This is a story that will warm your heart. It goes something like this:
His wife needs some peace and quiet so she can study to become a
rabbi in Connecticut. The husband takes up a quiet hobby of wood
carving — chip carving — at night and on weekends after work. They
are both longtime, committed Jewish social workers. She is a rabbi now. He is a master chip carver.
Meet Barbara and Harvey Paris. (More on that unusual Jewish surname later.)
It all started in 2006 when Harvey decided to find a suitable home hobby to keep him busy and quiet at home while his wife began studying for the rabbinate at Academy for Jewish Religion.
“We realized that I’d have 20 hours of downtime a week while Barbara did her homework,” Harvey told this blogger. “But it had to be a quiet hobby.”
Chip-carving requires a hand-held knife, and you can do it while sitting on a chair in the bedroom.
Born in 1951, Harvey grew up in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn.
He is not only is a seasoned wood carver now, he also has a good sense of humor, noting: “My wife sometimes half-jokingly says that maybe the only reason she became a rabbi was for me to become a carver. She was ordained this April.”
“I consider myself the world’s premier Jewish chip carver because I think I am the world’s only Jewish chip carver,” he says, again with the humor. “Chip carving takes its name from its process of removing chips of wood from the surface with a knife. I have applied the same technique to leather as well.”
I decided to utilize my chip carving skills towards creating and beautifying Jewish ritual objects,” Harvey added, noting: “All of my designs are my own. My first creations were etrog boxes, tzaddakah boxes and mizrachs. I have since designed mezuzahs, challah boards and Seder plates.”
At some point I realized that I could create works of art utilizing Jewish motifs and carved my Peace and Promise series, in where I carved the word ‘Peace’ in 7 languages including Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish, each with one of the Biblical seven species of vegetation as the background design. I then carved a Remembrance series involving 6 pieces reflecting on traditional Jewish values such as Torah and the 10 Commandments but also remembering the Holocaust as well as family members.”
Customers? Does Harvey Paris have customers, and is there a waiting list?
“To date, most of my customers are people who have wanted presents for special occasions — either a customized wedding plate or a Jewish ritual object that could also be customized. I have also carved three arons for shuls and schools. I am hoping that people will soon start viewing my carvings in both wood and leather as art as well as ritual or celebratory,” he told me.
His website is at http://www.jewishcarving.com/
When asked about his knowledge of the Hebrew characters he uses in his carvings, Harvey had a ready answer, er, at hand (pardon the pun).
“I studied some Hebrew in college at Harpur College, and also at Gratz College in Philadelphia as well as in Israel for a semester,” he said. “I don’t speak it well or read it well, but can carve in it very nicely. Carving, like writing, is all about lines.”
Now about that Jewish family surname name: Paris?
“Paris is our real family name, but it was obviously changed when my grandparents came through the immigration desk at Ellis Island long ago,” he said. “It might have been Poiris. No one is certain.”
One thing is certain: the rabbi’s husband carves wood with aplomb and pizzazz, and his work is bringing smile to people worldwide.
And not only that, but it goes without saying that he is very proud of Barbara’s recent ordination in mid-life as a rabbi.