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Find hidden treasures in synagogue gift shops

Tammy Strobel stands before colorful gift items on display at Congregation Anshei Israel’s gift shop. (Yvonne Ethier)

A few years back, my good friend Fran was giving me details on her upcoming adult bat mitzvah. “No gifts,” she said emphatically. As I smiled and nodded, inwardly my mind was abuzz — where could I find the perfect present? I didn’t have to look far.

In what can only be described as serendipity, I found a beautiful piece of glass art in a local synagogue gift shop — rich blue with a few colorful accents. In the center was a sketch of a praying woman wearing a tallit (fringed prayer shawl). The title? “Bat Mitzvah.” Bingo! My search was over.

A longtime window shopaholic, I recently decided to visit several local synagogue gift shops and called a few others. All have treasures that could be just the ticket for someone’s special occasion and feature selections in a range of price points. As the old French saying goes, on n’a que l’embarras du choix! (The hardest part is deciding from the many choices available.)

My visit to the Congregation Anshei Israel gift shop revealed an updated look.  Co-chair Marianne Langer explained, “When the entryway to the administrative office and pre-school was remodeled in 2017, the entire shop had to be packed up and stored. After the renovation, it was redone . . . for an easier and more pleasurable shopping experience.” 

Two large display cases are located at the gift shop entrance. The first holds Jewish-themed jewelry and mezuzah cases, even one for the sports lover featuring a kippah-wearing guy holding a basketball. The second case features local Jewish artist Jami Gan’s fused glass pieces, many Jewish-themed, others not.  I was especially drawn to her renderings of the Western Wall.

Entering the shop, I became a kid in a candy store. Not only are candy and other tasty sweets and snacks available, but a collection of finely crafted Jewish eye candy is for sale — Kiddush cups and Miriam’s cups, tzedakah boxes, and more. One can also find over 200 Jewish-themed books — for both adults and children — humorous gifts that have a Jewish tam (flavor), and a selection of general gift items.

What got my attention were baby clothes — even a pink onesie with the saying “Cancel the Moyel, It’s a Goyel! — and mah jongg tiles and accessories.

Thanks in great part to the dedicated work of co-chairs Phyllis Becker, Tammy Strobel, Langer and other volunteers, the Anshei Israel Gift shop supports synagogue youth programs. (745-5550)

Sales at Judaica Creations gift gallery at Congregation Chofetz Chayim support the Southwest Torah Institute. Courtesy Chofetz Chayim)

Walking through the spacious courtyard to meet Esther Becker at Congregation Chofetz Chayim, I had a feeling that the synagogue’s gift gallery, Judaica Creations, would hold some amazing items.  Indeed it does!

The gallery carries primarily Jewish-themed but also secular items. “A committee of women, including me, purchases the gifts,” Becker told me. “We feel that it is important to have readily accessible gifts for all occasions. When I see someone come in and buy Judaica, I see that it touches their soul, and that in turn touches mine.”

Some of those gifts include:

• An array of candlesticks. A pair from Israel are standouts. Made of glass and stone, they feature miniature laser-cut Torahs. One candlestick bears the inscription Shabbat and the other Shalom, in Hebrew.

• Boxes, hand enameled and painted. A few beauties were reminiscent of
Chagall paintings.

Becker also pointed out a kiddush cup fountain, created by Israeli artist Emanuel. It enables guests to drink wine that originates from the host’s cup, from his or her own little cup.

Proceeds from the gift gallery support the Southwest Torah Institute, the educational arm of Chofetz Chayim. The gift gallery is open by appointment.  (591-7680)

Laurie Kassman shows sculptures by local artist Lynn Rae Lowe at Congregation Or Chadash’s gift shop.

Most are familiar with a phoenix rising from the ashes, but have you ever heard of a synagogue gift shop rising from a car? As Laurie Kassman, Sisterhood president and head of the Congregation Or Chadash gift shop reminisced, “The first person to run the shop did so out of the trunk of her car!”

A shop opened in 2006 when the synagogue moved to its present property. However, as Kassman describes it, “There was no new stock and no one to ‘run the store.’” In 2016 the Sisterhood board voted to revive the shop. Kassman explained, “We envisioned the opportunity to offer beautiful, unusual things, and raise revenue for the Sisterhood and the congregation. Jewish-themed inventory has been added, but we also plan to add secular items.” Kassman chose an eclectic inventory for all age groups. The toy section features a charity box for children — a train, titled “Tzedakah Express.” 

Works by internationally renowned artist Gary Rosenthal and award-winning local artist Lynn Rae Lowe also are displayed. Rosenthal’s dreidel in mixed metals can be admired all year. Lowe’s offerings include metal candlesticks, jewelry and wall art. One of her wall hangings, “Gates of Tsfat,” really got my attention. So many gates photographed in one city, each one unique.  (512-8500)

Temple Emanu-El’s newly remodeled gift shop is maintained by members of the synagogue’s Women of Reform Judaism group, under the leadership of Norma Cohen. It carries an expanded inventory of Jewish-themed items and Judaica, including objets d’art created by local artists. Proceeds benefit synagogue programs. (327-4501)

The mission of Congregation Bet Shalom’s gift shop, managed by Sarah Frieden, is to support the creativity of local Jewish artists. Lathe-turned pens, high-end paper crafts, and fused glass on copper art are among the available items. Proceeds go to the synagogue. (577-1171)

While strolling down the corridor in the Tucson Jewish Community Center lobby, I paused a moment to admire a collection of fused glass creations by Daryl Cohen. Other artists wishing to display their work at the J are welcome to call for further information. (299-3000)

For further information on days and hours of gift shops, give the appropriate synagogue a call.

Barbara Russek, a local freelance writer, welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net.