Judaica with a womans touch

When the Celebration of Craftswomen comes to San Francisco later this month, Jewish art collectors might be the ones doing the celebrating. Some of the participating artists specialize in contemporary Judaica and will have their work on display.

Staged as a benefit for the Women’s Building (a Mission District community center), the celebration brings together more than 300 artists representing diversity in every way, shape and form except one: gender. They’re all women.

One of them is Meryl Urdang, a local artist who creates handmade tallitot, challah covers, silk prints and more out of her Palo Alto studio. A professional artist for only three years, Urdang considers her acceptance into the Celebration of Craftswomen a coup.

“I want to create beautiful, meaningful and functional art,” she says, “to help celebrate the Jewish holidays and lifecycle events.”

Urdang made a midlife career change, from management consultant in the health care industry to artist. It all began when she “decided I was going to give myself a present: an art workshop at Esalen.”

There she tried her hand at silk painting, which gave her the idea to make a tallit for her daughter’s bat mitzvah.

One thing led to another, and for Urdang a whole new career path opened up. She developed her own method of silk painting under glass, and also revived the lost Jewish art of the kimpebrivl, a Yiddish term referring to a kind of silk bunting placed on the walls of the baby’s room. She adorns her kimpebrivl with words from the Psalms: “The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night.”

Urdang has shown her work at the To Life! Street Festival in Palo Alto as well as in galleries locally and in New Mexico.

Another Judaica artist taking part in the Celebration of Craftswomen isn’t even Jewish. Jami Miyamoto is an L.A. artist who works primarily with metals. Her specialty: handmade mezuzot.

Some of her pieces are traditional and sedate; others reflect a more funky SoCal style. Her work is sold in temple gift shops and even in the Jewish Museum in New York City.

“I’ve always been aware of Judaica,” says the Cal Arts alum from her Santa Monica studio. “All my girlfriends are Jewish.”

In addition to mezuzot, Miyamoto creates more lighthearted pieces like key chains and magnets adorned with assorted Yiddishisms: “Eat your kugel,” “No kvetching,” “Don’t touch my chachkas,” “Nosh often,” “Be a mensch” and for the surfer Jews of the world, “Shalom, dude.”

As for Urdang, she plans to expand her own line of Judaica to include chuppahs, table runners and more. “I’ve worked very hard at being able to produce things in a timely fashion,” she says, “and to make them affordable.”

Meanwhile Miyamoto forges ahead with her own form of Jewish art. Though some have wondered how a nice Japanese American girl ever got involved with the art form, she just laughs it off.

“I know more about Judaica than my Jewish friends,” she says. “I say to them, ‘Why am I explaining this you?'”

The Women’s Building Celebration of Craftswomen runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 19-20 and Nov. 26-27 at the Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason (at Buchanan Street and Marina Blvd.), S.F. Tickets: $6-$8, $14 for a two-day pass. Information: (510) 843-4233 or at www.womensbuilding.org.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.