Mezuzot at the ballpark

What can you buy at SBC Park? A black-and-orange windbreaker? A poster of Barry Bonds? A Giants teddy bear?

Think again.

How about hand-dyed silk tallitot and wearable art? Mezuzah cases in stained glass or metal? Hand-painted wooden housewares? One-of-a-kind jewelry? Books and music from Steimatzky, Israel’s largest publisher/bookseller?

At the ballpark? Well, yes.

SBC Park will become a Judaica bazaar on Sunday, June 6, when more than 30 artists and vendors from the United States and Israel show their wares at “Israel in the Ballpark.”

“We looked for craftspeople that create interesting, unique Israeli and Jewish items,” said Caron Tabb, director of the festival. “It makes shopping a whole new experience.”

Among the designers is Rémy Pessah, a Los Altos process engineer and chemist who turned her talent to fashion and fabric art when the Silicon Valley bubble burst. The Egyptian-born designer now creates hand-dyed and hand-painted silk blouses, tallitot and scarves in rich colors, and surprisingly affordable prices. Many are sold in local boutiques, where they’re priced at $50 and up, and through her Web site,

“Many people tell me, ‘You are very much underpriced.’ I need some mentoring in pricing,” she laughed.

Pessah, who describes herself as specializing in color, has no regrets about switching from engineering to fashion. “I love it. I absolutely love it,” she said in a French accent, her first language. “I think I’m enjoying so much what I’m doing right now that I don’t want to go back to engineering. But I use my engineering background in drafting and my chemistry in the dying.”

Sandi Katz, a mezuzah-case designer who moved from Walnut Creek to Boca Raton, Fla., about a year ago, will also be showing her works, which combine jewel-toned dichroic and transparent glass that allow a peek into the mezuzah scroll underneath.

Her works include an all-white wedding motif, another in blue and white and one in rainbow colors. Some are encased in crepelike wraps. Her mosaiclike “Shalom” design, which combines stained-glass colors with clear glass, was a happy accident — as was her decision to become a mezuzah-case designer. Her former day job was at a Contra Costa County casino, dealing poker and blackjack.

“I took some classes and was making 2-inch tiles. I had a piece of glass left over, which I stained at the kitchen counter — it looked like a mezuzah. It was like God was speaking to me. I just knew in my heart, at that precise moment, that was what I was meant to do,” she said in a phone interview.

“Here I was. What is a nice Jewish girl doing dealing poker in a casino and making mezuzahs at night?”

The transparent case, her signature, was also an accident. “I didn’t go into the kiln with the idea that it would it turn out that way,” she added.

“I never know what I’m going to end up doing. I see two or three colors laying together and say, ‘Wow, those are pretty.’ I love doing that.”

A year ago, while showing her designs in Florida, she decided on a whim to look for a house, found one, quit her day job and moved. Now she devotes full time to her craft. Most of her works sell for $65 on her Web site,

San Francisco artist Aimee Golant also designs mezuzah cases, as well as chanukiot and jewelry featuring the letter shin, but Golant works in metal, and some of her work reflects her heritage as the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors. She launched her career in 1998, after graduating from San Francisco State.

A replica of her “Barbed Wire Mezuzah,” the first mezuzah case she ever designed, was carried into space with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon on his ill-fated mission two years ago. Another, work, inspired by that space flight, is titled “Hope is a Mezuzah.” “Ascendance: A Talisman of Peace,” designed for a private client, is meant to be removed from the wall, hand held, or placed in front of the client while in a state of meditation, and then returned to the doorpost.

Her work, which is sold at local Judaica stores, has been featured in a number of area exhibits, including “Bittersweet Legacy: Creative Response to the Holocaust” at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and on her Web site, It is also on display at the Jewish Museum in New York.

Like Katz, her journey into mezuzah-making was accidental. A sociology major, she said she “wandered into the jewelry-making class at San Francisco State to ask about resale licenses, because I was making beaded jewelry and had a lot of experience with wood in high school.

“Upon asking questions, I knew I had to take the class. And as soon as I sat down for the first time to work with metal, I knew this was something I was going to do. It was almost as if I had done it before. My grandfather was a tool and die-maker and a machinist, a Holocaust survivor. He began giving me his tools — at which point I had an epiphany, got totally inspired and made my first mezuzah, the ‘Barbed Wire Mezuzah.'”

A decade later, Golant continues to focus on Judaica, recalling that from the beginning, “How moved I was to work with metal with my grandfather’s tools, and knowing he has survived, and cause I came from a Holocaust family, I spent a lot of time wondering if there was a God. Their experiences challenged my faith. I was inspired.”

Her prices range from $30 for some jewelry to more than $7,000 for custom works, with many of her best-selling mezuzah cases in the $50 range. Every mezuzah case comes with a tag that explains the Sh’ma and the Ve’ahavta prayer. “I often sell to people who aren’t Jewish. I explain the beautiful tradition and hope it will be something that can benefit all people.”

In addition to the works of these artists and a number of Israelis, including jewelry designer Ruth Doron, hamsa artist Bella Cohen of NBC Judaica and wood artisans Kakadu, the fair will feature a number of popular vendors. Among them: 2 Jewish Cowgirls will showcase “hip duds for Jew-folk and the best durn Judaica in the West,” including novelty T-shirts.

And if you’re looking for something inexpensive — say, a cap with Hebrew lettering, a poster, a chachka or beauty products made with Dead Sea salts — you’ll certainly be able to find them. It’s a whole new ballgame.

Israel in the Ballpark

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].