Pasting Together a Visual Narrative

Scrapbooking Enthusiasts Say Hobby Helps Preserve Religious Memories

By Rebecca Phillips

Published March 26, 2004, issue of March 26, 2004.
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Here are four new questions to consider this Passover: What’s the best way to display photos from your Seders? Where can one find good Hebrew fonts online? Is it time to branch out from blue-and-white background paper? And where can one buy high-quality images of matzo?

These issues might not be as common as Ma Nishtana, but for the Jewish women who will soon be deciding how best to document the Passover holiday in their scrapbooks, they are important questions. Jewish women are becoming increasingly involved with scrapbooking, which in the past several years has morphed from the once-simple act of pasting photographs onto album pages into a $2.5 billion industry.

“More and more Jewish women are starting to find it,” said Dr. Melissa Ackerman, a obstetrician-gynecologist and mother of one in Princeton, N.J., who describes herself as “head over heels” into scrapbooking. “I think we’re creating our own little niche.”

Just a few years ago, Jewish “scrappers” would have had a hard time finding any Passover-themed supplies or the sample layouts so many hobbyists turn to for inspiration for their own work.

But that’s all changing, according to Naomi Epstein, who owns a scrapbooking shop in Toronto called The Embellishment Store.

Epstein’s outfit is just one of a number of scrapbooking supply stores, companies and online retailers that now offer general and holiday-specific Jewish products. Scrappers can now buy Star of David eyelets, small decorations for scrapbook-page corners, on theembellishmentstore.com. Passover-specific rubber stamps can be found at ruthsjewishstamps.com. Matzo and Seder-plate cutouts are available on happyscrappininc.com. Decorative pewter matzo charms and kiddush-cup-shaped laser cuts are sold in the Judaica section of doyouscrap.com. And several Passover layout samples and ideas are available at Geocities.com/jewishscrappersresource.

Though such Jewish products and resources are a relatively recent addition to the mix, the scrapbooking hobby has long been important in religious communities. Scrapbooking has been a pastime for ages, as anyone who has saved a concert ticket stub or pressed a corsage into an album knows, but experts point to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the impetus for the hobby’s revival in the past two decades. The Mormon interest in genealogy led many to begin documenting their family stories in scrapbooks. Spreading from the Mormon world, the hobby became extremely popular among Christian women. Christian-specific scrapbooking groups, materials and how-to books abound. Many churches throughout the country offer weekly meetings for what they call “faithbooking.”

Enthusiasts throw scrappers’ parties, attend scrapping retreats and even indulge in scrapbooking cruises. There are dozens of popular books dedicated to hobbyists’ minutiae: “Scrapbooking for the First Time,” “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Scrapbooking” and “How to Organize Your Scrapbook Workspace” (yes, many scrappers do devote entire rooms to the pastime).

Jewish scrapbookers still see a long way to go before Jewish themes and products become ubiquitous in the vast scrapbooking world. Jewish items are often scarce in craft stores and scrapbook magazines, where Christmas-themed decorations dominate. “I don’t buy scrapbook magazines during the month of December because it’s all Christmas,” said Aimee Yermish, an educational therapist in Stow, Mass.

“It is annoying to go to a general hobby store and find nothing Jewish,” lamented Linda Levine, a motivational speaker and professor at San Jose State University, who teaches a scrapbooking class to Hebrew High School students at her local Reform congregation.

“The day-to-day-type things that people scrap are the same for everybody,” said Ackerman. “But when it comes to holidays or a bris, it’s hard to find examples and inspiration.”

To combat the dearth of Jewish products, Jewish scrappers have turned to one another. Ackerman, Yermish and Epstein, along with Texas mothers and scrapbook aficionados Sheri Wald and Marni Kaner, are all active in an online scrapbooking discussion group, Yahoo’s Jewishscrappers, which boasts several hundred members. The members, who seem to be exclusively women, trade dozens of tips each day, sharing ideas and sample page layouts, and offer friendship and support to fellow members.

The group has been instrumental in the evolution of Jewish materials for scrapbookers: everything from blue-and-white background papers to Chanukah-themed stickers and shofar charms. They discuss whether the December holiday should be spelled Hanukkah or Chanukah, whether they’d prefer decorative papers that say “Shabbat Shalom” or “Mazel Tov” and which Jewish embellishments they favor.

Like scrappers in general, most Jewish scrappers are married mothers in their 30s and early 40s. They cover the Jewish religious spectrum, including converts and non-Jewish women married to Jewish men who use scrapbooking as a way to connect Jewishly to their families.

Many hobbyists say that Jewish scrap- booking often becomes a way to learn about Judaism itself. They intermingle Passover recipes with talk about which types of vellum to use, share bar mitzvah plans while

discussing which scrapbooking contests to enter.

Many see the act of scrapbooking as an intrinsic part of their Jewish life. “Finding a connection to our past and documenting those experiences is definitely a Jewish experience,” Levine said.

For Yermish, Judaism is so “pervasive” in her life that “it wouldn’t be possible for me to have a scrapbook that didn’t have Jewish content.”

In the end, many women seem to find that scrapbooks documenting important memories of Passover Seders and other holiday experiences serve as an important vehicle for preserving and passing on family and religious traditions.

“It’s important to show my kids how they celebrated the Jewish holidays as they grew up,” said Kaner, whose scrapbook layouts showing her family’s Rosh Hashana and Sukkot celebrations are being published this fall by Memory Makers, the premier scrapbooking magazine.

“There’s a maternal instinct to pass down the history of your family,” said Wald, whose husband is the son of a Holocaust survivor. “That’s what the importance of scrapping is — so it doesn’t get lost.”






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