A celebration of uniquely African Judaica

Many a parent whose son or daughter wants to study art is plagued by sleepless nights. ‘While I know it’s a passion, will they be able to make a living from art?’

While making a living from art or from craft can be quite a challenge, it helps if the value chain in the industry is supportive, in particular if the value chain provides the artist with exposure to markets. After all, selling your product is a crucial element in the sustainability of your endeavours.

This is certainly true of the South African Jewish Museum’s Shop – a treasure of a retail outlet that is well worth a visit. The store – located at the Gardens Community Centre campus in Gardens – stocks an incredible array of craft and art items, produced by South African artists from around the country. “We are also an outlet for the items made by the beneficiaries  of Astra Sheltered Employment, which provides for members of the Jewish community with special needs,” comments Adele Fish, a co-Manager of the Shop.

According to Mandy Edison, Executive Director of Astra, “Our collaboration with the SA Jewish Museum Shop is a crucial element of our success. Our beneficiaries are actively engaged in producing products for sale at the Shop, as well as for sale at our own venue, Giftime, and other outlets. The approximately 60 people who do the work – some of whom reside at Glendale Home – have more purpose in their daily lives. The pride in what they do – coupled with the fact that they earn a stipend for their work – is an important element in their feeling of self-worth and confidence.”

The collaboration between the two organisations has allowed for the creation of products for the Museum Shop. As Lee Solomon, co-Manager of the Museum Shop, explains, “When we identify a particular need for a product – something that our customers ask for but that we don’t currently stock – we discuss with Astra or other craftspeople whether they can supply the item. So, for instance, we have introduced items for gifts for children that Astra has started producing. The Busy Books for children aged about three have proved to be particularly successful.”

In terms of the Judaica items available through the Shop, many are unique and cannot be found elsewhere. “Our approach has been to combine traditional Judaica items with our African heritage,” explains Adele. “So, for instance, a Zimbabwean wire- and beadworker, Peter Namupira of African Home Creative, has responded to our need to provide wire and beaded works containing Jewish symbols. His bowls with Magen David adornments are hugely popular with foreign Jewish tourists who visit the Shop.” 

Products are sourced from private individuals, commercial manufacturers and non-profit organisations. Some of the most exciting providers include:

African Home Creative – mentioned above – which provides a chance for people who otherwise struggle to earn a living, such as refugees from Zimbabwe and Malawi and residents of Cape Town’s townships, to practise their crafting skills and so derive an income. The founder of the business, Peter Namupira, comments that, “The Jewish Museum Shop has become a pillar of the African craft market in Cape Town. We are privileged to be able to sell through the Shop because, even when it’s a slow time for us otherwise, the Shop maintains its regular orders. This has been crucial for our sustainability.”

Peter also highlights the fact that the Shop – unlike many other retail outlets – allows him to put a tag on the items he sells there. Providing information about the business, this has become an important marketing element for African Home Creative. “We have secured a number of orders because of this,” Peter explains. “We’ve had bulk orders for items for Bat Mitzvahs, for instance, because the tag was displayed on an item in the Shop.”

Kaross, a co-operative of farmworkers from Limpopo Province. When harvesting season is over on the citrus farm they work on, women apply their traditional embroidery skills (traditional to the Vatsonga and Northern Sotho people) to produce their distinctive embroidered items. The project has allowed for the revival of these needleworking skills, and today over a thousand embroiderers earn additional income through their work. The Museum Shop stocks numerous items from Kaross, but the shweshwe challah covers stand out for their popularity.

Potterswork, a business with an impressive history of job creation, joined forces with the College of Cape Town, Gugulethu Campus, to employ members of their Fine Arts Diploma programme. The business operates from Capricorn Business Park, employing a number of men from surrounding communities. “We developed a tactile, bead-like style of ceramic painting, which has become a signature style for the business,” explains Chris Silverston, who founded the company in 1986. 

The bead-like painting on the bowls and platters produced can be seen in numerous items sold at the Museum Shop, including the unique Pesach Seder Plate that the Chronicle featured on our April 2024 cover.

Woza Moya, the economic empowerment project of the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust in KwaZulu-Natal which provides economic opportunities for people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The Museum Shop stocks a range of their beautiful beaded items.

Sivan’s Handmade Gifts is a Jewish-owned Johannesburg business known for a range of Judaica products. Sivan’s candlesticks are a particularly popular item.

Tin City produces distinctive African items from tin. Their large menorahs are a hit at the Shop.

The Museum Shop offers items for any occasion: whether it’s something to put on the wall or table of your own home, or a gift for a Yom Tov or a celebration, you can certainly find a uniquely beautiful item at the Museum Shop. And there are great gifts available from Astra, too – see the Astra website, https://astrajse.com/shop/ to view the product range.  

Astra Jewish Sheltered Employment
20 Breda Street, Gardens | 021 461 8414 | Email: coffeetime@jsec.org.za | https://astrajse.com/shop/

SAJM GIFT SHOP Cape Town’s one-stop Judaica shop Tel: +27 21 465 1546, Email: shop@sajewishmuseum.co.za

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