Thursday, 18 December 2014

Spinning the Dreidel

On Tuesday night we lit the first candle on our Chanukiah, sang the traditional Maoz Tzur ("Rock of Ages") song, and ate sufganiyot (doughnuts) to celebrate the first night of Chanukah. The holiday celebrates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days when a small group of Jews called Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Greek Syrians. Because Chanukah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and jam-filled doughnuts.
The eight-day holiday, also known as The Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting one candle on the Chanukiah (a nine-branched candelabra). Each day an additional candle is lit. After lighting the candles it is traditional to give gifts and my kids will receive a small package each night. Mister Handmade in Israel might even get something too!
It is also traditional to play a game called dreidel (a Yiddish word that comes from the German word "drehen," which means “to turn.” In Hebrew the dreidel is called a sevivon). The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The four letters allude to the miracle of Chanukah. They spell out: Nes (נ-miracle), Gadol (ג-great), Haya (ה-happened) and Po (פ-here, meaning in Israel). Outside of Israel the letter ש-there, replaces the פ.
Image: Twitter Birds Chanukiah by the Israeli painter and sculptor David Gersteina favourite of mine!

My Chanukah cards this year featured the dreidel, along with some colourful presents and a shiny Magen David (Star of David). The Hebrew letter Shin (ש) appears on the dreidels since these particular cards were sent to a shop in the UK. The miracle of the oil refers to the miracle that happened sham (there), in Israel, and not in the UK.
To those of you celebrating this fun festival, I wish you a Chanukah Sameach - a Happy Chanukah. May this year be filled with light... and many delicious fried foods. Apparently Israelis devour some 24 million sufganiyot during the eight-day holiday – adding up to 10.8 billion calories!

Monday, 15 December 2014

♫ Let It Go ♫

In the midst of all the wedding planning Nomi asked me to make some cards for her nephew and niece in Australia, as she does every year. I was very impressed that she was able to think about it, and not only that, she even managed to find out what their current most favourite things are, so that I could create a card around them.
Her nephew, Coby, the eldest, was going to be 7. He loves Star Wars Lego, playing Australian rules football and messing around on an iPad.
His sister Orly was 6. She enjoys jazz dancing, loves to read and write, and is a big fan of Barbie, Lalaloopsy Dolls and Elsa from the film Frozen. Apparently she and her brother like to sing the songs from the film over and over again. Okay, so my own boys are no longer 6 years old and they never had a Barbie doll anyway, but thank goodness for the Internet! I was able to look up what all these different dolls were and work them in to the design of Orly's card.
Finally, another customer asked me for a card for a 2 year old. Cupcakes and balloons always fit the bill when it comes to birthdays, and two of each item made this card perfect for a soon-to-be 2 year old!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Wedding Card

I think you've probably figured out by now that I have discovered a new found love of papercutting. Yes, I've been cutting paper for years and I still love working the way that I do, but when I say papercutting, I mean the traditional art of cutting paper designs from one sheet of paper.
Papercutting has in fact been a common Jewish art form since the Middle Ages, connected with various customs and ceremonies, and associated with holidays and family life. Paper cuts often decorated ketubot (marriage contracts), Mizrahs, and adorned ornaments used on festive occasions such as Shabbat and Passover. These types of papercuts often used symmetrical designs featuring traditional Jewish words and symbols.
As those of you who read my blog regularly already know, my good friend Nomi recently got married to the love of her life, Adam. I created all the stationery for their wedding and knew that a really special handmade card had to complete the package. Given that I had already done a paper portrait of the couple, which I believe they intend to frame and hang on a wall in their home, I needed to come up with something different. A traditional papercut it was!
This papercut is based on a design by Angie Pickman, also known as Rural Pearl. On the Rural Pearl blog Angie encourages you to add in your own details, so I decided to include the names of the bride and groom inside the heart, and also to add another heart with a lovely bright red infill. The blue backing paper matches the colour of the wedding stationery, which was in turn based on the groom's tie!
I know that Nomi loved the card. She told me that she intends to get it framed too, along with the artwork I created for the invitation. Their home will soon be filled with Handmade in Israel pieces. I hope they consider that a good thing!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Nomi and Adam - Part II

I showed you the artwork in my last post and explained the different features in the image. I thought it would also be good to show you how everything came together for my friends' wedding stationery. I had invitations, thank you cards and Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) booklets printed for the couple. Everything had my papercut illustration of them on the front, along with the handcut lettering - Nomi and Adam's Wedding - in both English and Hebrew. Though printed, the illustration kept its three-dimensional papercrafted look pretty well.
My friends were very pleased with everything and wrote the most wonderful recommendation for my services:
"Lisa did a wonderful job with our wedding invitations, table stationery and thank you cards. She made great efforts to ensure that her design was personalized and her great attention to detail ensured that we got exactly what we wanted. She also made some very helpful suggestions and recommendations that made the finish of her creations perfect. Additionally, we couldn't have asked for more efficiency from Lisa in dealing with the printing and delivery. It was a pleasure to work with her and we were delighted with the results."
Of course I took pictures on the day of the wedding and posted them on Facebook for the bride, groom, and all their friends to see. One lovely guest sent me the following message:
"Great pics! And your design of all the wedding invites etc. were just truly incredible! You are very talented!"
I am delighted that not only did the couple love their wedding stationery; it seems that their guests did too.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Nomi and Adam - Part I

I came to live in Israel almost 20 years ago. I came alone (I met Mister Handmade in Israel here) and decided to study at an ulpan (an institute or school for the intensive study of Hebrew; the Hebrew word means studio or teaching, instruction). I hoped to learn Hebrew and to make some good friends. On my first day there I had to find a roommate. Nomi, who is from Australia, was next to me in the office queue. We decided that we liked the look of one another enough to share a room! Twenty years later we are still good friends. We have been through good times and bad. She travelled all the way to the UK for my wedding, and we have both hugged each other and cried on each others shoulders when we both lost parents in very similar circumstances. Twenty years is a long time!
Last summer Nomi excitedly called me to tell me that she was getting married! (Yeah, she took her time!). I really wanted to be involved and help her as much as I could and so, when she emailed me and said that she and her husband-to-be, Adam, were deciding on invitations, of course I agreed to work on them. My own son's Bar Mitzvah invitation was still on Nomi's fridge door and she said that it just jumped out at her. She and Adam wanted something similar.
Nomi and Adam requested a picture of themselves on their invitation. They wanted to show the bride in her wedding dress, next to the groom in his wedding suit. They shared a lot of "secret" information with me before their big day, so I knew that the groom would be wearing a dark blue single breasted suit with a white shirt and a sky blue tie. He wanted a white flower in the button hole of the left lapel of his jacket. They wanted the bride to be holding a round bouquet of pink flowers and suggested that I show her beautiful engagement ring too. Unfortunately that got hidden by the flowers in my illustration, but they forgave me for that.
We discussed the fact that both the bride and groom are roughly the same height. I tried to capture the "quiff" of Adam's hair, and his slightly ginger facial hair. I matched his blue eyes to her brown. Nomi's hair is curly. I was told that she would be wearing it down on the big day, and that she would have a shoulder length veil and a sleeveless dress. Now, you can see from the photograph of the lovely couple that I didn't get those thing exactly right, but a white wedding dress was deemed close enough.
When Nomi met Adam she also met Niv. Niv is a big black Labrador mix and is very much part of the family. They definitely wanted me to include him on the invitation. We discussed Niv's shape (apparently I flattered him), the colour of his eyes, and his brown collar and silver metal tag in the shape of a bone. He ended up looking very handsome on the wedding invitation.
As I have already mentioned, Nomi is from Australia. Adam is from the UK. So, whilst Nomi is holding her bouquet of flowers, Adam can be seen waving a Union Jack and an Australian flag. Theirs was a real Commonwealth union!
When Adam received my initial sketch he wrote "This is really lovely. It made me smile from ear to ear." A great start! I am going to show you all the wedding stationery in my next post, but I can tell you that they loved their invitations, created from this artwork. They were thrilled with my attention to detail, and were very excited to be sending them out. "Thank you for everything you've done." Adam wrote. "You've already made the day special and I love that your fabulous work is such a part of our wedding."

Monday, 1 December 2014

Nail Polish, Lip Gloss and a Cup of Tea

Ella is another person who receives Handmade in Israel birthday cards every year. Her Mum recently told me that my cards have become part of their family's birthday traditions, and that they couldn't have a birthday without them. I like that! This year Mum asked me to make a card with a picture of her daughter on it. The theme was to be nail polish, lip gloss and general girliness, and she asked me to create the card in Ella's favourite colours of turquoise, purple and pink.
Galia's birthday present this year was a trip to England and Prague (lucky her!), so her Mum asked if I could create a card with something symbolic from both countries on it. My immediate thoughts for England were of course tea! I crafted a teeny-tiny teapot, cup and saucer. I have never been to Prague (it is most definitely on my bucket list) but have heard enough to know that it is a beautiful place full of historic buildings. I added a silhouette of one of Prague's buildings to my design. Clipart of each city, plus a few flowers and a heart, completed the card.
Finally, this Hebrew card was created for a young lady. There were no special requests for this one. Just something pretty!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Enot Tsukim

Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve or En Fashkha, as it is also known (Fashkha means split or broken), is the lowest nature reserve in the world. Located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, it is named for the En Fashkha spring, a spring of brackish water (semi-salty water) in the area. The source of the spring water in the reserve is rain water that falls on the Judean Mountain range which seeps downward and emerges in the area of the nature reserve. This water is rich in minerals and gets some of its saline content due to the close proximity to the Dead Sea.
Enot Tsukim Nature Reserve is divided into three areas: the northern "closed reserve", which is completely closed to visitors, except for scientists, to protect the native flora and fauna; the central "visitors reserve" which contains wading and swimming pools filled by natural spring water; and the southern "hidden reserve", which can be visited only on tours guided by Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) guides. The central "visitors reserve" also contains an archaeological site from the Second Temple period.
We visited the nature reserve during Chol HaMoed Sukkot and, though crowded, we found it to be a really great place to spend the day. We started off by taking a walk around the "visitors reserve", enjoying the wading pools, all fed by a natural spring which keeps the water temperature down, and the stream that sits among shaded bamboo trees. Enot Tsukim has over 150 springs, of varying degrees of saltiness. These springs provide for the variety of fauna and flora which can be found in the reserve. The fauna include jackals, wolves, foxes, hyenas and leopards. The flora include date palm trees, reeds, bulrushes and tamarisk trees, though none of the trees were planted here. Instead, rangers assume that they stand where date-loving jackals and birds left droppings full of date seeds. We then took a break at the large picnic area, where we barbecued and the kids swam in the "deep" Date Pool.
We had booked ourselves on to the 3pm tour of the "hidden reserve". Our guide took us to the first station, the archaeological site En Fashkha. From diggings in the site – the first one in 1958, and after that in 2001 – it seems that this was an agricultural farm that began in the first century B.C.E. There are the remains of a house, a yard for raising sheep and goats, and an industrial zone with water canals, water reservoir, covered spaces including storage bins and a ritual bath. Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who completed his excavation of the area in 2001, believes that balsam perfume (known in the Talmud as shemen afarsemon) was produced on this farm.
We continued with the tour, entering the "hidden reserve" through a locked gate, then following a path, thick with vegetation, past flowing tributaries, pools that fill up from spring water and which are home to a unique population of St. Peter’s fish, and past signs marking the level of the Dead Sea in different years (the last being 1991). Sadly, the Dead Sea has been steadily shrinking for decades and, if the sea level continues to shrink this way, it will take around 40 years until the Dead Sea will be smaller than the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The fall in sea level can be explained by a few reasons: evaporation due to heat, scarce input of external water, and the Dead Sea Works water pumping that use the Dead Sea for production of potash.
Our guide showed us a nest built by a Dead Sea sparrow, and pointed out the Sodom Apple plant, a flowering plant of northern Africa which bears poisonous fruit, above. We even saw one of the elusive donkeys which live in the reserve, brought in 20 years ago to control the growth of common reed that overruns other plants.
At the end of the tour, the kids went back for another dip in the pool. They had enjoyed a great day out, and I'd managed to squeeze in an "educational tour" without them really noticing!
An historical aside, Ein Fashkha provided excellent cover for 32 Palmah troops on the Night of the Bridges in June 1946. In an action meant to cut Palestine off from the surrounding Arab countries, Palmahniks blew up the Allenby Bridge, over the Jordan River. Eleven bridges altogether were destroyed during the operation, part of a protest against the British policy of strangling Jewish immigration. After the blast, which was executed under heavy fire, Palmah soldiers managed to reach Ein Fashkha and hide out in the oasis’s wild brush.
Ein Fashkha fell into Israeli hands during the Six Day War. Recognizing its unique and special qualities, Israeli authorities declared it an official nature reserve and renamed it Enot Tsukim (Cliff Springs).
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