Friday, 29 July 2016

Yonatan's Album

Yonatan's Mum, a regular customer and a dear friend of mine, told me months ahead of time that she wanted an album for her son's Bar Mitzvah. Yonatan's brother celebrated his Bar Mitzvah back in 2013 and Mum knew that she wanted an album for her second son as well.
Yonatan is mad about Chelsea FC, loves playing tennis, adores sushi, and Mum thought I should include his phone on the cover too.  She also liked the tefillin (phylacteries) that I had given his brother, and wanted me to show Yontan wearing them as well (Jewish men start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah).
I have shown spiky-haired Yonatan wearing his much loved Chelsea shirt, with a tennis racket in one hand and his phone in the other. He is wearing tefillin on his head, on his left arm, and the straps are hanging down over his shirt. (Tefillin consist of two leather boxes with parchment with biblical passages inside. The first one goes on your arm, the second on your head. A right-handed person, which Yonatan is, places tefillin on the left arm). There is a plate of sushi and some chopsticks to his side.
The green background box matched the colour scheme of the Bar Mitzvah celebration. (I'm going to give another well-deserved shout-out for the wonderfully talented Ruti of Designed by Ruti who created some incredible blue and green balloon centrepieces which the album matched perfectly!). Yonatan's name, the word Bar Mitzvah and the date of the Bar Mitzvah celebration are written in Hebrew. 
The album opens the Hebrew way, from right to left, and I added a black and white striped tallit (the large sheet-like fringed prayer shawl worn during the morning prayers) to each page and on the cover too. (Traditionally some boys begin wearing the tallit for the daily prayers from the age of Bar Mitzvah, whilst others wait till after marriage.)
On the first page of Yonatan's album I added some teeny-tiny sushi (yum!), then the next featured Chelsea's club badge and a football. Another page showed his earphones (just like on the card I made him when he turned 11) and the PlayStation console and controller (which also previously featured on his older brother's 14th birthday card!). Yonatan is a great illustrator and enjoys drawing cartoons like The Simpsons. For the next page I added some paper and pens and, with a little work on Photoshop, made sure that a Simpsons sketch was displayed on the top of the pile. Lastly, Yonatan loves dogs - all dogs - so the final embellished page in his album showed some cute little mutts. I had great fun creating them!
My lovely friend was delighted with the album and Yonatan loved it too. "I absolutely LOVE this! It's perfect!" she wrote to me. "You are so talented!"
It's not always the case, but I am so lucky to often have such enthusiastic customers!
And I made a card for Yonatan too, to match the colour scheme of his Bar Mitzvah celebration.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Beit Yellin

Motsa is a neighbourhood on the western edge of Jerusalem. It was established in 1854 and became the first Jewish farm to be founded outside the walls of the Old City. It was mentioned in the Talmud as the place where the residents of Jerusalem came to cut willow branches to be used during the Succot festival. Next to the Motsa synagogue stands the Yellin House, or Beit Yellin, the first house built in Motsa in 1890. We have driven past it many times, but recently Mister Handmade in Israel and I visited the house to learn more about its history.
Beit Yellin was built by Yehoshua Yellin, whose father and father-in-law had in 1860 together purchased the land from the Arabs of the nearby village of Qalunya. In 1890 Yellin built his private home behind the khan he had built in 1871 on the remains of a crusader building. The khan (an inn built around a central courtyard) was built for travellers en route between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It later became the synagogue. Yellin also planted a vineyard and a garden in the area, and produce began to grow, irrigated by a local spring and well (the spring is believed to be the spring mentioned in the Book of Joshua which is the border between the land of the tribe of Judah and that of the tribe of Benjamin). He also attempted to manufacture roofing tiles and purchased more lands to continue the settlement at Motsa. His was the first 'modern' Jewish agricultural settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
When Theodor Herzl visited Palestine in 1898, he passed through Motsa, which by then had a population of 200. Captivated by the landscape, he planted a cypress tree on the hill. Sadly during World War I it was cut down by the Turks who were levelling forests for firewood and supplies.
The khan served the community until Motsa was violently attacked in the Arab riots of 1929, after which the town was deserted for some years. In 1961, when the first families settled the lower area of Motsa, the khan became the town's synagogue, below. It has become well known because Tashlich prayers, held on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, are practiced there (all the sins are discarded into running waters of the spring behind the building). In 1973 the area next to the synagogue was excavated and remains from the Second Temple period were found. After many years of neglect, renovations were started in 2006 to return the Yellin House to the way it looked in the late 19th century. The house, a thick, two-story reconstructed building which is surrounded by orchards and ancient olive trees, a vineyard and a patch of rare wild plums, now tells the story of the Yellin family, as well as the history of the settlement at Motsa.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

60, 70, 80

A customer told me that her husband really likes my papercut cards (mine too!) so she was keen for me to make one for his recent 60th birthday. I based it on this design, cutting out the greeting by hand from white stock. I then lined it with a blue paper inlay.
Another customer's mum was soon to be celebrating her 70th birthday. I was asked to show mum, along with her four grandchildren and George the whippet, on the front of her birthday card. George has made an appearance on one of my cards previously, so I already knew that he had to be grey blue in colour. "Thank you very much for the gorgeous card" my customer messaged me. I hope George liked it too!
Finally, the birthday card below was made for a dad's upcoming 80th birthday. My customer wanted the card to say "Happy Birthday Oupa" (Oupa is an affectionate form of address for a grandfather or elderly man) and asked me to include an "80" on it. Her dad is a doctor, so she suggested that I show him wearing surgical scrubs. I gave him a stethoscope too. His interests include long-distance running (he apparently has many marathons under his belt), playing bridge and learning Yiddish, at one time the international language of Ashkenazi Jews (the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe and their descendants). Dad is also a great lover of history books and newspapers, and is an avid spectator of sports, especially South African cricket and rugby.
There was a lot to fit on one card but I managed to include everything. The badges are those of his favourite sports teams, and the tiny words are a random selection of Yiddish words.
My customer was delighted with the card and wrote to me when she received it and then again when Dad saw it:
"Hi Lisa,
Just collected the card at the post office. It is amazing!!! I had to stop two people on my way to the car to show them! I absolutely love it. It captures him so well. Thank you!"
"Hi Lisa,
I wanted to update you that the birthday card you made for my dad was loved by him and everyone else who has seen it. I arrived in South Africa today, on his birthday, and he was very impressed by all the intricate details.
It really is a beautiful personalised tribute, now displayed prominently on my parents coffee table.
Thanks again."
I love a happy customer.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Tomer's Album

Tomer is a keen West Ham United Football Club fan. The colour scheme at his Bar Mitzvah celebration was going to be all claret and sky blue, West Ham's home colours, so it was obvious that I should show him in a West Ham shirt on the cover of his Bar Mitzvah album too.
Tomer is wearing tefillin on his head and left arm (there is a widely accepted practice for Jewish boys to start wearing tefillin approximately thirty days prior to their Bar Mitzvah), and has a black chess piece in one hand and his red table tennis bat in the other. These items represent two of his favourite pastimes. A football is next to him, and the Doctor Who 1960's British Police Box behind him. (The Police Box that Doctor Who travels around in is really a Type 40 time and space machine from Gallifrey, his home planet. The time machine is called TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimension in Space.) There are gold Magen Davids in two corners of the cover and they are of course surrounded by the West Ham colours!
The album opens up the English way (Hebrew books open from right to left) but Tomer's name appears in both English and Hebrew, and the date of his Bar Mitzvah in Hebrew only.
Mum messaged me to tell me that "Tomer LOVES his album and [the matching] card. He declared them "siiiiick", which is apparently the highest form of praise that exists!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Hosmasa and Mikve Yisrael

Not long ago Mister Handmade in Israel and I spent the day in the nearby city of Holon. The city was founded on sand dunes six kilometres from Tel Aviv in 1935 (the name comes from the Hebrew word holon, meaning "(little) sand") and in the early months of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War was on the front line. Several historic landmarks have been preserved in Holon including the Derech Habitachon ("Security Road") paved during the Israeli War of Independence, water towers, The Pillbox guard post, and Hosmasa, a building used by the Haganah and our first port of call.
Hosmasa was built in 1934 in the International Style, also known as "Bauhaus", and served as a secret training base for Haganah members from Holon and the area. (The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organisation in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48), which became the core of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF)). Hosmasa was built over a well in a sandy and barren area, making it possible to have a training system hidden from the British, and was home to a guard and his family. Training was performed with weapons which were buried in the area and slicks (hiding places for weapons that were illegal during the British Mandate) in the well and the garden surrounding the building. Thousands of trainees came from Tel Aviv and central Israel to participate in the training of firearms, fortifications, radio, first aid, and courses in topography and more. During the War of Independence Hosmasa served as a station on the security road which connected Tel Aviv with the southern settlements and led to Jerusalem and the Negev. Convoys used it to transport supplies and equipment, food, weapons, ammunition and people to far off and besieged settlements.
Today the building houses a display on the Haganah in Holon before and during the War of Independence through photos, documents, objects and interactive presentations. A Davidka mortar, a homemade mortar used during the early stages of the war, above, which was first tested at Hosmasa, can be found in the garden, as well as slicks for hiding weapons and the Hosmasa well, dug deeper to become the neighbourhoods first source of water in the 1930’s and then also used as a slick.
The next place we visited was the restored buildings of the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School. Mikve Yisrael was founded in 1870 by Charles Netter, one of the founders of the French organisation Alliance Israelite Universelle, a Paris-based international Jewish organisation. He had visited Palestine in 1868 and felt it was an imperative to train Jewish residents of the country how to work the land. The country’s Ottoman Turkish rulers allocated 750 acres to Netter’s project. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild also contributed to the upkeep of the school. Netter gave the agricultural school the name Mikve Yisrael, where mikve means hope, and over the years Mikve Yisrael played an important role in the development of agriculture in the country.
The day we visited we stopped by the Mikve Yisrael synagogue (in the 19th century it was obvious that a Jewish school must have a synagogue), descended deep underground to the cool arched halls of the stone carved wine cellar, visited the reconstructed mechanical workshop in which the Davidka, the first Israeli mortar, was invented in 1948, then walked through the botanical gardens founded by Mikve Yisrael's principal, Eliyahu Krauzer, in 1924. Krauzer had two main goals when creating the gardens. He needed a testing ground for trees from all over the world in an effort to learn which could be adapted in Israel, and also wanted it to be a learning experience for the pupils. Krauzer collected Lebanese cedars, conifers, eucalyptus, strawberries, legumes and spices from different nurseries in Israel and abroad. It was also under Krauzer's leadership that the language of instruction at Mikve Yisrael was changed to Hebrew, after years of education in French. 
The Mikve Yisrael synagogue's main entrance is located directly across from a beautiful garden and a boulevard of palm trees. The trees lead to what was, for many years, the school’s gate. In 1898, Theodor Herzl, the visionary behind modern Zionism and the re-institution of a Jewish homeland, passed through the gate when he visited Mikve, prior to what he hoped would be a fruitful meeting with the powerful German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Unfortunately the German monarch withdrew his initial offer of support for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. It seems that he did not want to upset his allies, the Ottomans, or the Christians back home in Germany. There is a statue commemorating the meeting here between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II, showing the Kaiser and his horse sliced into two pieces – symbolising how Herzl cut through bureaucracy and red tape to get a Jewish state. Unfortunately we forgot to look for it on the day we visited!
Over the years, Mikve Israel not only educated tens of thousands of children but it also contributed to the underground efforts to establish a Jewish homeland. Teachers and students of the school were active members of the Haganah, which conducted training in the school's wine cellar and storerooms. A slik, bullets and exploding bricks were discovered in the largest underground chamber during restoration. It was here that young men and women were sworn into the Haganah, and their Bible, a gun and a copy of the oath are on display. The room, where all kinds of ceremonies are held today, also features a secret exit that would allow Haganah soldiers to escape during a British raid. The roots growing through the walls of the wine cellar give these underground chambers an air of mystery, which goes with the story of the young people sworn into the ranks of the Haganah here in pre-State days.
In the mechanical workshop in the school grounds, an underground weapons factory was established. David Leibovitz, a teacher at the school, was instrumental in developing new weapons for the Haganah. Grenades were produced, with the letters USA added, so that the British would assume that they were manufactured overseas. Leibovitz's most famous and important creation was the Davidka, the homemade Jewish mortar. Named after its builder, only a few of these weapons were produced.
Though not that many of the founders original goals were achieved at Mikve Yisrael, the school continued to develop Jewish settlement in Palestine and took part in the most dramatic chapters of Israel’s history. It acted as a base for the Haganah and became a home for waves of new immigrant children, particularly those who ran away from Western Europe just before the start of the Holocaust. To this day, though Mikve Yisrael was originally established as a secular school, the school educates Orthodox and non-Orthodox boys and girls. There are over 1,500 students at Mikve Yisrael and it is considered excellent in its region.