Crafting Jewish is good fun — for beginners only

With “Crafting Jewish,” Rivky Koenig may have assembled the equivalent to “The Joy of Cooking” for Jewish crafting.

Koenig leads the potential crafter through the holidays of the Jewish year, from Rosh Hashanah to Shavuot and everything in between, and offers the staples of holiday dishes and decorations with detailed guidance, making holiday decorating a foolproof process.

“Crafting Jewish” is an excellent resource for the novice crafter who wants an elegant final product but has no idea where to begin. But for experienced crafters, religious school educators or anyone who needs a little more chaos to jumpstart their creative flow, Koenig’s book provides too much structure and practically the same crafts as every other Jewish holiday crafting guide.

For beginning crafters, “Crafting Jewish” works for several reasons. For one, Koenig obviously has a knack for preventing mood-spoiling miscalculations about materials and time. The introduction shares a comprehensive and photographed list of the items in the “crafter’s tool belt,” and in each project Koenig communicates the details busy people need to know. Every project has a checklist of materials and time estimates — not just for the act of making the craft, but also for setup and drying time.

In addition, throughout her book Koenig includes interesting informational sidebars with tidbits on Jewish traditions, ranging from challah baking to dietary laws. The sidebars are a good educational jumping-off point for the supervising adult as they work with their children, and can help children link their crafts to the Jewish framework of the holiday.

Finally, “Crafting Jewish” is a simply a pleasure to flip through — it is a beautifully designed book with gorgeous color photographs taken by the talented Jennifer Levy. With a photo of the final product accompanying each set of directions, it’s not difficult to find some inspiration within the book’s pages.

But as beautiful as the book is, if you’re looking for new or innovative crafts, this isn’t quite the place. Just take a sampling of Koenig’s projects and the issue of repetitiveness become apparent: Rosh Hashanah cards, Simchat Torah flags and decorated mezuzah cases are all fun to make once in a while, but they are also regular — in fact, almost annual — projects at Jewish religious schools and summer camps. It’s very likely that most Jewish kids will have already made extremely similar crafts — and frankly, there are only so many doorposts needing mezuzahs.

Crafts can be a great way to give children hands-on exposure to holidays that sometimes feel abstract, but I would have appreciated Koenig taking the step beyond gifts, decorations, and holiday items into projects that could be used by children to learn about and enjoy the holiday’s history and customs. Koenig’s Makot Matching Game for Passover and mini sukkah for Sukkot are rare but welcome examples of projects that cross this bridge.

Koenig also relies heavily on paper-based craft projects, perhaps hoping to keep the process simple, but the results can be a little dull. Projects like the Havdallah candle and spice box that utilize some of the messy, goopy and fabulously kid-engaging materials like clay and beeswax are a welcome deviation from the book’s many scrapbook-like projects.

Even with the emphasis on paper crafts, the projects are too time consuming for religious school classes, as most require about an hour and are quite prep intensive, especially when working with younger children.

One place where “Crafting Jewish” shines is in Koenig’s recipes, especially her delicious-looking orange butternut squash kugel and the fruit flower centerpiece for Tu B’Shevat. They look delicious, fun to make in the kitchen with family and easy to eat — meaning the craft will be a fond memory, not just another tchotchke cluttering a shelf.

“Crafting Jewish” by Rivky Koenig (272 pages, Mesorah Publications, $29.99)