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Book Review: Crafting Jewish by Rivky Koenig

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Chanukah is the Jewish festival of light that commemorates the miraculous victory of the oppressed Jews of ancient Israel over the powerful Syrian-Greeks and their ruthless king Antiochus.  Tradition tells us that after the victory, needing to rekindle the damaged candelabra (menorah) in the Holy Temple, the Jews had but a small cruse of oil — only enough to last one day.  Miraculously, the small bit of sanctified olive oil lasted eight days. 

Whether you consider the true miracle of Chanukah to be miracle of the oil or the miracle of a small group of oppressed people leading a victorious rebellion against impossible odds it up to you, but without a doubt, this (albeit minor) holiday is one of the most universally celebrated of all the Jewish holidays in the United States. 

With Chanukah on the horizon (it begins December 21 at sundown), Artscroll Press has just released a wonderful family craft and holiday book that will take you through not only the holiday of Hanukkah, but the entire Jewish year.

Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family, written by educator and crafting maven Rivky Koenig and illustrated by food photographer Jennifer Levy, includes several edible efforts appropriate for the holiday, including recipes for potato latkes (traditional olive-oil fried potato pancakes) and sufganiot (fried jelly donuts, which are a traditional Chanukah treat in Israel). 

But the heart of the book is really the numerous creative crafting ideas –from the very simple to those elaborate enough to engage an expert crafter. These employ a variety of simple techniques, including stamping, painting, gluing, decoupage and antiquing.  While many are do-able for young children with adult assistance, the simple instructions make them inviting for people of all ages.  Each project includes a materials list (with check offs) and step-by-step instructions even a novice can easily follow.

In addition to craft ideas and recipes, Koenig includes entertaining suggestions for each holiday, such as her pre-Rosh Hashanah “Make and Take” for the Jewish New Year.

The Chanukah section contains two projects for creating homemade chanukiot (also called Chanuka menorahs, or candelabras).  One creates a beautiful oil-lit glass chanukia.  The other presents a suitable for children (with assistance) utilizing children’s wooden building blocks set upon a slim wooden slat and some acrylic paint. This fun Sunday-afternoon type family project creates a precious heirloom that can involve the entire family and last for generations to come.

Another great seasonal project (and one designed to keep pesky waxy blobs from dripping candles OFF the dining room table) is a lovely Chanukah menorah drip tray (shown illustrated to the right).  And if you’re looking ahead to Tu B’shevat (which comes along at the end of January), Crafting Jewish has great ideas for that holiday as well.  

The book also includes extensive advice on material selection, resources and usage, as well as a short explanation of each holiday.  As an experienced crafter who has spent many, many hours crafting both with my children and by myself, I’m looking forward to a year’s worth of new projects — and maybe a new recipe or two.  As my grandmother might say: “Enjoy.”

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.