The Sweetest Gifts


Celebrate the birthday of the world with sweetness and style, beautify ritual and spread good in the world.

Sarah Aroeste’s exquisite new CD of contemporary Ladino music, “Gracia,” features new music that she has written in Ladino, several with themes of return and hope that reflect the spirit of the holidays. Included is a stirring song about holding out hope, “Leon Ferido.” Inspired by a poem by the medieval scholar, poet and statesman Samuel HaNagid, the song is about a wounded lion and its last roar of courage. Her chorus begins, “At times of great fear, /Strengthen your heart./Even if you stand at death’s door./Remember: the lamp has light before it’s extinguished./The wounded lion still knows how to roar.”

$14. At music retailers, or visit for information about ordering.
Renee and Howard Vichinsky have been handcrafting Judaica for more than 32 years, making ceremonial objects that are beautiful and practical, in the spirit of “hiddur mitzvah,” beautifying the ritual. Their designs are simple and uncluttered, drawing inspiration from Renee’s memories of her childhood in Israel: the light, landscapes, history and traditions. Their work is featured in museum and private collections.

The “Shechayanu” plate might be used on Rosh HaShanah for serving new fruits, when the traditional blessing (“who brought us to this season”) is said, and also might be used on other special occasions.

In a different spirit, the yahrtzeit candle holder is meant to hold the small candle on Yom Kippur and other days. The ceramic holder is imprinted with the Hebrew saying from Proverbs, “The soul of man is the lamp of God,” in Hebrew. Its top is sculpted with a Jerusalem skyline, as the Vichinskys see that city as central to the Jewish soul.

Shechayanu plate, available in different glazes, $50.

Candle holder, $50. Available at local Judaica stores, or online,
Lily Carmen Osario of Comalpa, Guatemala, singlehandedly wove 123 talitot last year. As demand for her fair trade designs in blue, turquoise, wine and rainbow grew; she began training five women in a nearby village, Xetonox, in the Guatemalan Highlands to weave them in purple. The lightweight ivory cotton fabric is embroidered with colorful stripes and Mayan-inspired star shapes. The tallit has hand-tied fringes and does not include tzizit, which can be special ordered.

Set of tallit, hand-crocheted kipa and matching bag, $195 for 22 inches, $250 for 36 inches.

Record impressions, new inspirations, intentions for the New Year in a splendid silk-covered journal, handcrafted by Cambodia women artisans. By making and selling their handcrafted goods, the women — who might suffer from polio, or have been sexually exploited and trafficked, or were wounded by landmines left over from the war — are able to gain economic security, feed their families and send their children to school. The journal cover is available in two versions, silvery grey flowers against brown silk and black flowers on a red silk background.

Helen Nash revolutionized kosher cooking for home cooks and for generations of cookbook writers. Her first book, “Kosher Cuisine,” published in 1984, was the first cookbook to present contemporary, inventive cooking suitable for a kosher home. Her latest, “Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press), just published, features the uncomplicated but imaginative dishes she is known for, always with a touch of elegance and an eye toward good nutrition. Here, she mixes traditional and contemporary selections, incorporating ingredients newly available for kosher cooks. Her outstanding honey cake is fragrant with cinnamon and gloves. The cakes are easy to make and freeze well — and make great holiday gifts, along with a copy of “Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine.”

$35. At bookstores

Gary Rosenthal sculpts welded metals with fused glass to create mixed media decorative shofar stands for home use. Many shofar holders are purely functional, while these are created as art pieces to be displayed all year. Rosenthal first learned metalwork while growing up in Maryland, where he apprenticed to his father who worked fixing stoves. Later he learned to fuse glass from a noted glassmaker. Rosenthal likes to create art that tells stories: one of his shofar holders interprets the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac, central to the meaning of the shofar, with copper and brass flames. A smaller stand, in brass, steel and fused glass, represents Jonah and the whale, another biblical story associated with the holidays, read on Yom Kippur.

Sacrifice of Isaac, 36 inches tall, $2,400; Jonah, 12 inches tall, $125 (shofar sold separately)