Bringing her art home

The Australian native specializes in Hebrew calligraphy and ketubot.

Aliza Freedman (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Aliza Freedman
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
To be chosen to participate in the Women of the Book project is an honor for any artist, and new immigrant Aliza Freedman – who made aliya just four months ago – is thrilled to have been chosen.
The project was started by artist Shoshana Gugenheim and the object is to produce a visual version of the 54 parshiot of the Torah, each to be painted by a different woman artist in her own specific style.
Freedman, who is staying in Kochav Yair with a friend until she finds something more permanent, has the challenge of producing an illustration for Parshat Shlah from the Book of Numbers, which among other things tells the story of spies sent to scout out the land of Canaan.
Although not especially observant, but traditional, she has made Hebrew calligraphy her specialty and her ketubot (marriage contracts) are much in demand.
With many exhibitions behind her, she also hopes to make her name in Israel – since October her adopted country, after making aliya from Melbourne.
Born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Freedman studied graphic design, later working in Cape Town in the profession before moving to Australia.
After 27 years of marriage, she recently divorced and decided to move to Israel to be near her three children, who all made aliya before her.
Her son, Raphael, served in the army and was in Gaza during the last war. Her two daughters are also serving: Klelila in Nahal Oz, as an officer in field intelligence; and Mikayla, who was in special education and is just starting an officer’s course.
“I came on my own,” says Freedman, “and not just to be with them. So far, people have been very helpful.”
She has been particularly impressed by the Momentum Israel organization run by Rani Cohen, set up about two years ago to help new olim find their footing here, offering help in job hunting, housing and any other problems that might surface.
“It’s a business, but it’s run in a very caring way,” she says. “I was looking for a storage facility for my belongings, and they investigated three different places and found the most suitable.”
Decorated ketubot are very fashionable, as young couples want to make this significant document very personal and unique to them. Freedman will supply any design, although the rabbinate has certain restrictions – no animals, for instance – so she once had to say no to a bride who wanted to feature her pet dog.
But she has done a marriage certificate with a tiny Bart Simpson, hiding behind a leaf and just about visible, to the delight of the groom-to-be.
“Mostly people want floral or geometric designs,” she notes. “Birds are also acceptable.”
It takes two to three months to write one ketuba, and is clearly very painstaking and exacting work. “First I write the script and send it to the officiating rabbi, so he can check it to make sure there are no mistakes in the text, and afterwards I add the decoration,” says Freedman.
It can also be a dangerous occupation since, to make the paper cuts, she uses a very sharp surgical blade that has to be replaced every 20 centimeters. “You really need to know what you are doing,” she explains. “I get the blades from England as they are the best, but they can be lethal.”
In addition to ketubot, she has designed many other important and decorative documents.
“I’ve done a lot of work for the Jewish Museum in Melbourne,” she says. “They have a section there called ‘Lifestyle’ and it includes many artifacts celebrating different events, but they had nothing on death. I donated a decorated Kaddish [document] to them several years ago, and it is part of the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of Australia.”
Besides being so talented in the graphic arts, she is also an expert weaver, and makes beautiful halla covers with hand embroidery and appliqué. One of her Rosh Hashana halla covers is also in the Jewish Museum of Australia.
“Before I made aliya I had a floor loom, and I wove my son’s tallit on it,” she recounts. Since moving to Israel she has had to make do with a table loom.
Having exhibited all over the world, including the Ben-Uri Gallery in London, Freedman is now adjusting to her new life and hopes to eventually live on a moshav in the countryside and supplement her income by teaching art.
She landed her first job a few weeks ago and is giving a paper-cutting workshop in a small private art school in Tel Aviv, where she will conduct two three-hour sessions on the intricacies of this very specialized art form.
“As it’s an art school, I hope the pupils will have had some grounding in work of this sort,” she says.
It’s a modest start, but Freedman is full of optimism about her new life ahead – in Israel.