Yossi Klein Halevi, Interfaith Empathy, Knitting and Me

Yossi Klein Halevi, Interfaith Empathy, Knitting and Me

As part of my interfaith journey with Stitched Glass and The Knitting Pilgrim, I am trying to spend time with people of several faiths, especially Judaism, Islam, and yes, my own faith, Christianity.


On Saturday, November 24th, Claire and I attended a compelling session at Beth Tzedec Congregation with author Yossi Klein Halevi.


This was an especially meaningful moment for me because, 10 years ago, when I was just beginning my research on Stitched Glass’ Judaic tapestry, I met a Rabbi in one of the one-on-one interviews I was doing to discuss the tapestry’s imagery. He asked me if I had read At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land by Yossi Klein Halevi. I hadn’t. He suggested I read the book and come back when I had read it.


The Rabbi was right. Yossi’s book turned out to be a seminal one for me.

KD knitting in front of Beth Tzedec.jpg



So much of Yossi’s book has stuck with me. Here is one passage that I have often quoted:


“If God is literally one, and all of creation is a projection of that unified will, then every living thing exists within the same organism, is in effect a cell in the divine “body,” as mystics insist. I am implicated in all of creation, nothing alive is extraneous to me. And so all love is ultimately self-love; all hatred, self-hate. For the radical monotheist, empathy is the only possible state of being: Human oneness isn’t a philosophical notion or a moral imperative but simply a fact.” (pxvii, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden)


On Saturday night, I realized that Beth Tzedec’s Rabbi, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, had also kindly spoken to me during that research period. So I approached him with Claire at the end of the talk to thank him for his help, to tell him about my connection to Yossi, and to also let him know that, after 15 years, Stitched Glass was finally finished.


I showed him photos of the tapestries on my cell phone. He lifted his glasses onto his forehead and looked at them closely.


Then he insisted we introduce ourselves to Yossi, so that he would know the impact his book had had on my work. Rabbi Baruch told us that At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden was supposed to have its book launch on Sept 11, 2001. The terrible tragedy that day prevented the launch from happening, and Yossi thereafter, in the light of 9/11’s events, had ambivalent feelings about the book as a whole. I told him how much it had affected me in a strong and positive way – how much it had contributed to my journey. One I am still on.


Yossi offered to sign my copy of his book, which Claire thought to bring along. I passed it to him, and he thumbed through it. Well-used he said. Yep, I said.


At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden book.jpg


Yossi told us that At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden is being reprinted in a new edition soon. Which is wonderful.


Yossi has written more books since then: Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided A Nation (2013), and Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor (2018), which I cannot wait to read.


Now that Stitched Glass is finished, I finally have some time.  


Coming together in solidarity with Danforth Jewish Circle

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend The Danforth Jewish Circle twice in the last month – both prompted by the recent terrible anti-Semitic events in Pittsburgh on October 27. I can’t say that the reasons we came together are positive – but the act of coming together is positive unto itself. 


On Nov 2, the Danforth Jewish Circle held a “ring of peace” Solidarity Shabbat Service. While the service unfolded inside, the Danforth community, people of all faiths, surrounded the building in a ring of peace. It was profoundly moving.


In this time of polarized opinions about seemingly everything, not just religion, it is good to come together. To remember that we have the same wants and dreams: to live in peace and harmony. It sounds clichéd, but it’s only a cliché because it’s what we all think about and wish for.


On Nov 20, I attended a session at the DJC, which was a chance for reflection and discussion about what happened in Pittsburgh. To discuss our own connections to anti-Semitism, to understand how we feel in a world where this is still a problem, and what to do about it.


Even though I am not Jewish, it felt vital to participate in the conversation about this alarming problem. I am an ally. I am part of the solution. The coming together is part of that solution. Thanks to Olev, the Third Space committee and Rabbi Miriam for the event and their warm reception to me and Claire.


Coming together with friends from all walks – as well as Christians, Jews and Muslims – is the journey that Stitched Glass and The Knitting Pilgrim continue to take me on. I am grateful for that.


I keep thinking of the image of the dove of peace – a common symbol in all three Abrahamic faiths –and one that appears in each of the three tapestries of Stitched Glass:

Judaic Dove.png

Dove of Shalom

Judaic Tapestry

Christian Dove.png

Dove of Peace

Christian Tapestry

Islamic Dove.png

Dove of Salaam

Islamic Tapestry

Peace is the thing we all want. Where we fall down is how we try to achieve it. Those who try to achieve peace through violence will find it elusive. The best they can hope for is a victory resulting in a temporary cessation of hostilities. Real peace can only be achieved through justice, communication, patience, and compassion. Much more difficult work than violence.

Stitched Glass at the Toronto Knitters Guild

Stitched Glass at the Toronto Knitters Guild

On Wednesday, May 16, I had the pleasure of talking to the Toronto Knitters Guild at the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall about my installation of knitted tapestries, Stitched Glass.

Kirk At Podium.png

The last time I did a talk to the Knitters Guild about the installation, I think only the first Stitched Glass tapestry was complete. So that was a while ago.


Knitters Guild President Carol Mather Miles was kind enough to introduce me. 

Kirk and Carol.jpg

Other than talking about Stitched Glass and the play we’ll be touring with the installation, The Knitting Pilgrim, there were three things I really enjoyed about the evening.

Kirk Chatting with Guild Members.png

One – it was so great to be amongst so many knitters, everyone steadfastly knitting their projects, chatting about knitting (one of my favourite things, of course) and solving each other’s pattern or stitch problems. It made me realize how much I’ve knitted alone these past few years – okay, past lots of years – and how much fun it was to get out amongst my peers.


So the first thing I’ll be doing is renewing my membership. It’s been far too long with me knitting alone in my living room.


Two – it’s always fun to meet yarn suppliers I don’t know about. The evening’s supplier was Viola Yarns – they had beautiful skeins of hand-dyed wool on offer.


And three – I really enjoyed getting feedback from my fellow knitters about how to get Stitched Glass out into the world. People had great ideas and I so appreciate all of them.

Kirk Chatting with More Guild members.png

It’s great to feel part of a community. So I’m coming back as soon as I can, and when I do, I’ll have a much smaller project on hand to knit. Much smaller.

How Stitched Glass Gave Birth to The Knitting Pilgrim

Kirk facing the 1st window.jpg

How Stitched Glass Gave Birth to The Knitting Pilgrim


After fifteen years – a long, long time – of knitting Stitched Glass, my installation of tapestries looking at the commonalities and differences amongst the Abrahamic Faiths, things have started moving fast. Never thought I’d say that about knitting.


Needless to say, that’s meant I haven’t had time to blog about it all – so I have a bunch of blogs stored up. Here they come. February first.


The long-held purpose of Stitched Glass was to create an opportunity for conversation. Conversation, hopefully, among disparate groups of people – so that they could find common ground, rather than seeing the other groups as ‘the other.’


But as I approach the end of knitting the last tapestry, I’ve wondered how to do that. And off and on over decade and half of knitting, my wife, Claire, has wondered how to get the installation into textile museums and other galleries so that I could participate in that conversation. Claire would, in fits and starts between writing jobs, try reaching out to textile museums and the like, and get very little uptake. Granted, I’m not a trained visual artist – I didn’t get a Material Art degree from OCAD University (although that sounds like a really good time) – and I’m not represented by a gallery, and I don’t have a long history of solo and group exhibitions, because apparently I bit off way more than I could chew with Stitched Glass, and it’s taken a lot of time, alongside my day job and raising our kids with Claire, and doing the laundry. All very worthwhile and time-consuming things.


So one day about a year ago, knowing that I was over half-done the last tapestry, Claire discusses this problem with our good friend, Tracey Erin Smith. Tracey is the Artistic Director of Soulo Theatre here in Toronto, and she and Claire have often tackled artistic problems together, musing ways to keep moving forward despite the obstacles. At the time, Tracey’s theatre was producing a show called The Clergy Project which shares some themes with my textile installation – namely, interfaith empathy and focusing on what brings us together, not pulls us apart. Tracey, who is a great lateral thinker, asked if maybe she could use the tapestries as a backdrop for The Clergy Project – or as an exhibition that travelled with the show. Claire said that my last tapestry wasn’t finished yet, and also that I’d worked on the installation for so long, it really needed its own platform. So then Tracey said, why don’t you and Kirk write a show for him to perform alongside the tapestries, and use them as his set?


This, of course, was an ingenious idea, classic of Tracey. Because the reason I hadn’t attended OCAD U was because I’d attended the York University Theatre Performance Programme instead, where I’d trained as an actor. I was a full-time actor for 25 years or so, until my kids and Stitched Glass came along… so this idea of combining acting, writing and my knitting work created a new opportunity to get Stitched Glass out there.


Claire is a full-time writer, working primarily for film and TV, and we have often collaborated on writing projects over the years, so I asked her if she’d like to work with me on this project. I feared if I wrote it alone, it would never get done, because a half-tapestry still needed knitting. We pulled together our ideas, wrote 20 pages, applied to the Toronto Arts Council and were lucky enough to receive playwriting funds to develop the project (thank you so, so much, TAC). We called the show, The Knitting Pilgrim.


We asked our good friend Anna Pappas, Artistic Director of Ergo Arts Theatre, to produce it. She jumped on board right away because the play, and Stitched Glass, deal with themes like interfaith empathy, understanding of ‘the other,’ and conflict resolution – all themes she tackles in many Ergo Arts projects. A good match. 


We did a variety of things to prepare for, and develop, A Knitting Pilgrim. Claire and I continued to write. We brought on the wonderful playwright Beverley Cooper as our dramaturge to help us with the script, and we also brought on three faith consultants to work with us at both script and workshop stage: Reverend Janet Ryu-Chan, Presbyterian Minister at Morningside High Park Church, was our Christian consultant; Sarah Margles was our Jewish consultant; and Farheen Khan was our Muslim consultant.


I’ll pause here to say that even just the process of talking about this project with those three consultants was so stimulating for me. After all my research into the Abrahamic faiths over the length of knitting the tapestries, to meet at the same table with Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends and work through how to talk about the Abrahamic faiths, and how we were all feeling about the status of getting along in today’s world – interfaith or otherwise – taught me so much.


Then I took Tracey’s Soulo Theatre course to get my acting feet wet again, and get comfortable with the idea of talking out loud about the ideas that I’d been living with, stitch by stitch, row by row, over the last 15 years of knitting. Meanwhile, of course, I was feverishly knitting. Yup. That’s me. Always feverishly knitting.


Eventually we had a script we felt we could workshop – and that is how we spent this past February.


We rehearsed at The Small World Music Centre in Artscape - a cultural hub in the west of Toronto. Anna Pappas directed the workshop.

Anna Pappas at Smallworld Theatre.jpg

We brought on the fantastic Nick Bottomley as our projection designer.


Nick Bottomley at Small World.jpg


Nick produced some amazing images to project onto multiple screens to give people a sense of what the final show could look like.


Here, for example, in the show, I’m talking about when I went to apprentice in Kaffe Fassett’s studio in England with Kaffe and Brandon Mably.

Kirk on stage, Kaffe on screen.jpg

Here I am at the part of the show where the Christian window, or tapestry, is complete. At that point in the story, I’m only 5 years into my 15-year experience.


Kirk facing the 1st window.jpg

Bev Cooper, our dramaturge, worked with us on the script. 

Bev Cooper, Dramaturge, reading..jpg

Claire worked with us as the in-room writer, and Georgia Kirkos from jorjas photography captured the workshop with her beautiful photos.


We held a presentation to show the work in progress, mostly to solicit feedback from our trusted colleagues. My brother Marc came to see the show, as did our 3 faith consultants. 

Kirk and Marc.jpg

We had a really interesting debrief after the presentation about the show and its themes, and we got lots of ideas about how to continue developing the work toward a tour.


And that is how Stitched Glass gave birth to The Knitting Pilgrim. Ergo Arts Theatre will tour the two shows – the exhibition and the play – together in 2019. And yes, we’ll use the Stitched Glass tapestries as our set – but some venues, like museums and galleries, will also show Stitched Glass as its own exhibition. We’ll perform the play, which runs about 65 minutes, and then give the audience a chance to see the tapestries up close, have an informal discussion, or a Q&A and panel discussion – whatever our bookers desire.


If you know of a venue – a theatre, museum, gallery, place of faith, organization or knitters’ guild – that would like to book the show in 2019, please contact Ergo Arts Theatre and click on touring info.


I’m pretty excited about it all. I have a lot of people to thank: Tracey Erin Smith, for the initial seed of an idea that has already grown into such an interesting tree, my wife Claire who continues to go on this long journey with me, Anna for agreeing to produce the show, everyone associated with the workshop, and our three consultants.


I’m still learning. We’re still writing. I’m still knitting.

Knitting the Faiths Together

Knitting the Faiths Together

I was lucky enough to have Presbyterian Connection – the quarterly publication of The

Presbyterian Church in Canada – ask me to write an op ed piece about Stitched Glass, my

installation of three hand-knit tapestries in the shape of stained glass windows, looking at

the commonalities and differences of the Abrahamic faiths.

They asked me to do this because I am on my last segment of the project’s third and final

tapestry (pretty exciting stuff, because it’s taken me 15 years of knitting to get here), and

also because I am in the midst of preparing, with my wife Claire Ross Dunn and the

wonderful folk at Ergo Arts Theatre, to premiere a one-act play called The Knitting

Pilgrim that will accompany the Stitched Glass exhibition on tour. That will all be

happening soon.

So I’m sharing the Presbyterian Connection piece. Happy reading. And if you’re curious

about how to book the play and the exhibit of the textile work, please click here.


Prayer Shawl Knitting with Trafalgar Presbyterian

Prayer Shawl Knitting with Trafalgar Presbyterian

I like pretty much everything about knitting – except unpicking, which is what I had to do this past weekend, when I realized I’d make a mistake. A big mistake. It pains me to think that after 14 years of knitting on Stitched Glass, I’d lose a week’s work. That’s just moving in the wrong direction. Oh well. I suppose knitting teaches me to accept what is – and I do like that, too. But I’d prefer to accept ‘what is’ some other, much less painful way, thank you very much.(Read More)

Local Knitting: Me and Topsy Farms

Local Knitting: Me and Topsy Farms

I’ve been working on and off on a pillow design for Topsy Farms. I’ve written about Topsy Farms before – run by Sally Bowen and Ian Murray, Topsy is located on Amherst Island, about two and a half hours east of Toronto – in other words, one ferry east of Prince Edward County. I was born near Amherst Island, in Amherstview, and it was my father’s first charge after graduating from theological school at Knox College, University of Toronto. My parents moved back to Amherst Island decades later, and my father was again the minister at St. Paul’s, so I have roots there. Our kids loved their time traipsing through A.I. farmers’ fields, watching cows get milked in barns, and feeding Topsy Farms lambs with baby bottles. (Read More)

Happy International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day

In honour of International Women’s Day, here is my latest Pussy Hat. It’s for the women (and all humans), who are taking care of our planet. (Read More)

Make way for pussyhats

Make way for pussyhats

Today is the March on Washington.  My pussyhat efforts are all but done.  Four of my pussyhats have gone to Washington with Tracey Erin Smith,  and Savoy Howe,  and Soulo Theatre (awesome artist Kerry Furneaux knit up another three for the Soulomobile as well).  My remaining three pussyhats will be marching locally here in Toronto. (Read More)

Pussyhats purring along

Pussyhats purring along

Okay. It’s true. I can’t help myself. I keep making these hats for The Pussy Hat Project. Yes, way back in my brain, I suppose I am dreaming that I can make 54 of them for everyone one of the passengers on Tracey Erin Smith’s and Savoy Howe’s Soulomobile – all participants in Soulo Theatre’s March on Washington on Jan 21, 2017. I probably won’t make that goal before they leave for their marchtravaganza for women’s rights, and to make their voices heard, and to make theatre about their experience. (Read More)

The Demands of Not Knitting

The Demands of Not Knitting

Taking on a project as big as Stitched Glass has many demands – researching, designing, mocking up and then knitting, by hand, solo, three 5-foot by 9-foot tapestries. Lord only knows what I was thinking.(Read More)