Redecorating can reinvigorate holiday festivities

If your holiday celebrations are as flat as matzah — even at Chanukah your kids are yawning over their latkes — maybe it’s time for some fresh family traditions.

It might also be time for a fresh new look for your home.

“It makes the holiday special and brings a sense of renewal,” said Abby Stricker of San Francisco. A mother of two, Stricker follows the Jewish calendar to change her home décor.

Stricker is not an interior decorator but a client of Rachelle Goodfriend, who helps Bay Area Jewish families reinvent holiday rituals.

“Jewish people like to entertain,” said Goodfriend, a member of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. “I’m here to enhance how they feel about entertaining.”

Goodfriend emphasizes small, affordable changes that can make a big impact and be accomplished with ease. Whether this means borrowing gelt from the dreidel game to fill a vase, or making Haggadah-cover decorations a new art project for the kids, the idea is to have fun with the Jewish rituals and make them your own.

She said she tries to “help people to feel the meaning more, the spirit of the holiday.”

In addition to her S.F.-based interior design business, Goodfriend has been practicing psychotherapy for 24 years. She began blending the two interests six years ago, venturing into interior design. Goodfriend believes that when people de-clutter their home, their personality can shine through and, as a result, their guests will feel more welcome.

“When you feel good in your environment, others will feel good,” she said.

For last month’s Passover celebration, Stricker set the tone with a spring-theme table in pinks and purples. When everyone sat down for the seder, they found fabric markers at their chairs. Guests were invited to write or draw about their experience on the white tablecloth.

Now Stricker plans to bring the tablecloth out for seders every year. “It made for a fun, communal experience,” she said.

Stricker is now getting ready for her daughter’s bat mitzvah, and has hired Goodfriend to redecorate her daughter’s room. But Stricker is letting her daughter take charge of the redesign, as a gift. She plans to do the same for her son’s bar mitzvah next year.

“I think this really punctuates their Jewish identity and makes these times very special for them,” she said.

From a bris to a seder, building new traditions into Jewish holidays is something Bay Area families are avidly pursuing, according to Goodfriend. While they want to remember their heritage — where they came from and what Jews have endured through time — families also want to tie that past with today and the future.

“Jewish families are always looking for new rituals and interpretations. They are searching for new ways of doing things that are more ‘them.’ It is all very personal,” she said.

The idea is to connect the old with the new. For a wedding reception, for instance, photographs of parents, grandparents as well as the child and fiancée can be clustered together, allowing a family to tell the story of its heritage.

Similarly, a family with school-aged children may gather dreidels and menorahs made by the children over the years, to use as a centerpiece of family history during Chanukah.

A good place to start with a new holiday plan, said Goodfriend, is to ask yourself: What parts of the holiday do you like? What parts don’t you like? Who will participate and what are their ages?

And think hard about color. Color is one of Goodfriend’s buzzwords, and she uses holiday hues to bring new life into any celebration. On Chanukah, plain vases are filled with holiday goodies: gold gelt, colorful dreidels, and blue, silver and white scissor-curled ribbons.

For celebrations, guests should also figure strongly in the equation. Small touches — like putting little votives at each place setting and filling them with fresh-picked garden flowers, or giving guests holiday-wrapped truffles as they leave — can add warmth.

“The idea is to respect the participants, take care of your guests and make them feel at home,” Goodfriend said.

Some of her other tips for holiday entertaining are:

For a wedding, fill mini-frames with action shots of the couple. Invite guests to take home the frames.

At a baby-naming, ask guests to bring baby-related poems to share with the new parents.

To incorporate guests into a brit milah, ask each guest to bring one stem of a favorite flower. Put out an empty vase and make an impromptu arrangement.

For Chanukah, votive candleholders become a menorah, creating a long, low centerpiece across the table. Fill eight small and one larger holder with aqua, silver and white glass pebbles.

For Sukkot under the stars, ask each guest to bring a favorite CD of Jewish music. Then, treat yourself and guests to new musical genres throughout the evening.

For information about Goodfriend Design Group, call (415) 584-4000 or email