A ceramic hand-
washing set is the
work of artist Roberta
A 5 inch square mez-
zuzah combines brass,
copper, steel, lucite
and a handwritten
parchment, by Richard
people who were not the recipients of
heirlooms are receptive to the contem-
porary pieces. They go with their lifestyle."
Moreover — and the second reason —
"the whole crafts movement is on the as-
cent now because people always want
something unique in an age when things
are produced in multiples of millions. The
excitement comes from the fact that it is
a one-of-a-kind piece and cannot be created
exactly the same way again," she says.
Many people feel that in recent years,
there has been an "explosion" of creativi-
ty in Jewish crafts. Weiss views the situa-
tion differently — as a continuum of
creativity. "Perhaps there had been a
`darkening out' of Jewish creativity"
following the Holocaust and the devasta-
tion of Jewish culture in Europe, she says.
"We had become, I think, too nostalgic
about what was, so the production of new
forms almost stopped. So, yes, things are
different now, but I would like to see [the
changes] as part of the natural, continuous
process of change in Jewish life, something
that is normal" rather than extraordinary.
Examples of new materials and styles
are on view in the exhibit. They include a
pastel-colored, ceramic menorah; fabric--
covered doorpost mezzuzahs; a braided
silver Torah pointer; and an 11-piece
matching seder set with candlesticks, Eli-
j ah's cup, salt water dish and other items.
Other Judaica are a wood tzedakah box
shaped like a Prague, Czechoslovakia shul;
a painted birchwood challah tray with gold-
plated cast bronze legs; and hand-cut
crystal and silver doorpost mezzuzahs.
Hand-painted silk matzah and challah
covers have been contributed by Baltimore
artist Marlene Lesley.
"There are new design concepts and new
aesthetic approaches, but the function
remains the same," Weiss says of the
Judaica in the exhibit.
The background of many of the artisans
who create Judaica has changed. Now, a
sizeable number are professionally trained
artists who bring a high level of expertise
to the field, Weiss says. "The field has real-
ly risen from folk art to a fine art. That has
been going on in the crafts field in our
Professional training and a renewed in-
terest in his Jewish heritage makes
silversmith Fred Fenster of Chevy Chase,
Md., similar to many of the artists whose
work is displayed in the exhibit. Fenster,
who is known for his series of challices (the
wine cup used in Christian observances),
also designs kiddish cups.
"I had really felt that the level of design
(in Judaica) was not all that interesting,
and I became curious about the possi-
bilities," Fenster says of his transition to
Jewish ceremonial objects. In one series of
kiddish cups, he has folded the base of the
cup into a six-sided star.
"I try to design the form of the object
so that the structure is the design. What
you are touching is a three-dimensional
form so I don't have to apply decoration
to it." Most of his ceremonial pieces are
done in pewter, partly because it makes the
item more "inviting" and functional.
That philosophy coincides with the
overall purpose of the B'nai B'rith exhibit.
"We want to encourage people to use these
pieces," Altshuler says. That is one reason
many of the items in the exhibit are
available for purchase. Proceeds go to de-
fray the cost of the exhibit and for future
Prices range from $10 for a dreidl to
$16,000 for one of the menorahs. Some
pieces obviously are only within the realm
of collectors, synagogues or other institu-
tions, but others are accessible to the
"There is something wonderful about ex-
pressing your religious beliefs and your ar-
tistic tastes at the same time," Weiss says
of owning a ritual object. When the item
is not actually being used, it serves as a
piece of fine art. "People are putting the
ceremonial objects on display" Weiss says.
"They're not keeping them locked in their
In addition to encouraging the practice
of home ritual, the exhibit serves a purpose
simply by gathering so many Jewish
ceremonial pieces in one place at one time.
Altshuler says, "The idea is to open people's
eyes, for them to see new things."
"Or," says Weiss, "to see old things in
a new way."
Gaia Smith imagines a fanciful
scene with this multicolored clay
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS