Mask for Purim

Purim is on Sunday. It is one of my favorite Jewish holidays – it gives me the opportunity to be creative. The other details one needs in order to get those creative juices flowing: time, energy, inspiration.

Every year for Purim since my children were little, we have decorated oatmeal containers, filled them with treats to eat, and given them out to our friends. The giving out of food gifts is specific to Purim – it is call Shaloch Manot (or Mishloach Manot) – literally, sending of gifts. This is the first year none of my children are available to help me – the two eldest are no longer living at home, and my daughter started high school with a rigorous academic schedule, a school play and a Shakespeare mini-competition. So I decided to work on the containers on my own.

Here they are so far:
Purim containers

I did not use any photographs as I have in the past. I covered each one with my Purim wrapping paper. I did use my Esther points at Haman watercolor illustration that I made last summer. I decided it needed something green. So last Sunday while my daughter was working on her computer on an assignment that she did not like and wanted my company, I decided to work on my computer and create a mask with some green. That’s the mask on top of this post.

Explanation of the mask: part of Purim is dressing up. It’s not at all a requirement, but many children and some adults do enjoy this part. Purim also has themes of “hidden” – there is a custom of eating kreplach, for example, which is basically a wonton (and a wonton has “hidden” meat). Esther had to hid her identity in order to save the Jewish people. When one wears a mask, one is hiding a bit of oneself.

Cardinals (Male and Female); Black-Capped Chickadee

red cardinal male; female is brown
A red male cardinal and a female brown cardinal visited my backyard yesterday, after we had about 5 inches of snowfall the day before. I enjoy the cardinals’ visits – they usually come as a pair. I had filled my bird feeder, and they found it quickly. The day before we had blue jays visiting. I think blue jays will scare away other birds while they are in the vicinity.

black capped chickadee
The black-capped chickadee pictured here visited in December.

Do you have bird visitors in your backyard?

For more Nature Notes, visit:
Nature Notes

Tea Parties and Teapot Sketches

tea party, Alice performance in Rutgers Gardens
Back in July we attended a performance in Rutgers Gardens. Well, maybe performance isn’t the right word. We were told as we entered the woods on the edge of the gardens that we were Alice. Then we met characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. This table displayed the tea party. I really liked the set up. What do you see? I see a tablecloth that looks like a chess board. And teacups. Thank you to reThink Theatrical for a fun evening.

dormouse, mad hatter in Rutgers Gardens
The Dormouse and Mad Hatter were right next to us. In the photo you can see the March Hare approaching. The large green chairs are part of the regular Rutgers Gardens display.

A friend posted her colorful teapot on Facebook this summer. I was inspired. I had a busy summer of work and family events, but while riding as a passenger in a car on the way to see my daughter perform in sleepaway camp as the Wicked Witch of the West, I produced this teapot sketch:

teapot sketch

A few weeks later while in a hotel room I did a colored pencil sketch of the teapot:
teapot colored pencil sketch

I am a fan of fanciful teacups and teapots – to sign up to read more of these posts by email, please click on the teacup in the sidebar of this blog (should be down at the bottom if you are reading on a phone).

Thank you for visiting – I plan more sketches in the future!

Watercolor Sketch: Esther Points at Haman

Esther points out Haman
I started this sketch of Esther pointing out Haman to Ahashverosh of Persia way back in December. It is based on an old painting – if you want, you can look it up. I liked the idea of the boldness of Esther. Is she someone to emulate? Can we find evil and point it out? Even if it means risking out lives?

The story of Esther is told at the Jewish holiday of Purim, which usually falls in the early spring. So you would think December would be enough time to finish a sketch? Mind you, this isn’t a full-scale oil painting, although I think portraiture (especially three people) is much easier in the medium. Well, December rolled in January and February, when I went with my daughter to Israel. Then I got offered some great website work when I returned … I am still working quite a few hours a week for a school at Rutgers University. Fast forward … daughter went to camp, husband took son to college orientation in Maryland. I’m home alone … what do I pull out, but this painting! Started it again. The first time Haman turned out like a blob of black. I intended to give him a three-cornered hat instead of the Dutch feathered cap in the painting I used as a model. Maybe next time.

I will now spend a bit of time poking around for inspiration for a new watercolor sketch. Suggestions welcome.

Assorted Israel Photos in Celebration of 68th Birthday

israel picnic table flowers
Last week on May 12 Israel celebrated its 68th birthday. And since I was working, I missed our local celebration (here’s a local Edison parade from a few years ago). Well, now I have a little time; I can share with you a few more photos from our January/February trip to Israel.

We went to visit my niece who teaches high school English in an international school north of Tel Aviv. The high school is in a youth village called HaKfar HaYarok – literally, the Green Village. Above is a picnic table with a pot of flowers. Wouldn’t you like to study math or social studies in February while sitting at a sunny picnic table?

Old City of Jerusalem, inside Jaffa Gate entrance

Here’s my daughter inside the Old City of Jerusalem, right near the Jaffa Gate.

And here’s a similar photo inside the Old City of Jerusalem – how is this different from the one above?

Hula Valley, Galil, Israel Views

Ah, birds in flight – probably cranes – at the Hula Valley nature reserve (previous post on this blog).

Even more birds in flight – how they fill the Hula Valley skies.

In many spots in the Hula Valley you can see the Golan Heights off to the east. Here’s a dramatic photo of the Heights rising over the farms below. Before 1967 when Israel captured the Golan Heights in a defensive war, Syrian soldiers used to fire shots from the mountains down on the farmers below.

Back to Jerusalem


These two photos (above and below) are both Jerusalem shots. The carnation in a pot is located in the quaint neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, a “suburb” of the Old City of Jerusalem. It was built in the late 19th century. I understand buying a home there now would cost you quite a pretty penny (can you afford a yacht?).

Finally, this is a cute bird diving into a little fountain with Jerusalem lions. It was near our hotel (the Inbal), north of the old train station that was renovated (and we did not get a chance to see – lots to do for our next visit).

Because there is some nature in this post (can you spot some?), I am including this post in Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Central Poland Synagogues and Yom Hashoa

Remah Synagogue, Poland
My son went to Poland. I told him I wanted him to take lots of photos. At first, he gave me the usual response about others taking photos or you can look them up on the internet. But in the end, he did take the photos, and I think his choice of subjects were telling. It’s a little like those Florida t-shirts: “My son went to Poland, and all I got were these photos.” I didn’t want photos of the other participants on this particular trip – in other cases, when it is a trip for fun, I enjoy looking at the others. But this was a trip about the story of Jews who had lived in Poland for many hundreds of years and were extinguished by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The photo on the top is the synagogue of the Ramah (also spelled Remah) in Kraków. The Ramah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, lived in Poland in the 16th century. He started a yeshiva and was a great halachic (Jewish law) authority. On his tombstone is inscribed: “From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses”. (source: Wikipedia)

oldest shul in Krakow
In this post I decided to focus on the synagogues of Poland. In part, because they are beautiful. They tell the story of a beautiful civilization that existed in that part of the world for centuries. I like hearing about the positive. At the end, as a contrast, I will share a bit of the horrible.

The photo above is the oldest synagogue in Kraków. It was possibly built in 1407 or 1492. You can learn more on Wikipedia.

slomniki synagogue
This is the Slomniki synagogue. I saw a note from 2012 that the synagogue was supposed to be restored, but it looks like it could use some more restoration help.

Sephardi shul in Zamosc
This fancy interior is the inside of the Zamosc Sephardi synagogue. According to Wikipedia, it was built between 1610 and 1618 by sephardim (Jews who got kicked out of Spain) from the Ottoman Empire and Venice. A line from Wikipedia: “Today only 3 Jews live in Zamość. In 1939 there were over 12,000 who made up 45% of the city’s population. Of these only 5,000 managed to escape the Holocaust by crossing the Bug River, which in 1939 became the border with the Soviet Union. The Nazis imprisoned those remaining in a ghetto (the Zamość Ghetto), from which they were transported to the Bełżec death camp.”

interior painting synagogue Lancut
I really love the painted walls and ceilings of some of the Polish synagogues. This is the interior of the Łańcut synagogue. According to Wikipedia: “The Łańcut Synagogue is a rare surviving example of the four-pillar, vaulted synagogues that were built throughout the Polish lands in both wood and masonry from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.” There is a footnote that names a book: Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, Carol Herselle Krinsky – sounds worth reading.

pillars in Lancut synagogue Poland
Look at those pillars (more of Łańcut Synagogue). They don’t build ’em like they used to.

artifacts Lancut synagogue
These artifacts are inside the Łańcut Synagogue. The open book in the middle looks like a chumash (one of the five first books of the Torah). I wonder what that stork with rings and possibly seals on its feet is supposed to represent. That metal kiddish cup looks battered.

These were not all the photos from my son’s trip – there were quite a few more. Maybe I will share some on a future post. As this coming Thursday is Yom HaShoa, the day in Israel to remember the Holocaust, I will share this shul in Auschwitz:

shul in Auschwitz ushpizin
Turns out the name of the town is Oświęcim (Polish) – it was also called Auschwitz (German) and Ushpitzin (Yiddish). The famous Auschwitz death camp is in a suburb of this town.

Krakow ghetto
My son wrote about this photo of a street scene in Kraków (photo is from World War II): “You can see the balcony on the corner of the street in the picture lines up with the one still there today (Kraków ghetto).”

Work Sets You Free sign
I conclude this post with “Work Sets You Free” – the famous horrible sign posted in the Auschwitz death camp (in German: Arbeit macht frei).

This is about all I can take for one day. My son took it all in his stride. What do you think? What’s your reaction?