After living through Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017, fine artist Anna Abramzon and her husband left Houston and moved to San Rafael — arriving just in time for the catastrophic fires in nearby Santa Rosa that October.
“I’ve seen first-hand what it’s like to go through a natural disaster,” said Abramzon, who kayaked away from her home in Houston with their two small daughters to escape the floods.
So after the newly resettled Abramzon drove to Santa Rosa and saw the charred ruins of so many homes, she responded in the ways she knew.
“We were doing all the things you do: donating money and things that people need,” she reflected. ”But I found myself asking: What more can I do to help? What else can I offer?”
A light bulb went off in her head when she recalled a conversation with a friend on the topic of what you’d save if your house was on fire. “I would grab my ketubah,” her friend had said.
At that moment, Abramzon knew exactly what she could offer to people burned out by the Tubbs Fire.
A large part of Abramzon’s art business is devoted to commemorating important life events: wedding invitations, baby naming certificates, bar and bat mitzvah items, chuppahs and, yes — ketubahs.
In fact, the website for Anna Abramzon Studio features some 72 ketubah designs that she completes with the names, dates and specifics for each couple. They range from simple, two-toned flowers to vibrant, colorful paintings with the text in English and/or Hebrew. Clients can choose Reform, Conservative or Orthodox wording, and there are variations for interfaith, egalitarian or same-sex marriages. Prices range from $129 to $299 with gold-leaf touches, with customized options costing more.
Personal documents commemorating their union may be among a couple’s most treasured possessions, but when they have lost their home, and nearly everything in it, a piece of paper — even one imbued with significance — probably isn’t first on the recovery priority list.
“So I had the idea that I could offer replacement ketubahs to anyone who had lost theirs,” Abramzon said.
Still fairly new to the area, Abramzon reached out to Rabbi Stephanie Kramer of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa, whom she had met at a Sukkot celebration — the night before the Tubbs Fire ignited, as it turned out. An email offering to craft free replacement ketubahs for people who had lost theirs in the conflagration was forwarded by Kramer to congregants.
Responses didn’t come in immediately.
“I think it takes a while for people to get their bearings in things like this. Other needs come first, while they’re rebuilding,” Abramzon said. “But slowly people have taken me up on the offer.”
Melanie Carlston of Santa Rosa, who had lost a house filled with her late mother’s paintings, was one of them. Abramzon spent a good deal of time with her so she could make something that would help Carlson start rebuilding her collection of personally meaningful art. In return, the woman and her husband gifted Abramzon one of the mother’s surviving prints.
“It is a really unique work and I will always treasure it,” said Abramzon, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. “I was so touched.”
As word of Abramzon’s ketubah mission began to spread, she started receiving requests from as far away as Texas and Florida, from people whose homes and possessions had been ravaged by hurricanes. As of a few weeks ago, she had made at least a dozen ketubahs, deciding to keep the offer open to victims of natural (or human-caused) disasters. Contact information is on her website, aaketubah.com.
Abramzon’s ketubahs are lyrical and romantic, much like her own union with her husband, Patricio, who was born and raised in Argentina. Anna also was born overseas, in the Soviet Union, before coming the United States at age 7. Shortly after graduating from art school in 2004, Anna “moved to beautiful, mysterious Jerusalem in search of adventure and inspiration,” she writes on her website. And, wow, did she find it, quickly meeting and falling in love with Patricio. “And when I say quickly, I mean quickly — we got engaged six days after I arrived! My parents almost had heart attacks.”
As for their new life in the North Bay, the Abramzons don’t belong to a synagogue, but they do occasionally attend events with Marin Mishpucha, a group for people who are Jewish or Jew-ish. One of its organizers, Cody Harris, has been touched by Abramzon’s gesture.
“We could all use some uplifting news these days, and I can think of nothing more love-affirming and life-affirming than an artist remaking a ketubah after a tragedy,” he said.