The Peddler and the Shopkeeper

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

shopkeeper-72dpi
Here is the opening illustration from a picture book I illustrated two years ago: The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah by Martha Simpson, published by Wisdom Tales Press.  Since Hanukkah is just a few weeks away, I will be showing illustrations from this book for the next few weeks.

Set in Prague about a hundred years ago, the story begins when a mysterious peddler brings a very special dreidel, or spinning top, into a toyshop.  It is beautifully hand-crafted, a pleasure to behold.  The shopkeeper is intrigued, and with money on his mind, decides he can turn a pretty profit from this one-of-a-kind object.  But the peddler warns the shopkeeper as he leaves that only the true spirit of Hanukkah will bring out the value of the magic dreidel.

pg13Upon whom would I base these characters?  I often draw people from my imagination – but for the shopkeeper, I wanted a face that was kindly yet flawed, determined yet changeable.  I needed photos of someone from many angles, so I could make the face consistent throughout the book.  I settled on Shimon Peres, former prime minister and president of Israel, who recently passed away.  His avuncular face was just right.

For the mysterious peddler, the prophet Elijah immediately came to mind.  Although he is most known for his role in Biblical literature, it is the Elijah of Jewish folklore that fascinates me most.  Tales of Elijah abound in Eastern European Jewish folklore, in which “the Elijah of legend runs the whole gamut of functions. He is all things to all men . . . In a sense he parallels the Christian Jesus, for he . . . is the embodiment of God’s way on earth . . . a patron of all the needy . . . ” (from Elijah: A Study in Jewish Folklore, by Rabbi Samuel Segal)pg32

The “needy” in this case is an innocent young boy . . . who I will introduce next week.  Until then, the magic dreidel will wait patiently for its magic to be released.  This charming story brings an age-old lesson for children to life, with a special twist for Hebrew learners.

Dreidel jacket smallOrder a signed copy of The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin from my webstore.  Special sale until December 10th: Order $50 worth of merchandise and get a FREE poster OR a signed copy of my new paperback picture book, The Life of an Olive (a $10 value).  Please contact me for details.

 

 

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Hamsa on Mushroom

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
hamsa-mushroom-72dpi© DURGA YAEL BERNHARD


Back in October I went on a very special hike.  For the past nine months, I’ve been tutoring a young man in the musical cantillations that he needed to learn for his bar mitzvah.  Jonah was assigned a passage of the Hebrew Bible that corresponds to his birthday.  We read and studied and sang the passage together, which includes several stories.  In one story, Abraham hears the voice of God, who tells him to climb a mountain.  So we decided to climb a mountain as one of our study sessions.

Assorted friends and family joined us, making a small group.  On a brisk October day, we climbed to the top of North Mountain here in the Catskills.  We had breathtaking views from the top, of North Lake, South Lake, and the dramatic escarpment that drops down to the flat lands along the Hudson River, which lay like a silver ribbon in the distance.

Along the trail, we talked about how people traveled on foot in Biblical times, and the enormous faith that Abraham carried with him.  Jonah brought a basket for gathering wild mushrooms.  Among his finds was a precious “artist’s conk” – a white, suede-like shelf fungus that makes an exquisite painting surface.  To my surprise, he gave me the conk as a gift at the end of our hike.  I was most honored.  I’ve painted on organic surfaces before, such as birch bark, deer skin, and special rocks.  This mushroom presented a new opportunity, and a rare one.

The surface of the conk already had a brown dot in the middle.  Any mark made on the surface could not be erased.  So I thought about the “art tests” I was given to do in elementary school, in which we had to build a drawing around an existing line or shape.  The dot on my mushroom became the center of an eye.  The eye became the center of a hamsa, a palm-shaped symbol that is popular as a sign of good luck in Israel, and throughout the Middle East as protection against evil.  “Hamsa” means “five” in Arabic, in this case signifying the five fingers of the hand.

I’ve always loved hamsas.  They’re found all over Israel, in endlessly varied designs, as jewelry and pendants of all kinds.  All are fashioned as an open palm with an eye in the middle.  To me this symbolizes our human nature with the light of divine awareness at its center.  With its organic shape and smoothe, chalky surface, this mushroom seemed like the perfect place for a hamsa.

Yesterday I wrapped the hamsa mushroom in tissue paper, and added it to the small bag of gifts I had chosen for Jonah on the occasion of his bar mitzvah.  He did fabulously well.  I was honored to be a tutor and mentor to such a fine young man.  I hope he likes it.  May it bring him good luck!

Wishing all my readers a good week and a happy Thanksgiving!

D Yael Bernhard
http://dyaelbernhard.com

THE LIFE OF AN OLIVENew!! Explore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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Wounded Sleep

 

IMAGE OF THE WEEK

the-wounded-sleep-72dpi

Wounded Sleep is the only painting I’ve ever done with my left hand.  It was ten years ago, and my right arm was in a sling, recovering from rotator cuff surgery.   Even small movements that extended my arm forward were difficult.  I put pillows under my elbow, but still struggled to reach out with my paintbrush.

The day before the surgery, a friend brought me a preserved wild turkey wing.  “Here”, she said, “I hope this wing will help yours to heal.”  Indeed, the pain in my shoulder blade felt like a broken wing.

After the surgery, I was unable to sleep normally.  I lay fitfully in bed, my wounded arm propped up by pillows, my mind blurry from painkillers.  I dozed, floating in a twilight state between consciousness and sleep, until the pain pulled me to the surface again.

One night I dreamed I was floating in a dark vortex, carried along by a great force.  My wounded arm was bound to the turkey wing, as if it were a splint.  Cradled by the current, I found comfort in the movement that carried me.  And for the first time in days, I woke up feeling refreshed.

I decided to paint the image with my left hand.  Thus the crudeness of the brush strokes, and the simplicity of the composition.  My left hand could not articulate anything precise.  But for this image, the rawness of my left-handed strokes serve well.

A few years later, a textbook publisher contacted me, wanting to license Wounded Sleep for use as the opening illustration of a chapter on Native American culture.  My painting looks like an illustration of a shamanic vision, I was told.  The thought bemused me, for who could say the wild turkey hadn’t spoken to me as a totem animal speaks to a Lakota or Iroquois?  I granted permission . . . and unexpectedly earned a little money off my sole left-handed work of art.

Order Wounded Sleep as a POSTER this week, and get a free greeting card (of the same image)!   $10 for the poster and card, shipping included.  Order your poster here.  Your can also order a six-pack of cards (normally $3.50 each) for $18.  Order greeting cards by filling in the title here.

A good week to all!

D Yael Bernhard
http://dyaelbernhard.com
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVENew!! Explore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!

 

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