Uri Kalfa

Olive Wood Sculptor & Artist in Israel

Workshop History

Uri Kalfa

An artist working in the Judean Desert

by ​Rivkah Naomi Green​ on January 18, 2019 

The first thing one notices when walking into the Maale Adumim workshop of  Israeli wood crafter, Uri Kalfa, is the distinctive scent of wood and sawdust that  lingers in the air. The space is open, and the stacks of raw and partially worked  olive wood are artfully dappled by sunlight dancing in from the wide-open  workshop doors. It is an oasis of peace. 

The second thing that one notices is the beauty. Uri handcrafts distinctive,  one-of-a-kind, olive-wood mezuzahs (​a parchment inscribed with religious texts  and attached in a case to the doorpost of a Jewish house)​, candle holders, and  unique Torah-inspired artwork. The shelves and tables display his works, each  piece more beautiful than the next. 

The third thing that one notices is that Uri has created a space that not only  allows him to express his creativity but beckons you to express yours. This is a  woodshop for the master crafter and a place of discovery for those of us who are  just beginners, too.

Uri is the son of Israeli immigrant parents, who were true pioneers. They escaped  from Algeria in 1947 and made their way to the then-British Mandate of Palestine.  The British arrested and banished the family from the Promised Land, deporting  them to Cyprus where they were interred in a DP (displaced persons) camp. While  in the DP camp in Cyprus, Uri’s older brother was born—a prisoner, behind the  British barbed wire. Following these dark days, the family, having persevered in  the face of great hardship, were ultimately able to make their way to Israel where  he was born in Haifa​—​a free Jew in the fledgling State of Israel.

A little more than a decade later, the family needed to move and once again  found themselves as new immigrants, but this time in Canada. Uri lived there for  the following 42 years. He married and raised a beautiful family of 11 children. He  never ceased yearning to return to the country of his birth and in 2007, he was  able to return to Israel with his family. He immediately put his roots back into  Israeli soil and has had the pleasure of accompanying children to the marriage  chuppah as well as seeing many grandchildren born in the Israel of a unified  Jerusalem. 

Uri has continued his family’s pioneering tradition and settled in Maale Adumim,  a city high in the desert hills of Judea from where one can see far past the  historic biblical city of Jericho into the neighboring country of Jordan. It is in the  quiet beauty of the Judean Desert that Uri has established his workshop. 

Uri works specifically with reclaimed olive wood. The olive tree has a long and  beautiful history in the Land of Israel. It is recorded in scripture ​as one of the  seven species prevalent in Israel: “a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and  pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey” (Deuteronomy 8:8).  

King David in his timeless psalms often compared himself and Israel to the olive  tree: “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the  lovingkindness of God forever and ever.” (Psalm 58:8) 

One can find evidence of olive trees in Israel dating back thousands of years.  Examples of these trees can be seen in the Galilee in the Beit Hakerem Valley  where many of them are over 1,000 years old and in the garden of the Church of  Gethsemane in Jerusalem. 

Olive wood provides a perfect medium for creating these biblically inspired  artworks. Artists love working with it given its​ density, straight grain, fine texture,  and rich color. Uri lets each piece of wood tell its story​—​working it by hand,  sanding, carving, shaping, and finally staining and sealing it to make it a  precious home to the scroll that will reside inside it

Uri’s larger pieces follow the same inspiration, each whispering the story that it  would like to tell. Uri burns sacred words from the Torah into the wood, where  together their beauty is manifest in the hands of the craftsman.

Uri felt that it was important to share his journey of creativity with others from  around the world. In addition to placing his pieces up for sale, he teaches  workshops where attendees can learn more about the spiritual significance of  the mezuzah and how to wield woodworking tools to create their own mezuzah to  take home. Each person walks out with a handcrafted and decorated mezuzah  that is a very personal reminder of their time in Israel.  

Rabbi Joshua Ben Levy taught: “Why is Israel said to be like the olive tree? To tell  you that even as the leaves of an olive tree fall neither during the summer nor  during the rainy season, so Israel will never cease to be, not in this world nor in  the hereafter.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Menahot, 53B.) 

A beautiful Hanukkiah available for purchase at Uri’s website