Tucson’s synagogue gift shops: more than menorahs

Walk into most synagogue gift shops this time of year and you’ll find all manner of dreidels and menorahs, from traditional to whimsical, in materials ranging from glass and porcelain to metal and wood.

But Tucson’s synagogue gift shops also contain unexpected items, hidden treasures tucked amid the essentials like Chanukah candles and chocolate gelt.

Congregation Anshei Israel’s gift shop manager Phyllis Becker and co-worker Barb Neuman recently attended a gift trade show in New York, where they found a wealth of new items.

“We were extremely excited with the Israeli company — Emuna — that had leather goods in many rich beautiful colors adorned with multi-colored rhinestone hamsas and stars. Glitzy and so tastefully done,” says Neuman.

At Congregation Bet Shalom, the JOY (Jewish Originals for You) gift shop has a new concept, carrying only handmade items by local Jewish artists, says manager Sarah Frieden. These include hand-linked sterling silver bracelets and earrings by Aileen Contapay; wooden bowls by Michael Parnes; Judaic-themed jewelry by Jodie Velde; glazed pottery doorbell surrounds, vases and sculptures by Roberta Zelikow; and works by Anne Lowe, Leslie Parnes, Wendy Ruda and Frieden herself.

Temple Emanu-El’s gift shop boasts an unusual service: custom embroidery. Volunteer Gabi Kat Tiefenbrunn explains that she can embroider names or other words in Hebrew or English or any custom design — just bring her a quick sketch — on such items as kippot, tallit bags, challah covers, shirts, aprons or towels. Items can be purchased at the gift shop or customers may bring their own, she adds.

A latke mold set is one of the finds at Congregation Or Chadash, says sisterhood president Gail Kushner. Placed in the frying pan, the molds turn out latkes in the shape of a menorah or dreidel. Other new and unusual pieces include clear glass tulip vases with colored accents, and colored glass “purses” perfect for holding a low floral centerpiece.

Hand-painted ceramics by Russian artist Turov are among the special items at the Chofetz Chayim gift shop, says manager Ruth Kalisher, who is also partial to the shop’s lacquer boxes with designs by Chagall and other artists.

For gift shop hours, call Anshei Israel at 745-5550, Bet Shalom at 577-1171, Chofetz Chayim at 747-7780, Or Chadash at 512-8500 or Temple Emanu-El at 327-4501.