Amulets make their way from Beersheva to Bay Area

For years, Ann Karren Gitlis rose early on Thursday mornings with a specific destination in mind: the Bedouin marketplace near Beersheva in Israel's Negev. There she sifted through the many goods, choosing ancient coins and amulets that would later become the focus of an earring, necklace or bracelet.

"I so loved this market that I would take the 5 a.m. bus from Tel Aviv in order to be the first to sample and bargain for their magnificent wares," she recalled recently.

Gitlis' Nomadic Jewelry line has been featured at Xanadu, now in Menlo Park, and the Jewish Museum San Francisco's gift shop, as well as at the Jewish Museum New York and galleries in Santa Monica. She will be among some 40 local and Israeli artists and vendors who will offer an array of arts and crafts at "Israel in the Gardens" on Sunday, June 1 in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens.

Noting that her inspiration is the exotic style of the Bedouins, Gitlis recalled sitting on the ground, sorting through merchandise to find the authentic pieces she wanted. She searched through old clothing such as hats and dresses that were adorned with beads and coins, as well as old jewelry and collections of items.

"We of course became fast friends," she said of the vendors she dealt with each week. "Part of the fun was sharing their breakfast with them and telling stories about our families. Many of the Bedouin women knew some Hebrew, and I knew a smattering of Arabic, and so we were able to communicate.

"Sometimes I didn't have enough money to pay. I would leave a note and pay the next time."

Once, when the first intifada began, she was not able to get to the market for a year. "I had left a note with one of the women. When I went back a year later, she still had it, and I paid her."

For Gitlis, the festival is a re-entry of sorts into her trade. She lived in Israel for nearly 25 years, and three years ago, after the death of her husband, returned to the Bay Area to be near her grandchildren.

"My husband was involved with the Bedouin community and introduced me to it. After he died, I couldn't do it," she explained.

Gitlis' Nomadic Jewelry includes necklaces with amulets, earrings with dangling ancient Byzantine and Islamic coins along with beads. "Many of the beads were sold as amulets, with protective powers," she said. Inscribed coins, acquired as mementos, were also considered to have talismanic powers and to provide protection against the evil eye.

Though some of her work is quite expensive, she plans to bring more-affordable items to the festival. For example, a pair of earrings with beads and 100-year-old coins is marked at $45.

Gitlis will display amid a community of artists and local arts and crafts vendors. Among them:

*Galit Ashman, with colorful, whimsical wood decorative items for kids, created under her company name YofeeTofee.

*Daphne Lipton's cards, paintings and illustrated prayer books by artists she represents.

*Longime festival participant Fran Barrish of Petaluma, with framed and unframed original paintings, greeting cards and other items based on Judaic themes.

*Claire Leibowitz with silver, gold and 2,000-year-old Roman glass pieces from Israel.

*Leah Mazor, a Berkeley-based jewelry maker, whose collection includes soldered and "thread" jewelry, some with glass and stone.

*Yoram Gal, an Israeli painter, whose work includes watercolors on paper and mixed technique on canvas.

In addition, there will be displays from local Judaic book stores and gift shops including bob & bob and Afikomen, Kakadu wooden designs from Israel, Shendl's Candles and Ein Gedi skin products. Representatives from a number of Israeli galleries will ensure that everyone wishing to spend their "shekels" will have a wide variety of choices.