Book Reviews, Textiles

Embroidery and Sacred Text: New Designs in Judaic Needlework – Rachel Braun

Embroidery Embroidery and Sacred Textand Sacred Text: New Designs in Judaic Needlework is the author’s journal of her personal voyage into tying the mathematics of cross stitch design, planning and the final execution of the design to the celebration of various passages from text such as torah, tehillim, piyutim, decorative articles for the home, and personal family life cycle events.

The introduction sets the stage for the theme of repetition in Judaic text with the integration of math concepts present in embroidery design.

It discusses the idea of repetition that is evident in the Jewish calendar cycle, biblical passages that detail textual lists: of names, places, instructions for offerings, and instructions for the preparation and decoration of the mishkan.

The writer is a mathematician and is drawn to the orderliness of these lists, charts, the constant counting, columns, and the constant counting. She notes a similarity in the repetition of graph paper to woven fabric, particularly of Aida cloth which is the base for her embroidery echoing of the multitude of identical stitches needed to create the embroidery patterns.

The book consists of 22 full colour plates of embroidery in the “Blackwork” style. Blackwork, sometimes called Spanish work, is a very old type of counted thread needlework, traditionally done using black thread. Rachel Braun has given a new life to the form by using coloured threads to provide variations and contrast.

The book is divided into four parts. The first section of consists of beautiful colour plates of the embroideries. Each of the 22 colour plates is accompanied by a completely detailed artist’s statement and explanation.

The second section details the mathematical processes involved in creating and planning each pattern. The author delves into the concepts of geometry, symmetry, rotations, counting, and area, complete with enlarged detail colour plates.

Part three explains the differences between fill and border work in Blackwork embroidery, complete with an illustration of the graphing technique used. There are 3 pages of showing “fill” techniques, 2 pages of “corner” and “border” and “medallions”, and 1 page detailing progressive pattern (with a graph), all with colour plates.

The last section has both English and Hebrew fonts, graphed out for ease of use.

I enjoyed the detail in the colour plates and the artist’s use of colour. The embroidery work is exceptional. The attention to every stitch, every thought, and diarizing of each piece is intense, and would be most appreciated by an advanced hand embroiderer, a student of textile and embroidery arts, and one with a scholarly interest in Judaic textiles.

Paula Shuchat MillerThis review was written by guest contributor Paula Shuchat Miller. Paula is a Toronto-based textile and mixed-media artist, a certified Paverpol instructor, and a long time member of the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles in Canada. You can learn more about Paula, her work, and custom creations

Sculpture, Tishrei/Cheshvan - "Bein Ha'Or U'vein HaChoshech"

Creating Community With Light and Darkness

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Creation Mosaic, created by Wiebke, Stuart, Ana, Ephraim, Yonah Light, 2013

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Tzedakah Box, Wiebke Light, 2017

When I first found Wiebke Light’s work, I immediately fell in love with the colors of the Creation mosaic. Their vibrancy stirred up strong feelings of hope and unlimited possibilities. Reading about how her family had worked on the piece together, I was impressed by the commitment to the project and creative energy they had all brought to this work. Surely we create our brightest futures when we work together!

Her tzedakah boxes were similarly striking for the contrast of the black on white. In showcasing these images, the contrast allows us to see the details in both. Dark and light are necessary for the full creation, and makes the impact of the work that much stronger. They demand attention, calling for recognition and action. The starkness brings us out of our selves and makes us aware of our obligations to the community.

Light says the connection to community is important to both the Creation Mosaic and the tzedakah boxes. She writes that “both creations of art enhance our personal engagement with society – one by collecting charity for the poor and needy, the other by strengthening our ties with our own family”. We need our homes and families to give us space and partners to create. We need to have beautiful ritual objects inside our home to connect us to the world outside our homes. It is ultimately a question of connection. We see in these two different uses of color, the incredible power of the creative arts to foster our relationships with the people we love, and to remind us that we have the responsibility to work together to create a better future for us all.

BooksandBlintzes is grateful to Wiebke Light for sharing these images of her work. Please respect her legal and creative rights and do not distribute, copy, or share them without her permission. For more information about Light’s work, please see –

Dragon Bowl Ceramics


About the Artist – Wiebke Light

(In her words)
Wiebke is trained as an art historian with a special focus on Medieval art and
Jewish Material Culture. She has come to creating Jewish objects after
graduation from JTS in New York with a Masters degree in Jewish Art and
Material Culture. She remains greatly inspired by the work of historical
Jewish artists and aspires to create Jewish objects that beautify our daily life
and Jewish ritual.
Since 2001, Wiebke has been working as an artist in different media. She
began her artistic exploration with linoleum printing, followed by sewing
and now ceramics. She took her first ceramic class in Seattle in 2011 with
the intention of teaching handbuilding techniques to Jewish Day school
students in the Pacific Northwest. After her move to Irvine three years ago,
she devoted more of her time to delving deeper into the medium. Since
2013, Wiebke has continuously taken ceramics classes at the Irvine Fine
Arts Center and the Orange Coast Community College. She strives to blend
her knowledge and deep commitment to her Jewish identity with the newly
learned artistic skills to create Judaica that is both unique, whimsical and useful.

Graphic Design

Joe Kubert: Text + Image + Time

Remembering cartoon artist Joe Kubert, who brought together text, image, and time, to tell stories of courage and justice. Born September 18, 1926, he is celebrated for his work with DC Comics. His works that draw from his own history and international event give voice to generations.


Film, Painting & Drawing

“Art As Activism” – Ben Shahn

Remembering Ben Shahn, born September 12, 1898. His works of social realism and his unabashed expression of his art’s powerful voice have left us with some of the most riveting images of America in the 20th century.

Watch Lauren White’s video to see the impact of Shahn’s work. White created this video as a 2009 National History Day Senior Documentary Finalist at Maryland Humanities.

Painting & Drawing

Israel Abramofsky – The Art of Jewish Eastern Europe

Israel Abramofsky, was a Russian-American Jewish artist, who is particularly well remembered for his images of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Born in Kiev on September 10, 1888, he eventually made his home in Ohio. The Cleveland Artists’ Exhibition in May 1919 included his entry “Drawing of Russian Jew After A Massacre”.

Discussing his life and work, Abramofsky said “I am unable to classify myself, except I hope that I am a part of the twentieth century. I do feel that my Jewish types reflect the tradition and beliefs that . . . have kept them separate as a people since Abraham”.


Graphic Design, Visual Arts

Guest Contributor – Erica Schultz Yakovetz, Calligrapher and Graphic Designer


Calligraphy is a longstanding tradition in Jewish art. The Biblical injunction against “graven images” is usually interpreted to include any representational or figurative artwork, so Jewish artisans got creative with what they were allowed to use: letters and words.

Words and letters have filled my soul all my life. At age 5, I was writing stories. At 10, I learned to write sonnets—and also had my first calligraphy class. At 17, I fell in love with Judaism by way of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, and never looked back.

Text is my native mode of spiritual expression. And text has been Judaism’s primary spiritual mode ever since the act of prayer supplanted the act of temple sacrifice. Even our physical ritual actions must be offered gift-wrapped in snippets of ritual text: the brachot, blessings, that accompany them.

Today, I’m also a typographer at heart. I’ve been a graphic design professional since 1994, with an extensive print portfolio encompassing books, catalogs, invitations, logos, flyers, T-shirts, the works. I’ve been working in Adobe InDesign since it was Aldus PageMaker. But the longer I use typography software, the more inspired I get to play with its potential. It’s no longer just words on a page—it’s a way to make those words dance.

So how do I get inspired to create a new piece of Judaica? Some words catch my eye and fire my imagination. Most often, it’s either a Biblical text or a passage from the siddur, the Jewish prayerbook. (Frequently, it’s both at once, as much of the wording in our formal prayers is composed of Biblical quotations.)

I am inspired by the sounds and letters as much as by the meaning in a passage. My goal with my art is to bring alive all the dimensions of the Hebrew text: the meaning, the sound, and how the Hebrew correlates with the English. I frequently color-key specific words or phrases to create explicit visual connections between the Hebrew, English, and transliterated text.

By way of example, let me walk through two pieces… which, though unrelated, both ultimately took on a circular structure with “peace” at the core.


Elokai Ntzor (2007): This text is a “meditation” that comes after the Amidah in the prayer service. The rhythms in the text, especially, are what make it meditative for me. Having pondered them during davening for months on end, I came up with this mandala-style arrangement intertwining the Hebrew text with its transliteration. The outermost ring is the English translation of the full passage. After this piece was complete, I adapted the center detail into a smaller piece focusing just on the closing passage, the well-known Oseh Shalom: “The One who makes peace in the heavens will make peace for us and for all Israel.”

to_everything_watermarkedTo Everything There Is A Season (2014): The primary motif I had in mind for this piece was a sine wave or helix structure, which evolved into winding the English around the Hebrew. The above-and-below undulation of the English phrases conveys the duality in each of the pairings. I chose to invert the Hebrew layer so that the text flow of both languages could run in the same clockwise direction, enhancing the “wheel of time” feeling of the passage. Ultimately, I arranged the text in four nesting circles, with “a time for peace” at the center—driving the whole composition, like Pete Seeger’s musical adaptation, toward an optimistic vision.


Erica Schultz Yakovetz is a graphic designer and Judaica artist, as well as a musician, wife to Aaron and mom to Aria. After almost 25 years in Boston and NYC, she moved back to her native Northwest Indiana in April 2014. Most of her artwork is available from her Etsy shop, Schultz Yakovetz Judaica, or her Zazzle store. She also does custom work, including invitations and ketubahs. She sporadically writes about her design projects and other ideas at Follow her on Twitter or Pinterest.

***The words and artwork shared by Erica Schultz Yakovetz on this site are her original work to which she retains all rights. Please do not copy, quote, or share without appropriate permission, credit, and/or compensation.***