This Passover, put down your horseradish root and prepare to scratch the surface of something else: crafting.
Jewish.tv, the multimedia portal of Chabad.org, is hosting a new series on the art of crafting, geared to show viewers how to make beautiful decorations to enhance Jewish holidays.
The series, created in collaboration with Tzivos Hashem, the international organization for Jewish children, is hosted by veteran crafter Abbey Wolin.
According to Wolin, “art isn’t just for your walls anymore”. From the way she transforms ordinary items into real centerpieces, she isn’t kidding.
“People today embrace the culture of upcycling (taking old items and repurposing them) and try to be more conscientious about the environment,” she explains. “I want to be able to show people how to take would-be trash, and turn it into something appealing and useful”.
In one episode for Passover, Wolin and her assistant for the day, Candice Smith, demonstrate how to create a personalized Elijah’s Cup, a Kos shel Eliyahu. With the use of some acrylic paint, a sponge and some masking tape, a simple glass becomes a decorative holiday item in minutes.
“It was really cool,” says Smith. “You don’t need that many materials, and you can take any boring glassware that you might have around the house and make it into something amazing.”
Wolin’s activities also bring children into holiday decorating. The items she chooses are inexpensive and accessible, and with a little direction can become integral parts of the Passover seder table.
In her first video, Abbey brings her 12 years of teaching experience to the screen– before she founded her own design company she was a special ed teacher in Jewish schools around the country–as she and her two little helpers, Sara and Shmulik Koyfman make an Afikoman holder for the last piece of matzah to be eaten near the end of the seder. Together, they go through the process of designing and personalizing a new place to keep the Afikoman safe and dry. “I loved doing the Afikoman bag” says Shmulik. “I liked stamping with the stamping pad” adds Sara.
Wolin, 32, who lives in Passaic, N.J , decided to make crafting a full-time job several years ago. A self taught artist, she started painting on glass and posted some pictures of her work on her Facebook page. She received very positive feedback and soon amassed thousands of fans through social media. She attributes her popularity to being someone that people can connect to.
“I think people can relate to me because of my identity as a real person,” she says. She adds that some of her motivation for crafting comes from the challenges of being a Jewish mother in today’s economic climate.
“There isn’t a lot of time to actively engage our children during the week. Of course there’s Shabbos, but what about the rest of the time?” she asks. “What I am trying to show is that you don’t need to go to your local crafts store and spend a whole lot of money. You can do simple crafts with objects found in your home, repurposing items like tin cans into silverware holders. And you can do that while creating lasting memories with your kids.”
Wolin has already has inspired one future crafter. Sara, her little assistant, was full of ideas for the coming Holiday of Shavuos, commemorating the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. ” I want to make a mountain for Har Sinai, and I would put flowers and a Torah on it!”
Wolin says it’s important that these videos not only inspire new crafters but get unaffiliated Jews into crafting Jewish items for their holiday tables.
“It’s amazing how Chabad reaches out to Jews from all walks of life, and there are countless Jewish crafters out there,” she says.
To stay in the loop, Wolin attends trade shows throughout the year and is a founding member of Sweetup, a community of Jewish bloggers and brands in the social media world.
The series was produced by Dini Druk, director of Jewish Kids Online – a project of Chabad.org and Tzivos Hashem. “We’re very excited about this new series, it’s really a huge step for us,” says Druk. “By collaborating with some well-known crafting companies, we are hoping to reach out to a whole new audience, who may not otherwise have been exposed to our network of sites.”
Druk notes that as huge as the crafting industry in America is, there is relatively little information and guides specifically devoted to Jewish crafts. “We see this as an opportunity for craft enthusiasts to learn something new about Judaism and the Jewish holidays,” she says.
The crafting videos are only a small part of Chabad.org’s Kids Zone, it’s mini-site for children. “Our children’s site is the first Jewish site to have recently been awarded an official safety seal from the KidSafe Seal Program,” Druk points out. “That marks us as a safe and child-friendly environment for children of all backgrounds.”
In recent months Kids Zone has been “undergoing tremendous renovation to its content and design,” says Druk. “We are embarking on an exciting journey to make our site the most exciting and educational place for Jewish kids on the web. The last six months have seen our site traffic multiply six-fold, and this is only the beginning,” she says.
As for collaboration on the crafting videos, Wolin says “this is something that I’ve really enjoyed working on. Dini was unbelievably easy to work with and listened to every suggestion that I had. Working with Chabad is a collaboration of a lifetime.”
Future shows are slated to precede upcoming Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah.
How to Craft a “Kos Eliyahu”
Make Your Own Afikoman Bag