Israeli Artists Heighten Simcha’s Meaning


Jerusalem — As bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrations have become more sophisticated and often more costly over the years, so too have many of the gifts. While many 12- and 13-year-olds continue to welcome pocketknives or a piece of jewelry, it’s not unusual for the celebrant to request an iPod or contributions toward a tablet or new computer.

Those wishing to give a more personalized gift with Jewish meaning have more to choose from than at any other time, but it’s still difficult to find items created specially with bar- and bat-mitzvah kids in mind. That’s started to change in Israel, where Judaica artisans have begun to design affordable items for this niche market.

Dvora Black, who works from a studio in her home near Jerusalem, creates multicolored bar- and bat-mitzvah photo frames with a dedication in Hebrew. For boys, a pair of tefillin, the tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Tree of Life are set against a Western Wall background.

For girls, the landscape of Jerusalem is surrounded by Israeli wild flowers and doves. Black also sells wall art blessings for Daughters or Sons that are also appropriate as gifts for newborns. Depending on their size, the items cost $35-$50 (

Black said she creatd the wall art “because I have children and always bless them on Friday night during Shabbat, and it’s the kind of thing I would want my child to receive. I made them for my own children and added them to my portfolio.”

While there are no gift-giving rules for bnai mitzvah, she acknowledged, “a bar- or bat-mitzvah is a special occasion. It’s not just another birthday.”

Yair Emanuel, a well-known Jerusalem Judaica artist, has created jewelry boxes for bat-mitzvah girls that range from $25 to $46. One is painted with Jerusalem-inspired themes; another features embroidery.

Emanuel also makes colorful wooden “yads,” or pointers used during Torah readings ($29).

Emanuel’s extensive line of hand-painted raw silk and other tallitot, though not specifically for bnei mitzvah, are very popular gifts in Israel and abroad. They range from $90 to just over $200.

The artist, who was raised in a “very religious home” but described himself as “moderately” religious now, said he began designing pastel or brightly colored tallitot for women more than 20 years ago.

“At the time there were not many women wearing tallitot, but that’s changed in the past 15 years or so. Most are progressive Jews who don’t want to wear tallitot designed for men,” Emanuel said.

Some of his female clients own several tallitot “to coordinate with their clothes. I have one customer with 17 different tallitot. For her, they are not only a ritual object but a fashion accessory.” (

Avi Moriah, a respected Israeli artist who has created two large murals for the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) as well as the “Moriah Passover Hagaddah” and Scrolls of Esther for individual collectors, among other projects, has designed a very special series of signed prints depicting scenes from the Parshat Hashavua, the Weekly Torah Portion.

His works, including landscapes, have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum of New York, the Skirball Museum of Los Angeles, the Israel Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as many others.

Moriah, who is currently creating an Illuminated Torah — he has completed Genesis and is half-way through Exodus — decided to design the 16-by-12-inch Weekly Portion panels seven years ago, both as works of art and educational tools.

The panels, which are being exhibited at the Park Avenue Synagogue on the Upper East Side throughout the winter, depict both images and textual excerpts from the weekly parsha.

“I thought it would be a way to help every child visualize the text. There are so many kids with ADD. I’m dyslexic and I suffered as a child. This way, the parsha means something to the kids.”

As with his other work, Moriah draws inspiration from the ancient cultures of the Middle East.

“Since in Jewish culture there was very little art done at the time, I look at art done around the Middle East during that period. If you look at the Book of Genesis, you see that the themes can also be found in different cultures, which isn’t surprising because there was a lot of interaction between the different traditions. I went to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, the Metropolitan Museum; I looked at the art of the Egyptians, the Assyrians and the Greeks.”

Given his focus on Judaic themes, many people assume Moriah is Orthodox.

“I am Jewish but I’m not religious,” he said. “I think the fact that I am not religious lends me much more freedom. I have no inhibitions about looking to other cultures.”

He is the first to admit that “it is very unusual to find a secular Israeli who delves into the texts,” but finds no conflict between his love of Jewish texts and lack of religious observance.

An established landscape artist, Moriah shifted gears at the start of the second Palestinian uprising, when he felt unsafe painting outdoors as bombs were exploding in much of the country.

Although many of Moriah’s pieces are of museum quality and costly, he has kept the price of the Weekly Torah Portion series relatively low (starting at $180 at “because it’s a bar- or bat-mitzvah gift. If I go overboard, it would defeat the purpose,” he said.