“Though many companies choose to create their products in China or other Asian countries, as it is cheaper, I choose to produce Judaica in Israel. It’s the right thing to do,” says artisan Chana Gamliel.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Israeli artisan Chana Gamliel creates elaborate curtains called parochets, which cover a key location in Jewish houses of worship, the holy ark, in which the Torah scrolls are housed.
Though her clientele ranges from traditional to ultra-Orthodox, Gamliel prefers to work with religious Israelis on her team of craftspeople who help bring her creations to life.
“Since 2010, I have slowing built my company, My Parochet,” Gamliel told United with Israel (UWI). “Though many companies choose to produce their products in China or other Asian countries, as it is cheaper, I choose to produce Judaica in Israel. It’s the right thing to do.”
The mother of five, who lives in B’nei Brak, said she carefully chose her team not only for their high-level of skill, creativity and professionalism, but also for their spiritual connection to God and Torah. “As my staff works at making beautiful items to enhance synagogues, they recite Psalms and have holy thoughts. Many congregants have told me that they sense this extra spirituality in my projects.”
Ninety-five percent of Gamliel’s clients are outside of the Holy Land. “I work with every type of synagogue, from traditional to hasidic,” she told UWI. “All of them want the same thing, a connection to the holiness of Israel. They want to connect to the holy sparks found here.”
In Judaism, there is a mitzvah to beautify objects used for holy purposes. Torah scrolls are wrapped in a decorative covering and the table (bimah in Hebrew) on which the scroll is placed for reading is also covered with a decorative cloth. Additionally, the Torah is housed in a decorated closet, called aron kodesh in Hebrew. In front of the aron kodesh hangs the parochet.
“As the parochet is the most seen item by congregants, it is very important to have this item be inspirational as well as beautiful,” Gamliel said.
A parochet is symbolic of the curtain that covered the Ark of the Covenant that traveled with the ancient Israelites.
Taking Synagogue Design to a New Level
While parochets were traditionally decorated with flowers, menorahs, tablets with the ten commandments, or the Holy Temple, Gamliel has taken parochet design and meaning to a whole new level.
“I spend a lot of time listening to my clients speak about the energy of their synagogues, what’s important to them, and the decoration already in their sanctuary,” Gamliel said. “Then, I think about how to unify everything through the parochet.”
Gamliel said a client called to explain that his synagogue’s decoration came about through different purchasers at different times, making a mismatch of the sanctuary.
In response, Gamliel created a beautiful parochet unifying the synagogue’s eclectic look, included Hebrew phrasing about love and unity, and made a curving path of colorful bricks, the building stones for educating the next generation in Judaism.
“Many congregations face dwindling membership,” Gamliel told UWI. “They can spend a lot of money trying to raise enrollment. Yet, so many of my customers experience an increase in participants and visitors just by hanging a meaningful, beautiful and inspiring parochet. People experience stronger connection in prayer, new pride in their synagogue, and more excitement and loyalty from their congregation, just from the parochet.”
These designer parochets are the focal point of the synagogue. They can range in price from $6,000 to $12,000, depending on the variety of embroidery stitches incorporated and the use of Swarovski crystals.
One of Gamliel’s designs incorporated over 2,000 Swarovski crystals in 19 different shapes, sizes and colors. “I firmly believe that a parochet is so much more than embroidery threads and velvet,” she said.
“It’s meant to create an ambiance, a welcoming atmosphere in the synagogue. It should convey a congregation’s unique message and value system, and attract newcomers.”
Through her designs and creations, Gamliel hopes that Jewish communities all over the world will be inspired to attend prayer services more often, pray with greater inspiration, and connect more deeply to God and Torah.