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How it all began:

Judaica in a Yemenite village


In the early 1980s our family — Ronny, myself and our two young children, Yasha and Sunny — moved from Melbourne to live in Israel.

After spending over a year in an absorption centre for new immigrants, we still hadn’t made up our minds on where to settle. We were curious about how other ethnicities lived so we spent some time visiting various Indian, Moroccan and Yemenite communities along the 'Jerusalem corridor’. One day we found ourselves in a small quaint Yemenite village (called ‘Yishi’) half an hour's drive from Jerusalem. 

My eyes were wide open trying to absorb the scene around me… women wearing colourful scarves squatting next to large steaming tubs, plucking chickens. Kids of all ages playing games with sticks and stones, or riding their pet donkeys or sheep. Men gathered in small groups sipping coffee (gishr), chewing a leaf called gat, and nibbling on pumpkin seeds. 

This world was so different to the one we had left behind. As fascinating as it was, it felt a little too exotic for me, but we decided to stay for three months to give us time to think about our next move. In the beginning life in the village seemed surreal, but we quickly adjusted and thrived. Our temporary stay of a few months stretched into eight years.

Meanwhile we had to think about making a living. Ronny had had intended to start work as a GP in a nearby development town, but the job fell through due to government cutbacks. Now with some spare time he could focus on his hobby of drawing intricate patterns for Judaica artwork. (Before moving to Israel we had undertaken some commissions designing and painting marriage contracts for our friends).

We began to work together – Ronny, on the decorative designs bordering Biblical texts, and I, on the illustrations. In time, what began as a hobby developed into a full-blown Judaica business in Jerusalem with a team of artists that Ronny trained.

However, it wasn’t easy for me to realistically draw the characters from these Biblical scenes. Life-drawing had never been my strength. After many unsuccessful attempts, I suddenly realised that my low-key, easy-going neighbours could be my models. I dressed them up in beautiful robes I borrowed from Moroccan friends who lived in Beit Shemesh, a nearby development town. In a flash my neighbours were transformed into kings, princesses and villains. 

Next I needed backdrops for my illustrations, so we would all pile into my car and drive to various sites around Jerusalem - the Old City, the YMCA, Bedouin camps, Arab villages and ancient monasteries. 

The final artwork was painted on selected calf skins which were carefully sewn together to form scrolls, metres long. The completed piece was often set in ornately designed silver holders.

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

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