From the very first time Mark Rosenbaum saw a glass-blowing demonstration, the drama of it took hold of his senses and has not let go. I’ll never forget his telling me about the experience of discovering his artistic passion: “It was hot. It was loud. It was magic. And it found my heart.”
Mark is the newest addition to the Traditions Jewish Gifts lineup of talented artists producing fabulous Judaica that’s perfect for special life events like weddings and Jewish holidays like Passover. Gifts that come from Mark’s studio are truly one of a kind because there is no mold – just the molten materials, a fiery hot room and a very talented artist with a concept at the end of a glass blower’s hollow rod. As a result, every piece is original.
Another thing that makes his art unique is a new technique he’s created for a line of products we’ll be featuring in the Traditions Jewish Gifts online catalog. Here’s how it works: In the Jewish culture, we love to preserve our memories of special occasions. This practice has made the traditional, decorative mezuzah for storing memorabilia one of the most popular Jewish gifts that people buy.
But Mark takes the idea of the traditional mezuzah and “kicks it up a notch” by actually incorporating the treasured items into the art. So instead of making empty mezuzahs for weddings, for example, he works with special glass “jelly beans” (glass that’s resistant to high temperatures so it doesn’t melt) that the groom has stomped on. Then, through the magic of glass blowing, he creates paperweights or vases in which the shards are suspended in the blown glass.
Another thing unique about Mark’s work is that the place he creates it is just as hot, loud and magical as the art itself. A native of Connecticut, Mark opened the first glass-blowing studio in New Orleans – actually the first in Louisiana – after earning a master of fine arts degree from Tulane University. He operates from an old, 6,000-square-foot movie theater, where the front half is a beautiful, air-conditioned gallery, and the back is where the action is in his studio. You can take a virtual tour here.broken glass after the wedding ceremony, crushed wedding glass, Crushed Wedding Glass Mezuzah, glass mezuzah, groom, Jewish, Jewish Art, Jewish Culture, Jewish gift, Jewish Gifts, Jewish Holiday, Jewish holidays, Jewish Wedding
Re-posted From The Huffington Post
But they know that in the weeks leading up to Hanukkah, their quick and expert manipulation of glass, copper and steel is crucial to getting a truckload of Judaica out the workshop door each day and into the homes of Jews around the world.
The men — both 51 and both autistic — work for one of the biggest names in contemporary Jewish art. Gary Rosenthal sells his ritual objects, all handmade in his suburban Washington studio, in stores and online to Jewish families, schools and synagogues.
Work for the company’s 15 employees has been hectic lately. In time for Hanukkah, which begins on Saturday (Dec. 8), they labor to finish about 60 menorahs a day, along with other essentials of a Jewish home that are often given as gifts for the holiday: the mezuzahs that Jews are commanded to place on the doorposts of their homes, candleholders used every Friday for Shabbat, and the tzedakah boxes
for the collection of charity.
“Do they understand the religious meaning of what they’re making? I wish I could say yes,” Rosenthal said of his two autistic workmen. But that’s not really the point. “The work to them is meaningful. They enjoy process. The process to them is meaningful.”
Rosenthal, who belongs to a Reform synagogue, said he runs a Jewish business in two ways. Most obviously, he makes Jewish art, and follows the rabbinic teaching of “hiddur mitzvah.” “It’s the mitzvah (worthy deed) of beautifying Jewish ritual,” he said.
Then there’s his personal take on Judaism, which shapes his business model. It’s steeped in his love of Jewish art and a drive toward social action, which helped put Linder on the payroll nine years ago and Welsh four years later.
Linder, who lives in a group home and works at Rosenthal’s studio six hours a day, three days a week, spends much of his time there working the press brake, a machine into which he inserts a thin piece of metal which gets slammed into just the right shape for a tzedakah box.
He’s quiet and calm at this task, and there’s a rhythm to the bang of the machine. A non-autistic colleague who works close by knows Linder would prefer not to gab. A visitor’s questions set Linder pacing to calm himself.
When Linder is not making the tzedakah boxes, he weaves copper and other metals for the mezuzahs. It’s a close, repetitive craft, well suited to him, said Jackie Nah, a manager at Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children, the local social service agency that connected the two men with Rosenthal.
“If you know John, you can sit down with him and he can tell you how he feels. We know he enjoys his work because he tells us,” Nah said.
Welsh’s happiness at work is more obvious. He’s quick with a smile, and likes to lunch with his colleagues, often peppering them with questions — deep questions, said Suzanne Gartner, who is in charge of the glass studio.
“He asks if there’s a heaven — he lost both of his parents — and if people make fun of other people there or whether all people are treated equally,” Gartner said. “We always say’yes’” there’s a heaven, and no one gets teased.
In some ways, Rosenthal’s labyrinth of workrooms is a little bit of heaven for the autistic men who work there. Everyone takes the work seriously but is free to be themselves. Employees speak Spanish, Russian and English. They play Christmas songs on the radio if they like. A yappy poodle mix named Albee weaves his way through the art and the employees, incessantly demanding that someone throw him a ball.
Welsh came to Rosenthal’s studio quite shy five years ago, Gartner said. But the staff was patient with his questions, and responded gently to his social missteps. They respected his need for clear directions, uniformity and routine. Among other jobs, Welsh makes the vibrantly colored glasses — 60 a week — that grooms stomp on at the end of Jewish wedding ceremonies. Gartner occasionally drops one.
“He’ll come in the next day and the first thing he’ll notice is that there are 59. And he’ll tell me, and he’s very distressed,” said Gartner, who taught emotionally disturbed children before she came to work for Rosenthal.
When the goblets arrive at Welsh’s workbench, they are clear and stemmed. Paint must be applied to the glass’s interior surface evenly to get just the right effect. After they’re fired, he snips their stems with a diamond cutter, and they’re ready for a Jewish wedding.
Only Rosenthal, his mother, and one other employee in the shop are Jewish, but every employee’s spirit is infused in the art, Rosenthal said. A 59-year-old self-taught artisan with an MBA from University of Virginia, Rosenthal doesn’t do much artistic work himself these days, but presides over the business and what he calls “social ventures,” projects that he originally thought might make him some money by doing good.
“Actually, we lost quite a lot of money on them,” he said. “We’ve had to cut back.”
He weaves social action into the business model, sometimes serendipitously, and sometimes, quite purposefully. In the 1980s, when the former Soviet Union agreed to let hundreds of thousands of Jewish “refusniks” out of the country, Rosenthal put several of them to work.
On the first Hanukkah after Hurricane Katrina, he sold menorah-making kits to 20 synagogues around the country, had the congregants donate their work, and drove to New Orleans where he gifted the menorahs to 500 Jewish families and threw them a giant Hanukkah party.
A decade ago, a client suggested he take on autistic employees.
“We make art not just to make something,” Rosenthal said. “It is to bring people together.”Tags: blown glass Jewish gifts, Gary Rosenthal, Gary Rosenthal Art, Gary Rosenthal Collection, Gary Rosenthal Judaica Gifts, Gary Rosenthal menorah, huffington post, john linder
If I heard someone say they’re seeing things where they didn’t exist, depending on who it was, I’d probably either take their temperature or run the other way. But if Marcelle Rosenstrauch told me she was seeing something that wasn’t there, I’d definitely stay put to watch an amazing thing happen.
Marcelle has a knack for looking at an ordinary item – a tree, a doorknob, a chandelier, anything – and, in her mind’s eye, she sees a piece of art. Once she has a vision and lets her creativity flow, the results are always stunning. Her pieces might range from whimsical to elegant, ornate to earthy, or intricate to super simple, but they’re always gorgeous. You have to see them in the Traditions online catalog to appreciate just how unique and special her Judaica gifts are.
Marcelle is a native South African who began working in the diamond industry while in her 20s. She moved to the U.S. 30 years ago to keep her sons out of the South African army – a decision she never regretted.
When I first met Marcelle 10 years ago, she told me a story I’ve always remembered. At age 22, she was inspired by the beauty of particular yellow and white chandelier. So she turned around and made herself a ring of yellow and white diamonds that copied the chandelier’s design. Who but a true artist would think of something like that?
These days, Marcelle works from her design studio in Midtown Manhattan with an outstanding design team to create stunning, one-of-a-kind Judaica gifts. She’s always coming up with new design ideas, making them into samples and showing them to her friends and acquaintances to get their reactions. (Is there any better way to do a market survey?) Her menorahs are some of my favorites of the hundreds we sell, and no one tops her variety of dreidels – which is nice to know just before Hanukah.
If you’re looking for Hanukah gifts for family and friends, be sure to stop by the Traditions Jewish Gifts website and visit our online catalog for something unique from the Quest Collection. Each piece reflects Marcelle’s artist’s soul and is truly a thing of beauty.No tags for this post.
As owner of Traditions Jewish Gifts, I have absolutely the best job in the world. After all, what’s not to like about a career that lets me shop – and I mean shop a lot – to make my living?
When it comes to getting the right Hanukah gifts for Traditions Jewish Gift online catalog and store, I usually go a little bit crazy. With eight days of holiday gift-giving to prepare for, we try to get a wide variety of products in various price ranges to suit every taste and budget.
We talk to dozens of vendors and artists about their offerings, and we visit trade shows around the country. In a good year, we go to Israel to explore the kibbutzim and all the cities to find unique Jewish gifts not available from U.S. suppliers. These Hanukah gifts end up being really popular because people feel they have special meaning, and purchasing them supports an authentic Jewish enterprise.
Then too, I’m always on the lookout for new and unusual products to offer Traditions’ customers. We work with some of the most talented artists and creators of Judaica in the country. From menorahs to Jewish music and videos, and picture frames to tzedakah boxes, their creations are beautiful, one-of-a-kind, functional works of art that make great holiday gifts.
As a mom myself, I find it fun to select a big mix of children’s Hanukah gifts and toys. These choices are pretty easy because I only have to think of what my daughter would have liked at various stages of growing up. Anything hands-on and appealing – like arts and crafts or colorful toys – are usually a hit with both kids and parents.
Be sure to check out the Traditions Jewish Gifts online catalog, where you can choose from 11,000 different products – and find the right gift in the right price range. There’s even a nice selection of holiday gifts for the person who’s impossible to buy for. (Take heart, gift buyer, for you are not alone. We all have at least one of these people in our lives.)
If you’re still not sure about a holiday gift and need advice, give us a call at 1-800-493-0520. Our knowledgeable customer service reps will be happy to help.
When is the best time to shop for Hanukah? Right now! The earlier you place your order, the better to avoid rush shipping charges or a popular item being sold out. We suggest no later than mid- to late November.
After that, you can relax and appreciate the joys of a fun Jewish holiday season.No tags for this post.
Growing up, were you one of those kids who, at least once a summer, pestered your parents to let you have a camp-out in the backyard? The whole idea was so thrilling. After days of planning the big event, you’d spend the whole afternoon setting up the tent, gathering up sleeping bags and flashlights and buying junk food. (Did anyone think to ask about a weather report?)
The Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which literally means “booth”, is always a favorite with kids because it’s like a dream come true for the outdoor adventurer in them. Jews are actually directed to eat, sleep and say special blessings in a temporary outdoor structure for seven days. It’s how we commemorate God’s watching over the Jews during the forty years they wandered in the desert and lived in temporary shelters.
We take this directive from Leviticus 23:42, which says, “You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.”
Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur, one of the most solemn Jewish holy days of the year. It’s no wonder that Sukkot is referred to in our prayers as Z’man Simchateinu or Season of Rejoicing. This year it runs from sunset on September 30 to nightfall on October 7.
The first two days of the festival are a major holiday, and most forms of work are off limits. It’s also considered an autumn festival to celebrate the harvest – something like the American Thanksgiving.
I always know when Sukkot is close because the sukkahs (temporary shelters) start popping up on driveways in my neighborhood. Jewish tradition requires that the sukkah have two and a half sides made of a material that won’t blow away in the wind. The roofing, called sekhakh, must be made of something that grew in the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks or even lumber.
In some parts of the U.S., mostly the Northeast, Jews decorate their sukkah with dried corn and various squash to celebrate the fall season.
Daily during the seven days of Sukkot (except Shabbat), we take part in the observance of the “Four Kinds.” Leviticus 23:40 tells us, “On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows and you will rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.”
And so we’re to take four plants – an etrog (a citrus-like plant native to Israel), a palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. All but the etrog are bound together, and we say a blessing while waving the bundle east, south, west, north, up and down, to remind us that God is everywhere.
In the Traditions Jewish Gifts online catalog, you can find a wonderful children’s book, Celebrate, a Book of Jewish Holidays. You can make it a gift and read it to a special child in your life. It’s fun and interesting – and it sure beats a backyard camp-out.No tags for this post.