Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m Chana Gamliel, textile Judaica artist, wife and mother to five awesome kids, keneynehora!
My story begins over 100 years ago, in a small town in northern Morocco- Ksar el-Kebir. Rabbi Itzchak Benhaim, my paternal great-grandfather, was a Sofer scribe who slaughtered his own cows and prepared their hides as the parchment for his Torah scrolls. He would go peddling his Torahs throughout Morroco and thus make a living. His son Reuben, my grandfather, chose a different path in life- he became a high-end women’s fashion designer and owned several successful factories. In fact, my grandfather’s superb craftsmanship is what inspired me to pursue a career in fashion design. However, upon making aliya at the age of 18 and attending Baer Miriam seminary in Jerusalem, I decided to channel my G-d given creative talents to a holier purpose and work in the field of synagogue Judaica. In this way, I feel like I’m helping both my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s legacies come full circle- I’m creating luxury parochets (Holy Ark curtains) for synagogues worldwide!
What inspired you to become an artist?
My inspirations are my grandfather, the fashion designer, and my father, who imported luxury fabrics from Italy to Montreal, Canada. How I loved receiving scraps of designer fabrics from Daddy and sewing my own dresses (for me and my Barbies) at the age of five!
I was the kid in class who’d sit near the sides or back of the classroom and draw high-end women’s fashions for hours on end. I can recall myself doing this since the 5th grade and continued until I graduated with a B.Ed… It’s my family inheritance, I guess.
What is your specialty?
I design high-end parochets (Holy Ary curtains) that become the focal point of a synagogue’s’ Main Sanctuary.
I firmly believe that a parochet is so much more than embroidery threads and velvet. It’s meant to create an ambience, a welcoming atmosphere in the shul. It should convey the congregation’s unique message and value system, and attract newcomers. It is essentially the synagogue’s focal point.
© Chana Gamliel
How and where do you work?
I custom-design each parochet or Torah mantel from my home studio. When it comes to the embroidery – I work with a large network of the leading embroiderers in Israel. Every embroiderer has his/her own specialty and I assign each parochet to a particular embroiderer on a per-project basis. For example, modern parochets often require expertise in the field of applique embroidery, so I field out those pieces to my applique experts.
This system allows me to access a huge talent pool without being tied down to any specific machine or embroidery style.
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
My Mac! This is where I translate abstract concepts into beautiful custom-designed parochets. I use Adobe Illustrator.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?
I draw my main inspiration from my customers. Before embarking on a project, I have them e-mail me TONS of photos of their synagogue interior- the Aron Kodesh, stained glass windows, seating system, walls, floors, chandeliers, you name it. When I get a good feel of the vibe in their synagogue, my creative juices start flowing and B”H I begin doodling designs that flow with their unique interior.
My main themes are: the Tree of Life, the 12 Tribes, Jerusalem, the 7 Species (Shivat HaMinim), Crowns, Mount Sinai and Flames.
© Chana Gamliel
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, most of my customers are interested in Tree of Life parochets with the words “Etz Chayim” intertwined in the bark of the Tree. An interesting recent request was to create a split parochet (instead of one large curtain covering the Holy Ark’s opening, there would be two narrow curtains), with a Tree of Life on it. I came up with the idea of embroidering the actual tree on the right panel with many of the leaves and roots leaning into the left panel.
What are your favourite items in your current collection?
Any parochet I made with 800 Swarovski crystals or more- I love sparkle!
© Chana Gamliel
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Great question. Every beautiful project must have a start and a finish and it can be hard to say goodbye to a parochet I’ve toiled over night and day for 3 months! But when I’m finished embroidering, sewing on Swarovski crystals, sewing on the fringe tassels, double-checking the height and width and making sure everything looks exactly like the computerized mock-up my customer confirmed… well… it’s time to ship the parochet to its new home, wherever it may be in the world!
What was the first artwork you ever sold?
About 9 years ago, when I first toyed with the idea of leaving my salaried job and starting my own parochet company, I mentioned my wish/hope to my mentor- Mrs. Chaya Elias from my hometown of Montreal. She told me that her husband, Rosh Kollel Rabbi Dovid Elias, was in the process of constructing a magnificent new building for his Kollel and they would need a parochet. Several days later, I received a phone call from the potential parochet donor who ended up being so happy with his new navy blue Vilna Gate parochet that he ordered a coordinating white Holiday parochet the second he saw the parochet hanging in the Kollel’s Aron Kodesh.
It’s amazing having a mentor who believes in you!
Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
‘Biala’ of Stamford Hill in London, UK.
This was what you could call my “breakthrough” project that propelled my work to international recognition.
High-end British interior designer Leibel Schlesinger brought me into this epic project about two years ago, explaining that he was in the process of designing what would become the most majestic synagogue in Europe. His client, the Grand Rabbi of the Biala Hassidic dynasty, truly wished to honor the memory of his dynastic predecessors somewhere on the parochet. Traditionally, all dedication names are embroidered on the bottom or center of a parochet. However, with a list of 9 Rabbis, I was afraid that the names would become one blur in the middle of the design.
Mr. Schlesinger challenged me to weave the Rabbis’ names into a web of flowers and leaves that would coordinate with the overpowering Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark).
This is the fabulous result that now attracts 1000! visitors to the Biala synagogue on a daily basis:
© Chana Gamliel
What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?
I’d love to continue inspiring Jewish communities all over the world:
- to attend prayer services more often
- to be inspired by Prayer
- to love G-d and His Holy Torah
- to connect to G-d exactly as they are, with all their strengths and weaknesses
My wishes for the future are to have more and more commissions so that I will be able to spread my beautiful work to even more communities!
Where can we find your work?
I feature several collections on my site as well as a super interesting Synagogue Design Blog where I write detailed case studies about my own projects and also interview many professionals from the synagogue design-build field.
This is where I am most active in social media. I try posting once a week and have a loyal following.
I post here from time to time.
I’m quite new here!