Learning Kabbalah through coloring books

"The Kabbalah Coloring Book is really two books in one. It works for kids as a coloring book, and it works for adults."

COLORING AS meditation. (photo credit: ZEV PADWAY)
COLORING AS meditation.
(photo credit: ZEV PADWAY)
Before the coronavirus shut them both down 10 months ago, Anglo olim Zev Padway and David Friedman owned wildly successful businesses in the Old City of Safed, catering to the tourism industry.
As the owner of Elements Café, Padway literally catered. His experience creating Shabbat meals for 1,000 people in the woods at the US’s annual Rainbow Gathering was excellent preparation for running Elements Café, which specialized in serving healthy, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan food. Elements Café is the No. 1 rated Safed restaurant on Tripadvisor, and has the distinction of being mentioned in the Lonely Planet travel guide to the region.
In addition to healthy food, Padway served his guests a huge helping of warm personal connection and inspiration, often by telling the uplifting story of his return to Torah observance from his secular Jewish background. In addition to the café, he also runs the Elements guest suite, renovations for which he had heavily invested in just before corona hit.
Acclaimed Kabbalah artist Friedman’s gallery in Safed (kosmic-kabbalah.com) routinely hosted up to 15 groups of tourists, adding up to hundreds of people a day. From Taglit students to synagogue groups to non-Jewish visitors, Friedman spoke to groups about the intersection of Kabbalah and art. For many, his talk was their first introduction to the subject of Jewish mysticism.
Friedman explained that his mystical art “makes use of numbers and Hebrew letters, as well as geometric shapes and symbols, because they are important keys to unlock the mysteries of the Kabbalah.”
Padway said about his friend and business partner, “The diversity of people who have been through his gallery is mind-blowing. He and his wife, Miriam, have hosted literally thousands of people at their Shabbat table.”
ZEV PADWAY (left) and David and Miriam Friedman, friends for 30 years, create a dream together. (Photo credit: Zev Padway)ZEV PADWAY (left) and David and Miriam Friedman, friends for 30 years, create a dream together. (Photo credit: Zev Padway)
WITH TOURISM in Israel at a virtual standstill, Padway and Friedman got to work on a long-dormant project – creating an adult coloring book based on Friedman’s artwork and his knowledge of Kabbalah.
The inspiration for the coloring book was Padway’s. He had been nudging Friedman unsuccessfully for a long time, even going so far as to disrupt Friedman’s presentations by asking the group, “Who wants a David Friedman Kabbalah coloring book?”
Last summer, under Padway’s relentless persistence, Friedman agreed to move forward with the project, on the condition that Padway handle the logistics of producing the coloring book.
After they reached an agreement to proceed, initial progress was slow. Besides managing competing demands, including the birth of Padway and his wife Miriam’s third son, there were technical complications in reproducing Friedman’s existing designs.
Little did either man imagine that the emergence of COVID-19 would turn out to give them the time they needed to complete the project.
Over a period of weeks working eight to 10 hours a day, Friedman redrew all 50 images specifically for the book. He explained that the technical necessity for him to redraw all 50 images had an unintended benefit. “[It] resonates with the kabbalistic concept of a world which was made incomplete, for us to complete, and to make more beautiful, repairing the world, tikkun olam.”
Friedman also rewrote the accompanying descriptions of each image, turning each into a brief Torah lesson and meditation.
“It was a wonderful experience for him,” Padway assured.
 Jerusalem’s Rabbi Raz Hartman edited the text Friedman wrote for the book’s Hebrew edition.
Acknowledging that a project as distinctive as this one deserved special care when printed, Padway eschewed publishing the Kabbalah Coloring Book (thekabbalahcoloringbook.com) with Amazon.com and turned to a specialty printer in Jerusalem.
“When we printed it, every decision was quality-oriented. We wanted thick, heavy paper stock so it doesn’t bleed through,” he elaborated.
The paper they chose pairs well with colored pencils or extra-fine-point markers. Insisting that a certain color be “Safed blue,” Padway sent the printer a photo of the grave of Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, which is in Safed’s ancient cemetery, so he could match the precise shade.
“As our entire planet is struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are spending more time indoors, often alone, a creative project can be healing and transformative – as creating The Kabbalah Coloring Book was for me,” Friedman commented.
“Coloring images composed of symmetrical geometric shapes that are rich in detail can be a therapeutic, meditative and spiritual experience. The focus, repetition, relaxation, mindfulness and creativity involved are healing for the body, heart, mind and soul,” he elaborated.
The book was released in October, and the partners have begun receiving heartwarming feedback from appreciative customers all over Israel and the US. Although the majority of their sales have been to American Jews, Padway noted that the book is also appropriate for spiritually or artistically inclined non-Jews.
‘SHTISEL’ ACTOR Michael Aloni shows off both copies of the ‘Kabbalah Coloring Book’ while eating at Elements Cafe. (Photo credit: Zev Padway)‘SHTISEL’ ACTOR Michael Aloni shows off both copies of the ‘Kabbalah Coloring Book’ while eating at Elements Cafe. (Photo credit: Zev Padway)
Dr. Zev Alexander from Jerusalem said, “We love it. We’ve been in isolation, and it is our favorite activity with our children. They ask for it when they wake up in the morning. We’re sending them to friends both here and in the US.”
“The Kabbalah Coloring Book is my favorite book to grab on the shelf and get lost in! It is an amazing gift for others and for that perfect activity for a settled mind or open heart. I am especially appreciating the powerful and expansive meditations that go along with each page, and recommend a copy for everyone!” enthused Safed resident Orah Simcha Farhi.
Shoshana Shamberg of Baltimore has been friends with Friedman, and a fan of his work, for almost 40 years.
“His teachings have always fascinated me, and having a visualization made the Torah learning more accessible to us visual and artistically inclined learners,” she shared. “I use the The Kabbalah Coloring Book as a meditation and gifts for others.”
Padway noted, “My restaurant and David’s gallery have been closed for 10 months. Safed has been shut down hard. We had to think outside the box. The Kabbalah Coloring Book was created as a way to bring in some income, but our businesses were never about just making money. [Our goal has always been to] reach out and to connect people to Judaism. The Kabbalah Coloring Book is our way to connect with people all over the world and to be able to bring light in these dark times of corona.”
He explained that, from a mental health perspective, “numerous studies talk about the therapeutic benefit of adult coloring books. It’s an alternative to screen time.” The Kabbalah Coloring Book encourages people to “slow down and read the meditations and concepts. It’s very healthy and self-nurturing.”
In the near future, they are planning to offer online classes on concepts in Kabbalah, led by Friedman, for synagogue groups in the US that buy multiple copies of the book. Looking further into the future, the pair created Kosmic Kabbalah Press in order to publish other books and bring to market new products that will feature Friedman’s kabbalistic art.
Padway, who is in charge of marketing The Kabbalah Coloring Book, created a website (thekabbalahcoloringbook.com), a book trailer, narrated by street artist Solomon Souza, who painted the images on the stall doors of the shuk in Jerusalem, as well as a Facebook page for people to share their finished pages.
“The Kabbalah Coloring Book is really two books in one. It works for kids as a coloring book, and it works for adults. When they read the 50 Torahs that David wrote, it’s a beautiful book to read to learn the basics of Kabbalah,” Padway concluded.