Thursday, November 6, 2008
REVIEW: Crafting Jewish, by Rivky Koenig
Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family, by Rivky Koenig. Published 2008 by ArtScroll. Crafts and Hobbies.
Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family is a lively, varied collection of craft ideas and recipes covering most Jewish holidays, following the Jewish calendar and taking the reader from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, through Shavuot, a springtime holiday celebrating the Ten Commandments, on to Shabbat, the weekly day of rest, and includes everyday crafts as well as recipes and ideas for bringing it all together in celebration.
Koenig, an educator by profession, explains each craft project and recipe clearly, and strives to keep things as simple as possible. There are no projects requiring dangerous tools and many can be done by young children (with adult supervision of course). Projects include things like pencil caddies, decorated clay pots, welcome signs, simple greeting cards, flags, no-sew pillows and even costumes.
Since it's autumn and I received the book around the time of the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot (or Festival of Booths, as it's also called), I decided to try out one of the projects for this holiday- I made a miniature, shoebox sukkah. The sukkah is an open-roofed dwelling meant to be lived in for the week-long holiday (although many families use it mainly for meals) and is meant to remind celebrants of the simple dwellings the Israelites lived in as they fled Egypt, and later, of the simple houses many Jews lived in as they farmed the young state of Israel.
I followed her instructions and materials list as closely as I could and my project came out almost exactly as pictured in the book (the mini sukkah above is the one I made). I made two slight changes though. The first change was a significant change in technique, and the second was a simple substitution of materials. Koenig advises the reader to use a bamboo place mat to mimic the sukkah's open roof; this idea is simple and perfectly appropriate for young children, but I decided to use a craft knife to actually cut openings in the roof. Since I had trouble finding the wood-grain contact paper she suggests, I used scrapbook paper instead. In any case, the resulting project was cute and got good reviews from the kids in my library when I put it out to decorate for the holiday.
There are other examples of projects for which a little adult know-how and creativity can yield more impressive or better-quality results- especially the many no-sew fabric projects, such as the pillows, the Purim puppets, the felt Torah and the Purim costumes. Koenig suggests using fabric glue to construct these projects and paint pens to decorate them, but a grownup (or teenager) with a sewing machine and some basic embroidery skills could deliver better, longer-lasting and fancier results.
However, on the whole I think Koenig does a great job of providing not only clear, easy-to-follow instructions for each project, but some really useful information at the beginning of the book on materials. She includes four concise sections covering basic craft supplies and tools, different kinds of glues and adhesives (very useful!) and basic kitchen supplies- in other words, she gives readers a great guide on how to assemble a basic crafting pantry. I'm a fairly experienced crafter and found these sections extremely informative and handy. The book itself is beautifully printed and bound in hardcover, with lovely full-color photographs of every project and recipe, making it fun to page through and just enjoy.
Given that most mainstream publications that bother to feature Jewish crafts at all tend to concentrate on Hanukkah and tend to limit their offerings to (in my opinion) rather uninspired and predictable renditions of dreidels and menorahs, I think Crafting Jewish would be a very valuable addition to any Jewish household with children and/or crafty adults. (I know I plan on using my copy as a resource for my job in a temple library.) Koenig covers all of the religious holidays, includes both Hebrew and English text elements where appropriate, and provides a really inspiring variety of projects and ideas. Kids and adults alike will have a lot of fun with this terrific book.