Vendors to replicate Jerusalem marketplace

Those who recall walking long swaths of SBC Park last year to get their Judaica shopping fix will welcome the change at this year’s “Israel in the Gardens.”

Organizers are replicating a Jerusalem marketplace at Shuk Yerushalyim, with vendors setting up shop on the upper level of Yerba Buena Gardens.

“In the past all those art vendors have kind of been mixed along with all the Jewish organization vendors and it’s kind of just been scattered,” says Amy Wittenberg, coordinator for the June 5 event celebrating Israel’s 57th anniversary. “This year we were trying to create this idea of a complete marketplace.”

More than 30 artists and vendors located in one spot will help create that feeling. Participants have to either be Israeli, or creators of wares that have a Jewish theme or are supporting a Jewish cause.

One group whose art is supporting a cause is the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ). Shoppers visiting its stall will be able to purchase traditional Ethiopian embroidery. Some 850 to 900 Jewish men and women from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the Gondar province have been enlisted to create such items as 14-by-14-inch pillows, matzah- and challah covers and tallitot.

“It takes over a month to do the sewing because there’s between 40,000 and 50,000 stitches in each one,” says NACOEJ board member Caryn Huberman Yacowitz about the embroidery.

Each piece depicts a biblical scene or some aspect of traditional Ethiopian Jewish life.

“The field of color is filled in with hundreds and hundreds of stitches so there is nothing blank. When you turn them over to the wrong side, you can see all these stitches and they’re just astounding. They’re like jewels.”

Huberman Yacowitz says that the proceeds from the embroideries go directly to the artisans, giving these Ethiopian families the “status of being able to feed themselves.”

Of course, many people will want to support the Israeli artisans, too. Adi Keshet will be representing her Israeli mother’s glass fusion designs, ranging in price from $25 to $60. Hadas Keshet makes mezzuzot, menorot and more from glass fused with metal.

“It’s a good combination,” the younger Keshet says. “The metal brings out more colors. You put inside of the glass blue, green, purple, yellow — all the colors God gave us.”

Another Israeli artisan, Eyal Rubichek, is doing the Israeli fair circuit, selling the handcrafted hamsa — hand-shaped amulets — he and his father, Shlomo, have been making for the past 15 years.

“My father was a carpenter. He had an artistic point of view, so one day he just said, ‘Why don’t I make these beautiful hamsa?’ The rest is history,” Rubichek says, laughing.

The hamsa, crafted of wood and decorated with stones, cost from about $3 to $100 each. The hamsa “are a kind of protector,” he says. “They protect your home and your family.”

Rubichek says the stones selected for each hamsa are significant. “Every stone has its meaning — for success, for love, for heath.”

Other vendors will be selling wares as varied as jewelry, books and tapes, food and clothes — both from Israel and from local favorites such as Jewish Fashion Conspiracy (purveyors

of the trendy “Yo Semite” clothes line).

Oakland artist Naomi Teplow, born in Israel, will be there with her ketubot, along with fellow Israeli-born San Franciscan Fanny Fish, whose jewelry is marked by an “ancient Mediterranean” influence. San Francisco artist Aimee Golant will bring her metal-crafted menorahs, and Santa Rosa artist Nina Bonas, who paints vibrant watercolors and cards with a Jewish theme, will also be on hand.

And food purveyor Irving Greisman will sell his kosher challah at the marketplace.

Wittenberg says the variety is intentional.

“It’s just outreach to people to be exposed to new types of art that you can’t just go into the store and buy. I didn’t want it to all to be a bunch of earrings on jewelry tables,” she adds.

Still, Wittenberg was selective. The bazaar, which will be located on the upper level above the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfall actually has a waiting list of vendors at this point. That’s something no one had to worry about last year at the ballpark.

“Simply put, we’re out of real estate,” Wittenberg says.