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.
I recently discovered, and promptly became obsessed with, Emily Matchar’s blog New Domesticity. On the blog and in her upcoming book due out next year, Matchar explores the recent-ish explosion of “lost” domestic arts like bread-baking, bee-keeping and serious DIY laundry (handmade washboard, anyone?). I’d been noticing the popularity of this return to the ways of yore for quite a while — in the steady stream of beautiful food blogs and online crafting tutorials and magazine articles about topics like urban gardening. When I belatedly acquired a Pinterest account, I saw that millions of people were spending their waking hours on virtual bulletin boards, collecting recipes and home improvement projects.
As any woman with an Internet connection has probably noticed, for every lovingly photographed artisanal cupcake, there’s an equal and opposite critique. Some of the criticism (on Matchar’s blog and elsewhere) has to do with the humblebragging nature of all this creating and photographing, not to mention the implied pressure to measure up. Some comes from a more straightforward feminist perspective: Our forebears had to wash clothes by hand and would have killed for a washing machine that enabled them to work an office job — you want to go back to that?!
And then there’s what I think of as “the rich white lady thing.” I mean, who can even afford to stay home knitting scarves, growing heirloom tomatoes, making baby food and photographing it all with a shiny new DSLR? It’s not hard to see that these women — and their exquisite creations — tend to look very much alike. Of all the reasons to be wary of the new avalanche of craftiness, this posh sameness is probably the one that resonates with me the most. But it also makes me laugh. Because take out the aesthetically pleasing documentation and you’ve got my working class Jewish ancestors.