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Judaica in a Yemenite village

In the early 1980s, I moved to Israel with my husband Ronny and our two young children.

After spending a year and a half in an absorption centre, we were still unsure where to live. One day we found ourselves driving through a backwaters Yemenite village, half an hour outside Jerusalem.

My eyes were wide open trying to absorb everything – the women in their front gardens, wearing colourful scarves and squatting next to large tubs while plucking chickens. Kids of all ages playing games with sticks and stones or riding their pet donkeys or sheep. Men gathered in groups sipping Turkish coffee, chewing a leaf called gat, and nibbling on pumpkin seeds. How different this world was to the one I had left behind.

My husband and I decided to stay in this village for a few months. At least then we would have some time to think about our next move.

 

At first life seemed very surreal, but soon it became very comfortable and normal, and the initial few months stretched into eight years.

Meanwhile we had to think about making a living. Ronny, a doctor, had intended to start work in a development town, but his job fell through due to government cutbacks. His hobby had always been drawing intricate designs on graph paper. I was an artist and enjoyed illustrating. Before moving to Israel, we had dabbled in designing and painting marriage contracts for our friends.

Meanwhile, we started working together – Ronny, on the decorative illumination, and I, on the illustrations for the five Biblical scrolls. What started as a hobby developed into a full-blown business.

Illustrating these scrolls was daunting. I wasn’t sure how to go about painting all the people in the Biblical scenes. Then I realised that I was living in the perfect environment – my low-key, easy-going neighbours would be the perfect models.

Slowly I transformed them into kings, princesses and villains, and dragged them to historical sites around Jerusalem. These sites, such as the Old City, the YMCA, Bedoin camps, Arab villages and ancient monasteries became the backdrops for my paintings.

I dressed our neighbours in beautiful robes that I borrowed from Moroccan friends in the nearby development town, Beit Shemesh.

Ronny and I painted the Judaica on goatskin, which was then carefully sewn together to form scrolls that were metres long. The finished work was often set in ornately designed silver holders.

Here is a collection of some of the work we made over the years.

Behind the Scenes in Moshav Yishi
Ketubot/Marriage Contracts
Blessings
Scrolls/Megillot
Mizrachim
The Shabbat Birkon
Passover Haggadah
Births/Birthdays/Celebrations
Bar/Bat Mitsvas
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