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Fruit of the Loom

July 16, 2005 By:
Ruth Heiges, JE Feature
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Suppose you want a new tzedakah box. Do you head for the nearest synagogue gift shop, contact the Jewish National Fund and have them send you a new blue pushka, or get a kit and needlepoint one?

Arlene Spector thinks we’re spoiled for choice in the Greater Philadelphia area. And although she recognizes that “Option C” strikes most people as far-fetched, she’d sooner lose the sale of one of her Judaic handicrafts and teach you to make your own.

Thanks to Spector, area needleworkers — and those who would like to try their hand at creating their own Judaica — have an exceptional opportunity to do so this month. The Pomegranate Guild, an association of Jewish craftspeople specializing in all forms of needlework, is holding workshops at its national convention on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27, at Adath Israel Congregation, 1957 Lawrenceville Road, in Lawrenceville, N.J.

Completing her term as guild national president, Spector, a resident of Cherry Hill, was keen to have this convention take place in the area and make it accessible to as many as possible. To that end, there is even a special rate for students.

“It’s not a given anymore that a child learns from a parent,” she notes, “so, the guild is making this opportunity to mentor younger people.”

Participants work at levels that suit them, including beginners.

As curious as it may sound that one would needlepoint a tzedakah box, it happens such boxes will be the centerpiece of the convention exhibit. Chapters and individuals have been busy crafting pushkas this past year, since the theme of the meeting is charity.

Crafts and Charity Linked

At first thought, it might be difficult to work out the connection between crafts and charity, but nationally renowned Philadelphia craftswoman Betsy Platkin Teutsch, who’s serving as keynote speaker, has made it a way of life.

As a member of the National Guild of Jewish Artists, she has long championed the idea of Judaica artists donating “1 percent for tzedakah.” Moreover, she lives by this precept, making a charitable donation to causes all over the world for each piece she sells.

Although some members of the Pomegranate Guild are professionals, most are hobbyists united in the concept of promoting Jewish handicrafts. Spector, for example, works in an entirely unrelated field at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where some of her handicrafts grace the walls.

It’s only during her private hours that she pursues her love of embroidery and calligraphy, both in the guild and in a part-time commercial venture, “Avodat Yad,” with another guild member, Rita Altman. Like so many others, she is committed to teaching her crafts to others, even creating an instructional book on cross-stitch of the Hebrew alphabet.

Spector helped found the second chapter of the Pomegranate Guild not long after the first was established in New York in 1977. Since then, the guild has grown, with chapters in all 50 states, Canada, South America, Britain, France and Israel.

The reason for choosing the pomegranate is based in Jewish tradition, as it has been a major decorative motif since being specified as a decoration of the High Priest’s robes.

There is something additionally satisfying, however, in designating the group as a guild, since Jews were pointedly excluded from membership in the craft guilds of Europe in the Middle Ages.

Those attending the convention are being encouraged to bring their recent projects, even if not completed, for a “show and qvell.”

And keep this in mind: It’s not just for women. Remember footballer Rosie Greer and his needlepoint? Men belong to the guild, too.

For registration and information, call 856-482-2606 or go to: www.pomegranateguild. org.

 

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