In the Bay Area, you don’t need to travel far to find an exceptional gift for your loved ones. Whether on the lookout for a locally made present or one from Israel, you’ll find them and everything in between at area Judaica stores. And shop owners — now in high gear for the Chanukah season, which begins sundown Friday, Dec. 15 — are quick to recommend gifts made by those near and far.
While Michael Wex’s “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods” is still hot, Ellen Bob, co-owner of Palo Alto’s bob and bob, says “Yiddish with George and Laura” is a winner, too.
“It’s a great way to introduce you to Yiddish vocabulary,” Bob says of the newly published book by the authors of the best-selling “Yiddish with Dick and Jane.”
Also, locals will surely be drawn to the recently published “Jewish San Francisco,” which Eva-Lynne Leibman, co-owner of Dayenu in San Francisco, says is one of the store’s most popular books.
Written by Edward Zerin, a retired congregational rabbi and author of “The Birth of the Torah,” the book spans from Gold Rush days, when Jews were pioneers among pioneers, to today’s 70,000 San Francisco Jews.
“It should be a hit this year,” Nurit Sabadorsh, owner of Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos, says about “Jewish San Francisco.” “It covers the history of this area nicely.”
Another top seller: Rabbi Lawrence Kushner’s novel: “Kabbalah: A Love Story.”
“It’s a very fast read, interesting and thought-provoking,” says Bob. “It’s also very nice for both men and women.”
Across the bay, Jerry Derblich — owner of Berkeley’s Afikomen Judaica — says that one of the store’s best-selling books is “The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million” by Daniel Mendelsohn, a personal account of a search for what happened to his great-uncle, Shmiel Jäger, whom he closely resembled. Mendelsohn embarked in 2001 on a series of journeys to learn exactly what had happened to Shmiel and his family.
Mezuzahs and menorahs by San Francisco’s Aimee Golant, a sixth-generation metalsmith, can be found throughout the Bay Area. Voted one of the Best Local Jewish Visual Artists this year by j. readers, Golant was also a finalist this year for a Niche award, the trade publication for retailers of American craft, for her Life Source Menorah series.
Dayenu has Golant’s bronze and sterling Life Source Menorahs in stock, Leibman notes.
She says customers are also drawn to the menorahs crafted by Israeli-born Tamara Baskin, who works with fused glass in which layers of glass are cut and then arranged in a kiln to be fired.
Adds Bob: “She’s one of our best-selling artists. People love how the light plays through the glass.”
Alef Bet’s Sabadorsh says sculptor Gary Rosenthal is “always a No. 1 hit.” The Washington, D.C.-based artist, who creates everything from dreidels to menorahs to tzedakah boxes to Shabbat candles, has one of the most popular and unique lines of Judaic art in the country.
Afikomen’s Helen-Anne Mertsching says Seeka jewelry is very popular locally (and it’s one of this writer’s favorites!). Seeka — which means “pin” or “brooch” in Hebrew — is made by Israeli-born artists Nachshon Peleg and Stavit Allweis, who now live in Brooklyn, N.Y. Bringing together their skills from industrial design and fine art, they combine laser-cut stainless steel, glass, found objects, semiprecious stones, and Austrian crystal to form their jewelry.
Another favorite jeweler at Afikomen is Israel’s David Tishbi, who specializes in a “two-tone” process using 14-karat gold and sterling silver.
Dayenu’s Leibman praises the designs of Israeli transplant Eva Strauss-Rosen, who now lives in Willits in Northern California. She is known for her “hamsa” designs, the symbol of the right hand.
And for the Judaica collector, “we have some gorgeous dreidels,” adds Leibman, pointing out the Venetian glass dreidels by Michael Gore, who has exhibited at the annual “To Life!” Jewish street festival in Palo Alto.
Several Judaica shops carry framed prints by Israeli artist Gad Almaliah — perhaps best known for his technique of hand-embossed metal illustrations and calligraphy.
If you venture into Afikomen sometime soon, you might hear a staff favorite playing in the background: The Klezmatics’ “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah.” Complete with a dreidel dust jacket, this is cutting-edge, jazz-infused klezmer.
Afikomen’s Derblich is proud to once again carry a wide range of candles from Israel. Two decades ago, he says, “all the candles were from Israel.” But distributors in New York grew unreliable, forcing store owners to buy made-in-China candles. No more.
At Alef Bet, “We are really promoting Safed candles,” says Sabadorsh. “Safed was really hurt during the war this year.”
A gift “that’s great for any age,” and one of Bob’s favorites, is a beeswax Chanukah candle-making kit. “It’s a non-messy, easy craft,” she says. “And it’s very satisfying to put the candles that you made into the menorah.”
Where you can buy kids’ gifts
Afikomen 3042 Claremont Ave., Berkeley. 510-655-1977, www.afikomen.com.
Dayenu 3220 California St., San Francisco. 415-563-6563.
bob and bob 151 Forest Avenue, Palo Alto. 650-329-9050.
Alef Bet Judaica 14103D Winchester Blvd., Los Gatos. 408-370-1818.