The Baltimore Jewish community and people across the world are seeing the work of Judaic artist Jeanette Kuvin Oren everywhere they look. Her artistic creations appear in many different media — from Torah and ark covers to paintings and wall art, and now, even postage stamps.
In fact, the “Hanukkah Forever 2022” stamp, based on a piece of Kuvin Oren’s art discovered by the United States Postal Service (USPS), became available at local post offices this past fall and adorned Chanukah-card envelopes throughout the “Festival of Lights.” In fact, many people are still using them and plan to do so all year long.
The Connecticut- and Jerusalem-based artist designs unique Torah mantles, ark curtains, chuppahs (wedding canopies), ketubahs (marriage contracts), paper cuts, stained glass and nearly any ritual object or decoration a synagogue, Jewish home or family would ever need. Several of her original works are prominently featured in Baltimore-area synagogues.
Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills dedicated 14 Torah covers in 2006 and one in 2010. Congregation Chizuk Amuno in Pikesville dedicated an ark curtain in 2013. Beth El Congregation’s own Torah cover, commissioned in 2021 by the Janet family in memory of Adam Janet, is a piece of art with a truly unique story.
When Adam died in 2019 at the age of 30, Adam’s father, Howard, and Adam’s wife, Corinne, began conversations about donating a Torah in Adam’s memory to Beth El, which has been important to the family for generations. The synagogue was seeking a lighter-weight Torah to be used for b’nai mitzvah and weekday services.
Howard and Corinne connected with architect Jay Brown, who worked with them to design a special Torah display case currently exhibited in the synagogue lobby. The family had previously dedicated a display in memory of Howard’s late wife, Rina Janet, and the Torah is centered in the same location.
Brown connected Corinne to Kuvin Oren, who was both honored and excited to collaborate with her on the Torah-cover project. Kuvin Oren learned of Corinne Janet’s needlepointing skills and painted pomegranates on needlepoint mesh. Corinne Janet stitched the pomegranates that were ultimately incorporated into the final cover, which also featured such Hebrew phrases as “L’Dor VaDor” (“From Generation to Generation”) and her late husband’s Hebrew name.
“I was looking for something that would enhance the meaning of the Torah, and it would be beautiful for people walking by,” says Corinne Janet.
“The piece of art is stunning,” she reports proudly.
She adds that she is moved each time she sees the Torah cover: “It is very meaningful. I was there [recently] with my daughter and mom. It is meaningful to a lot of people in our family, and to extended family and the community in Pikesville. It is nice to see that it is meaningful and in use.”
Kuvin Oren and the Janet family ultimately designed two covers so that there is always something in the display case, even when the Torah is being used.
Kuvin Oren relished the collaboration and the experience of getting to know the Janet family, saying, “I was incredibly moved by Corinne and her father-in-law, Howard, both of whom had suffered unbelievable loss. Weaving elements of Adam’s life — and incorporating Corinne’s needlepoint — into the Torah cover was so very meaningful.”
Kuvin Oren, a graduate of Princeton and Yale universities, is widely known for her talents and areas of expertise. She completed a master’s degree in public health and most of her Ph.D. in epidemiology. Since deciding to work on commissioned art and graphic design full-time in 1984, she has created installation pieces for more than 400 houses of worship, schools, summer camps and community centers worldwide. She specializes in large installations of glass, mosaic, metal, fiber art, calligraphy, paper-cutting and painting.
Her Torah covers, ark covers and curtains, wall-hangings and more may be seen in homes and Jewish institutions, including three Baltimore Conservative synagogues.
She has enjoyed getting to know the Baltimore Jewish community, noting that its members are “incredibly active and involved. I’ve loved working with several shuls in the area.”
‘Culmination of lifelong dream’
Now, Kuvin Oren’s work is further being seen internationally through its inclusion on a U.S. postage stamp.
Ethel Kessler, art director for stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, reports: “Jeanette’s art came to my attention several years ago, and I am very happy to be able to bring her work to a wide audience. Her work has a glowing and joyful spirit, and that’s what I wanted to add to our U.S. Chanukah series.”
An official announcement by the USPS — titled “USPS Celebrates Hanukkah With a New Stamp” — invited collectors to a first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony at Temple Emanu-El in Orange Village in Ohio on Oct. 20. Later, a Dec. 14 meet-and-greet with coffee, doughnuts and speeches by several postal officials took place at the Amity Post Office in Kuvin Oren’s home town of Woodbridge, Conn.
There, postal officials presented the artist with a framed picture of the postage stamp.
The October press release described how Kuvin Oren’s artwork turned into a stamp: “The stamp art features an original wall-hanging. The fiber art was hand-dyed, appliqued and quilted to form an abstract image of a chanukiah, the nine-branch candelabra used only at Chanukah.”
The stamp, issued in panes of 20, is one of the Forever types that will always be equal in value to the current first-class-mail one-ounce price.
Kessler acknowledges that such mail “may have dropped off in the past decade, but we still print over 10 million Chanukah celebration stamps.”
At the Woodbridge ceremony, Kuvin Oren told the moving story of her grandfather’s love of America and freedom. His parents arrived in the United States from Germany in 1939. She also mentioned his very impressive collection of U.S. postage stamps, lamenting that “I was supposed to get them, but they were stolen during his move to Florida.”
Still, she is more than pleased to have her work featured on a special stamp, an appropriate happenstance after such a loss.
In another coincidence relating the process of being discovered by the USPS, she reports: “I sent a piece 30 years ago to the USPS and always had a dream of being on a stamp; this is the culmination of a lifelong dream. I am very honored, and it is very emotional to see my artwork there. It is something so historical.”
Kuvin Oren added that a small wall-hanging of her postage stamp will also be displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum adjacent to Union Station in Washington, D.C.
In light of that, she adds playfully: “It will be Chanukah forever!”