Sisterhood Blog

8 Jewish DIY Projects

By Rachel Rosmarin

  • Print
  • Share Share

Pickling cucumbers, cultivating yeast for Challah, sewing tallit … these hebraic homesteading projects are certainly not for everyone. But most Jews would agree that plenty of our traditions instill a cool-before-it-was-cool “Do It Yourself” aesthetic. This is a culture that often made do with very little and did it all behind closed doors, or within a tight-knit community. Historically, the center of Jewish life was the home, not the synagogue. And so we present to you a list of eight reasonably simple Jewish DIY projects. You can totally do this stuff. I promise.

1. Make a Family Tree
What Jewish family hasn’t played at least one round of Jewish Genealogy? You can go two routes: decorative or academic. If you’re only going to go a couple of generations back, you can fit you findings on a beautiful piece of art to hang in the home.

But if you’re willing to do some digging — uncovering Ellis Island papers, Shtetl Yizkor books and other primary sources of your family’s story — I guarantee that other members of your family would like to be involved in your findings. The venerable JewishGen is a good place to start. Once you’ve got some basic data, consider entering it to an online or printable template (reputable template sites include MyHeritage.com, Wikitree.com and Geni.com), so that it can be safely stored and shared. Be careful of sharing sensitive personal information on these sites, however, and take advantage of relevant privacy controls.

2. Create your own Chuppah
It can cost up to $1,000 to rent a decorated freestanding Chuppah from a wedding planner or florist. If you decide to make your own, it won’t be free, but it won’t cost nearly that much. For inspiration, head to the photo-sharing social network of choice for dreamy brides: Pinterest. Then check out this set of instructions for a simple, freestanding Chuppah. And here are instructions for an equally attractive version that’s designed to be held aloft by four friends.

If you’re into chopping down your own branches, this one is for you.

3. Edit Your Own Haggadah
A few years ago, before I knew the following two sites existed, I spent weeks preparing a “Web 2.0” seder. I positioned a projector towards a wall in my living room and readied a PowerPoint presentation for my guests filled with funny Pesach-themed cartoons and videos to intersperse throughout the traditional songs and prayers (which were also projected on the wall). But now that I know DIYSeder.com exists, I needn’t have worked so hard. The site lets you customize a Haggadah for free, then print, download or share it digitally. Select one or more themes (we were intrigued by “slightly irreverent,” “foodie,” and “JewBu” options), and choose specific religious language. (A word for God? They let me choose “Universal scapegoat.”) Haggadot.com offers a similar, if slightly more traditional, digital service complete with beautiful artworks and videos. Of course, there’s always the old standby, Maxwell House.

4. Make a Menorah
Everybody likes the warm sheen of a traditional brass menorah, but making a simple candelabra of your own could be satisfying, too, especially in families where each member is encouraged to light his or her own. Here are seventeen menorah-making ideas we found online. Some are kid-friendly projects, some aren’t. Among the more creative materials used: twigs, cookies, alphabet blocks, baby food jars, and tea lights.

5. Bake Something Traditional
Proffering recipes and entreaties to cook Jewish food is a bit obvious for a list of Jewish creative projects, but I maintain that baking Jewish pastry is among the easiest and most satisfying ways for me to feel connected to my family and ancestors. Jewish baking isn’t the easiest, and I realize that not everyone has a stockpile of recipes vetted by family matriarchs, but there are enough user-generated cooking sites out there to invalidate any excuse. Whether you try your hand at the distaff Friday morning ritual and bake a challah (difficulty level: advanced!), or give your family’s personal favorite dessert a go (hamentashen, rugelach, babka, mandelbroyt, etc.), your kitchen will smell so good that you’ll be momentarily transported to 1956. The mess is worth it.

6. Get Genetic Testing
Ashkenazi Jewish parents can carry recessive genetic markers that sometimes cause disorders and diseases in children, including Tay-Sachs, Gaucher, Crohn’s, Fanconi Anemia and Canavan (the list is rather long and depressing). There are also several genetic markers for breast cancer, known as BRCA 1 and 2, that appear in higher frequency among Ashkenazi Jewish women. These genetic flaws can be revealed with screenings tests, and if you do want to know, you can do the test yourself. A company called 23 & Me tests for hundreds of genetic markers (most of them are fun personal quirks, not deadly diseases) via a mail order spit kit. Simply salivate into a tube, mail it to the lab, and study your results on the company’s well-designed site a few weeks later.

7. Design New Year’s Cards
Looking ahead to next year, your local drugstore will always carry pre-packaged sets of Hallmark Rosh Hashanah cards, and for that we can be grateful. But why not make your own? You can design photo cards online with services like Tinycards, which includes a Jewish New Year template, or you can create a design from scratch and upload it to a bulk printer like Vistaprint.com. A common Jewish preschool activity involves stamping freshly sliced apples coated in paint onto construction paper, but if you’re feeling creative and don’t have kids around, do what I did and buy Jewish stamps, ink, blank cards, a bit of glitter, and go to town. Here’s my favorite purveyor of Jewish-themed stamps.

8. Build a Sukkah
When I was a kid, my dad drove all around Los Angeles looking for fallen palm fronds to serve as schach (branches) for the top of our backyard Sukkah, which he painstakingly constructed out of metal rods. My mom sat my brother and I down to color pictures of harvested fruit and make construction paper chains with which to decorate our hut. Definitely fun, but in the age of the Internet, so unnecessary. It’s too late for this year, but maybe you want to buy a Pop Up Sukkah next year (convenient schach mat included). If you’ve got a little more time, maybe one of these fine purveyors will do (“snaps together in minutes”).

If you want to get kids in on the decorating action next year, check out these craft ideas from the Creative Jewish Mom blog. Or, you know, there’s always construction paper.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sukkah, sisterhood, new year's cards, jewish, haggadah, genetic testing, food, family tree, do it yourself, chuppah, diy

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.