Passover gifts, with an eye toward aesthetics and meaning.
Chanukah may be the season for exchanging presents, but Passover has its own traditions of gift giving, with none of the pressures. We searched for gifts that had beauty and meaning, with some fun too; many are handmade and some are local (and some are both). A number of these selections address the very themes of the holiday: supporting freedom for all people. Gifts that give, they enable — through their marketing — the people who made them to advance their lives. Here are some ideas for preparing for the holiday, hosting or attending a seder, and moving into the next season.
Yael Mermelstein’s picture book “Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean” (Kar-Ben) speaks to the fantasy of many who dread the heavy-duty cleaning, year after year, in the weeks leading up the holiday. As illustrated by Carrie Hartman, the young man in this story invents a machine that gobbles up all the hametz and leaves rooms sparkling in its wake — but doesn’t work exactly as planned.
$7.95, at bookstores
One of my early memories of preparing for the holiday was making a diorama in an empty shoebox, featuring a scene with the baby Moshe in his straw cradle, left in the river by his sister Miriam. A stunning basket, hand-woven from grass, recalls that moment and makes a great addition to the seder table. Made in Swaziland, a country with extreme poverty and one of the world’s lowest life expectancies, the baskets are made of sustainable grass and hand-woven into bold patterns reflecting the African landscape.
$60, available at The Jewish Museum shop, 92nd Street and Fifth Ave., Manhattan, or globalgoodspartners.org
Thanks to the efforts of Lithuanian-born Rabbi Tobias Geffen (1871-1970), Coca-Cola has been kosher and kosher for Passover since 1935. Rabbi Geffen was told the secret of the beverage’s secret ingredients, and then worked with the company to find fitting substitutions. Handmade from recycled soda cans, this festive red-and-white kipa is lined with black vinyl and hand stitched with colored telephone wires so that it’s comfortable to wear. The kipa is made in South Africa by a self-taught artist known by his craft teammates as a Zvakanaka (meaning “maker of nice stuff”) who has gone from poverty to working in a collaborative fair trade business. Other colors/flavors are available too.
$20 (bulk discounts available), fairtradejudaica.org
Other artisans who are part of the same collective make a matzah holder out of recycled metals and beads, which stands on the table and holds the matzah upright, its beaded Star of David shining. It looks a bit like a lovely matzah cart.
Israeli artist Yael Yarzin’s childhood memories are the inspiration for her hand-painted cerarmic seder plates, this one in brilliant turquoise and cream, with 14k gold accents. One of the small bowls, with a rim of vintage roses, recalls aunts having tea in Africa; others include patterns from her grandmother’s curtains and images of Israeli adventures. The 14-inch round plate is made in Israel.
$375, The Jewish Museum, 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, thejewishmuseum.com
A simpler but still elegant version of the seder’s centerpiece plate is made of melamine, with a contemporary black and gold design that includes labeled areas for the six seder foods.
$12.95, The Jewish Museum, 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, thejewishmuseum.com
“Futura” is the first seder plate from Jonathan Adler, whose company is “dedicated to bringing style, craft, joy, and a general feeling of grooviness to your home.” Made of glazed porcelain with real gold accents, the lustrous 13-inch plate was produced by fair trade artisans in Peru.
$150, Jonathan Adler, 37 Greenwich Ave., Manhattan (see jonathanadler.com for additional NYC stores)
For kids, the Ten Plagues Hand Puppet Making Kit features materials for simply assembling 10 bright and amusing hand puppets that help dramatize frogs, darkness, locusts and more.
$12.99, J. Levine Judaica, 5 W. 30th St., Manhattan
Yarden’s new line of Gilgal wines is named for Gilgal Refaim, a beautiful place of mystery in the Golan Heights. An ancient megalithic monument sometimes called the Stonehenge of the Middle East, its origins inspire much questioning. The Gilgal Brut is made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown in the cool climate of the Golan Heights, produced in the classic Champagne method and aged for a minimum of one year.
$22 (may vary), at wine shops.
Beginning with the second seder, the period between Pesach and Shavuot is known as the Omer, and each day is counted with a special blessing, in anticipation of the giving of the Torah. Rabbi Jill Hammer’s “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women” provides a teaching and meditation for each day, highlighting the divine attributes connected with each day in kabbalistic tradition, and the stories of biblical women who personified those spiritual dimensions. Included are well-known figures like Eve and Miriam, as well as lesser-known women like Rachav and Achsah. Rabbi Hammer is director of spiritual education at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Shir Yaakov Feit, creative and music director of Romemu, designed the calendar, which includes seven full-color illustrations.
$11.99, West Side Judaica, 2412 Broadway, Manhattan
A new twist on Mayan embroidery, this fabulous fabric flower necklace is a celebration of spring.
Gifts of cash can be beautifully presented in this silk case that can hold business cards or money. These and other silk items are made by women in Cambodia who were rescued from being trafficked and now have a new source of income.
Another version, made of embroidered cotton, is handcrafted by women refugees living on the Thai-Burmese border.
$12, $15, globalgoodspartners.com
Jewish hip-hop artists, including Rabbi D, Grey Matter, Dyalekt, Tranquil, Doron Lev, and others host an evening of soulful narrations, with poetry slam, beat box and improvisations on Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The program marks the observance of the Omer, the seven-week period of reflection after Passover.
Tickets are $10, $7 students/seniors, $5 members, Museum of Jewish Heritage (mjhnyc.org), 36 Battery Pl., Manhattan
According to the Bible, the Jews were taken out of Egypt on the wings of eagles. For something completely different, reenact the journey by learning to fly … an airplane. Gift certificates for introductory lessons are available from FAA certified flight instructors on Cessna 172 Skyhawks, through Heritage Flight Academy. The one-hour lesson includes time on the ground, but most of the hour is spent in the air; there’s room for a passenger too. Flights leave from MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, L.I., about an hour east of Manhattan.
$129, Heritage Flight Academy, (631) 471-3550 heritageflightacademy.com
Passover heralds the beginning of baseball season. Ross Baruch has created wall art that teaches the alphabet and celebrates past and present sports heroes as well as local pride. With whimsical illustrations and signature colors, his ABC MVPs for the Yankees features A for A-Rod, B for Babe, D for DiMaggio; the Mets version includes A for amazin’, D for Doc and Darryl, H for Keith Hernandez and Y for Ya Gotta Believe. The 16-by-20-inch prints, signed by the artist, are framed in natural wood.
$88 each, Stoopher & Boots, 385 Amsterdam Ave. Manhattan, stoopherandboots.com
To close, Laila tov, Good Night. These “Lyla Tov Monster” boys and girls — designed by a child (when she was 3) and her family and made in New York City — are meant to help a child have a good night. And read Laurel Snyder’s charming and soothing new book, “Good night, Laila tov,” illustrated by Jui Ishida (Random House).
$40 (each doll), The Jewish Museum, 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, thejewishmuseum.com
$17.99 (book), at bookstores. •