for Purim using this tutorial from textiles designer Crispina ffrench.

Temple Beth Or clergy, educators, congregants, & religious school students model the mishloach manot bags.

Temple Beth Or clergy, educators, congregants, & religious school students model their mishloach manot bags.

Robin Messing Bogdanoff is a member of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, N.J.

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3 Responses to “Eco-Friendly Mishloach Manot: Doing Good & Having Fun”

  1. avatar
    Judie lande Lieberman Reply February 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    The spirit of Robin and Lori made this Purim a great success! These bags are great and I can retell the story of where I got it every day I use it!

  2. avatar

    Robin and Lori are truly the heroes of Purim at TBO. These two volunteers have made this holiday really one of community, spirit and fun – and yummy, too! As Director of Lifelong Learning, I am sure I speak for all of the congregation in saying todah rabah, many thanks, for all the hard work and creative spirit that you share.

  3. avatar
    robin messing bogdanoff Reply February 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Exhilarating, and exhausting too! But co-chair Lori Seidman and I have been inspired and buoyed by the unremitting support and encouragement of Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick, Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut, Director of Lifelong Learning Irene Bolton, our Sisterhood leaders (including Gayle Ianuzzi and Julie Keery) and Board President Paul Leshinsky amongst the scores of others who have lent their hearts, their hands and their old tee-shirts to this project! UPDATE: Our Religious School students brought their family bags home on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we started with home-delivery to the rest of our congregation. We have been flooded with positive feedback and are delighted so share so much “early bird” Purim ruach!

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