Personal Encounter: Home grown parchments

Meet Izhar and Timna Neumann, a Zichron Ya'acov couple who use ancient Chinese techniques with a "modern accent" to make a unique brand of paper.

izhar neumann 88 298 (photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
izhar neumann 88 298
(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
Zichron Ya'acov, one of Israel's veteran settlements, is also the home of the ancient profession of paper-making. Tucked away in the corner of one of the pretty courtyards off the main cobbled pedestrian mall, Izhar and Timna Neumann work industriously to create paper and a wide range of products from wedding invitations to wall hangings, and recently pages incorporating parsley for a Haggadah being produced in America. Rabbi Mathew L. Berkowitz, the Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America's Kollot: Voices of Learning program in Boca Raton, Florida, is an accomplished artist and sofer (scribe), formally trained in Jewish scribal art in Jerusalem. To date, he has completed the writing of Megilat Esther (The Scroll of Esther) and the illumination of several ketubot (wedding contracts), and is currently producing and teaching on his limited edition work entitled Passover Landscapes, a portfolio of 27 paintings, a Haggada and commentary. Having visited Zichron and the Neumanns' courtyard corner of creativity, Berkowitz saw it fitting to have a few pages of each Haggada on paper specially created in Israel for that purpose. The Neumanns have already produced hundreds of parsley incorporated pages for the rabbinical educator, artist and scribe. In the 20 years since they opened the Tut Neyar paper mill, the couple have undertaken many an intricate Judaica mission, and have developed special paper for ketubot made from real flowers. They also collaborate with other artists, calligraphers and paper-cutters who use their painstakingly produced paper to create delicate paper cuts incorporating Judaica motifs. A decade ago, Izhar Neumann was approached by the Segal winery (later bought by the Barkan winery), the second largest producer of wine in the country, to prepare labels for one of the winery's top brands. Based on an on-the-spot quick count, Neumann estimates that he and Timna have created about 17,000 labels for Barkan over the past ten years. In Japan, apparently, labels affixed to containers of the much-revered alcoholic rice beverage sake are almost as important as what is contained within. "There are Japanese paper makers whose full-time jobs are creating the labels, or outer packaging," says Neumann, who spent two years studying paper making in that country. The Neumanns hold workshops and demonstrations for visitors in the open courtyard, or in the adjacent low stone buildings built by pioneer settlers who over a century ago founded the town that put Carmel Wines on the tables of Jewish families throughout the Diaspora. The courtyard, which incorporates the Neumann family home, the paper mill, shop and a few other small buildings used for storage, also sports a large paper mulberry tree from which some of the paper is produced. The Neumanns cultivate paper mulberry plants in small plantations in and around Zichron, and import other fibers from the Far East. A quietly spoken and modest man, Neumann studied the art of paper making in Beersheba before his stint in Japan, where he was apprenticed to local experts. "The history of paper-making links many cultures," he explains, brandishing a wooden mallet in one hand while fishing a gooey lump of mulberry bark pulp out of a water tank at his side. "Paper as we know it today developed from rice paper made in China already in 105 A.D., but rice paper as it is known in the West is actually made from the bark of hemp, paper mulberry or other plants," he continues, while beating the small pile of pulp bark into fibers on the wooden table in front of him. In Egypt, papyrus was made from the stalk of the papyrus plant that grew in the Nile, and papyrus scrolls were exported throughout the region. The secret of the manufacture of 'rice paper' was passed along the Silk Road into the Middle East, and the first paper mill in this region was established in Baghdad in the year 793, at the time of the celebrated Mohammedan caliph Harun-al-Rashid. By the 12th century, paper spread to Europe where it soon replaced the use of expensive calf-skin parchments. "We produce hand-made paper using ancient Chinese techniques with a modern accent," emphasizes Neumann, still banging away at the pulp on the table. The Neumanns offer a variety of custom handmade papers, all produced from natural long fibers, namely kozo (the Japanese name for paper mulberry or Tut Neyar in Hebrew), abaca, cotton, hemp, kenaf and flax. Occasionally they use exotic fibers such as oat straw, sugar cane, gampi or iris leaves. Paper can be made to order in different weights and finishes, tinted any color and made to any size customers specify. Each sheet is individually made using a traditional mold and deckle, therefore each sheet has deckle (natural) edges on all sides - unless, of course, customers ask for it to be trimmed. "The materials and techniques used ensure the longevity and strength of the papers, and of course years of experience have taught us how to create and ensure the highest quality of paper," says Neumann, still banging away at the pulp, which is now flat and covers a larger area of the table. A selection of wares and attractive lampshades are arranged on shelves and dangle from the ceiling of the compact shop. The lampshade paper is made from kozo fiber in the oriental style, and naturally translucent. Using it to cover a light bulb produces a warm light, and the flowers and leaves implanted in the paper almost take on a life of their own once illuminated. The paper is off-white or dyed, flat pressed or wrinkled - the latter apparently easier to work with on round objects, giving a special effect when lit from behind. The Neumanns, whose teenage son and twin daughters are also experts at creating Tut Neyar products, also make wall hangings using an ancient Nepalese technique incorporating long fibers, twigs, straw and other natural materials. The world of papermaking is intricate, artistic and enormously time consuming. Hearing about the different techniques and where they originated produces a sense of having traveled to exotic parts of the world - without leaving the quiet courtyard in Zichron. Tut-Neyar Paper Mill, 39 Rehov Hameyasdim, Zichron Ya'acov. Tel: 04-6397631.