When shopping this year: Think locally, buy frugally

During these times of economic anguish, it is bound to be difficult for some Jews to get into the gift-giving spirit normally associated with the holiday season.

Buying stacks (upon stacks) of expensive Chanukah presents and colorful decorations is probably not going to feel like the proper thing to do this year.

However, Bay Area Judaica shop owners don’t seem overly concerned with the economic downturn — mainly because they are selling new Chanukah gifts at every price level.

For Ellen Bob, co-owner of bob and bob Fine Jewish Gifts in Los Altos, Chanukah has never been about spending grand amounts of cash on presents.

“I’m definitely concerned about the economy, but we’re expecting to have a good Chanukah,” she says, “People usually travel during this time, but this year they’ll be staying closer to home.”

She mentioned some gifts for Chanukah that aren’t very expensive — dreidels for less than $10, a set of four Chanukah mugs for $12 and a variety of new books ($6.99 to $29.99).

In keeping with the focus of staying at home, “Crafting Jewish” by Rivky Koening is shaping up as the standout book at bob and bob this year. Bob says that people are looking more toward traditional entertainment this year, so a book about crafting is a good idea for the whole family.

Bob says that when the books were unpacked from their shipping box recently, “every single staff person took one home.”

Dayenu, the Judaica gift shop inside the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, also has some gifts on the cheaper side.

Co-owner Eva-Lynne Lieber points to ceramic mugs — each with phrases such as “Wish” and “Believe” — that start at $5.

For an interesting and economical gift idea, Lieber suggests a folding menorah ($50 and up) that easily flips into year-round Shabbat candlestick holders. The store has the transformable menorahs in a variety of materials, including wood and sterling silver.

Lieber says she is aware of the financial strain on many families, but she says she has faith that people will want to buy beautiful, unique items for Chanukah.

“It will probably be a little calmer because the economy is bad,” she says of the holiday shopping “rush.” “But we have made sure we have beautiful things in all price ranges.”

One such item is, according to Lieber, a Dayenu exclusive: a Star of David kite ($39.95) created by the Big Wind Kite Factory in Hawaii. It could make a good gift for those families staying home in the windy Bay Area this year.

The Chanukah Box of Questions ($19.95) is another new item at Dayenu. The holiday party game is a circular box containing cards with conversation-starting questions on them, such as “What miracle have you experienced in your life?” and “What three values does your family cherish most?”

Sharon Gordon, manager of the Rodef Sholom Sisterhood Gift Shop in San Rafael, says her store has been aiming to keep a cap on the amount of merchandise it buys this year. The shop also is doing its best to stock affordable gifts.

“We know these are difficult times for people,” Gordon says. “Our merchandise is very moderately priced — we’re not looking to carry expensive items. We want fun things.”

Some of those “fun” items include the new “Chanukah Trivia Book” ($9) and holiday decorations such as silver and blue Star of David garlands.

For those looking for something a little off the beaten path for Chanukah, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco might be a good place to turn. Museum store director Kevin Grenon says that wallet-conscious shoppers are becoming more creative in their gift-giving ideas and that they’re thinking outside the box.

For those kinds of buyers, one interesting item might be a “Mensch” baseball ($28.95). The suede baseball, with the word “Mensch” embroidered in cream stitching on its cover, is not only handmade to professional standards, but it also comes in a gift box and rests atop a patch of green artificial turf.

In addition to this new take on baseball, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is also offering a new take on menorahs. The LED Motherboard Menorah ($26) is made entirely from a recycled circuit board, the kind most often found in personal computers. Grenon describes the battery-operated unit as a “fun, techie menorah” and says it has been a good seller at the store so far this holiday season.

Afikomen in Berkeley also has a different kind of menorah this year. New owner Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman, eagerly anticipating his first Chanukah season at the helm, says the store is carrying the new Fair Trade Menorah ($28) — a hand-painted menorah that depicts the scenes of daily life in El Salvador. The Jewish books and gifts store also has new glass and stone menorahs on display, Mahgel-Friedman says.

Nurit Sabadosh, owner of Alef-Bet Judaica in Los Gatos, has put many handcrafted menorahs and Judaica created by American and Israeli artists on his shelves this year.

One such artist is Gary Rosenthal, a sculptor for 30 years. The store has a variety of new Rosenthal pieces, including menorahs with ornate flower designs ($20 to $200). Sabadosh says her store is also featuring the menorahs and dreidels ($35 to $120) created by Israeli glass artist Itai Magar.

Thought she tries to purchase pieces in a variety of price ranges, Sabadosh says that some items, such as handcrafted menorahs, are more expensive than factory-made items.

“I don’t compromise quality,” she explains. “I stand behind my artists’ work.”

Chanukah: Where To Shop



www.afikomen.com (510) 655-1977

Alef-Bet Judaica

(Los Gatos)

www.alefbefjudaica.com (408) 370-1818

bob and bob

(Los Altos)

www.bobandbobjudaica.com (650) 947-7010

Contemporary Jewish Museum

(San Francisco)

www.thecjm.org (415) 655-7800

Dayenu Judaica

(San Francisco)

www.dayenu.com (415) 563-6563

Rodef Sholom Sisterhood Gift Shop

(San Rafael)

www.marinjcc.org (415) 444-8098