Record number of Judaica artists from Israel, U.S coming to Palo Alto

With more than 100 jury-selected artists arriving from throughout the country and as far away as Israel, the third annual "To Life: A Jewish Cultural Street Festival" will feature handmade jewelry, paintings, textile designs and ceramics, many with Judaica themes.

Coming from Israel is Amitai Kav, who makes silver candlesticks, Kiddush cups and other Judaica. However, he is probably best known for his intricate gold jewelry, with a clientele that has included Queen Noor of Jordan; Reuma Weizman, wife of Israel's former president; Sen. Hillary Clinton; and the late Leah Rabin. Also from the Holy Land is the Moroccan-born Leon Azoulay, whose biblically inspired paintings incorporate texts from the Hebrew Scriptures.

With the festival now in its third year, Wendie Bernstein Lash, executive director of New Bridges, said, "The quality of the artwork that we received and accepted was exceptional this year…We get e-mails and calls from Israeli artists almost every day who have heard about our festival and want to be part of it."

Some artists are coming from closer to home, including the Danish-born Eva Strauss-Rosen of Hamsa Design Studios in Willits. In addition to the popular hand-shaped amulet, her designs in gold feature such Hebraic motifs as the Sh'ma, the pomegranate and the tree of life, including one that is upside down, because, according to midrashic legend, it has its roots in heaven.

Strauss-Rosen got involved in Judaica and jewelry after making aliyah in 1968. She enrolled in Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where she learned diamond-setting and other techniques that she continues to use.

"I loved studying the ancient texts," she said. "I didn't know Hebrew, but I learned pretty fast and am now fairly fluent in biblical Hebrew and can get along with conversational Hebrew."

Moving to Willits in 1984, she was introduced to the California Judaica arts scene by several other artists in the area and is now a member of the American Guild of Judaic Art.

Her pieces have a following among Jews of all levels of observance.

"When you write on a piece of jewelry, you learn what is accepted — what Reform Jews will buy, the Orthodox won't touch," she said, noting that Orthodox clients will not buy jewelry that contains human imagery, texts or acronyms of the name of God. One client recently said to her, "If I didn't know who you were and that you keep kosher and that none of your pieces are created on Shabbat, I probably would not have bought your work."

In addition to craft shows, her works, which range in price from about $95 to $2,000, are sold at such Judaica stores as Afikomen in Berkeley as well as The Source of Everything Jewish in Chicago. She also has a Web site —

Living in Willits — "I'm sort of secluded here" — she does everything herself, with many 10- to 12-hour workdays.

A mother of two sons, ages 31 and 16, she says what nourishes her are "nature and Torah study and family — that's what feeds my soul — and the pleasure of art."

Also taking his inspiration from the Bible, Jerusalem-born designer Ariel Dagan turned his interest in Jewish education into Ancient Ties, based in Worcester, Mass. At the fair, he will show handcrafted silk ties with such motifs as Jerusalem's Citadel of David and holy landmarks, the dove of peace, the menorah and the alef-bet. His gift package includes a hand-sculpted pot replicating those discovered at archaeological sites, together with a parchment describing the history of the design. Prices range from $35 without the pot, to $45.

The son of an Israeli-born father whose family "helped build the country" and an American-born mother, Dagan moved to Boston in 1989 to study at the Berklee College of Music. He began teaching Hebrew as well as music to kids, teaching in a Jewish day school for 11 years.

"I was looking for different ways to excite kids about who they are, their Jewish identity," he said. One of the things that kept coming up was that parents were noticing that their kids knew so much more about Jewish tradition than their parents.

Asking himself: "How do I get to the parents," his response was Judaica ties. "Ancient Ties is about adult education through the back door…It's about getting a little bit of information but causing you to want to learn more."

After two years with his business, Dagan has given up his day job to focus on Ancient Ties full time. He has a Web site — — and also sells at L'Chaim in Danville.

Beverly Eigner of Berkeley, who will also be at the fair, designs ties as well as table runners, aprons, challah covers and other Judaica items. A mother of two grown children and now a retired counselor from City College of San Francisco, Eigner began designing as a hobby.

"Ten years ago, I became interested in getting Judaica things for my household and none of the fabric companies made Judaica prints so I had a personal campaign." She approached companies "mostly in New York and many owned and operated by Jewish people themselves, and they told me that Jewish women don't sew. So I said, 'Well, there's a great number of Jewish women who would sew if you had the fabrics we could buy, especially for the holidays.'"

Today, they are buying, and she sells her designs at Jewish fairs, including the Chanukah fair at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, where she is a member, as well as at Afikomen.

A number of other California artists will also show their works, including silk painter Meryl Urdang of Menlo Park, who began by making a tallit for her daughter's bat mitzvah and now designs challah covers, silk-covered books and wall hangings. Another silk painter, Sulin Bell of Willits, creates scarves, pillows, chuppot, challah covers and wall hangings.

Ceramic artist Susan Duhan Felix of Berkeley, whose works are in the permanent collections of the Magnes Museum in Berkeley and the Skirball Museum in Los Angeles, pit-fires her work instead of painting or glazing them, to give them an ancient look. She creates ritual objects, such as wedding cups and blessing bowls.

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is writing a memoir on her late-life romance. She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].