The lower level of Wanda Peretz’s Beverlywood home is also her art studio, where the 56-year-old works with fabrics of all sorts, and while she stitches together the fabrics and embroiders them with English and Hebrew letters, she’s also strengthening the seam of her Jewish connection.
On the worktable were some of her “greatest hits,” including Torah scroll covers, tallit bags and etrog boxes, covered in vibrant fabrics and decorated with Jewish images and words. The items were on loan from the respective places that had commissioned them: Milken Community Schools, Ruach Nashim and Temple Beth Am, where Peretz and her husband, Avi, are members.
One item, a tzedakah box, was a class gift from Milken middle school students. In designing it, Peretz had a conversation with Milken students about the concept of tzedakah and then shaped the project according to their answers: For them, charity was not just about money. Peretz pointed out the box’s two slots: one for money and the other for ideas about tzedakah projects or reports of tzedakah-related experiences.
The artist shook it so the coins inside jingled. “I feel like one of my jobs is to take objects that have been done — and you see them in every single Jewish museum in the world … this is a tzedakah box and here’s the chuppahs and here’s the challah covers, and it’s like, Oh! I get to do my own interpretation of that!”
During an interview, Peretz was enthusiastic, wide-eyed and energetic as the conversation ranged from her 1996 conversion to a more recent trip to Poland to the meaning of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory.
Raised Presbyterian, Peretz went to church with her family, but found herself rejecting one core component of her religious upbringing. “We’re going to heaven but everyone else, unless they believe, they’re going to hell? I don’t think God is that small.
“I found Judaism to be a very solid ground on which to reinvent and refine who I am as a spiritual seeker,” she said. “I always had Jewish boyfriends and loved ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ I know everyone loves ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ but I’m crazy about ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ So was I in a shtetl? I bet I was!”
Peretz doesn’t mean this just generally, artistically or metaphorically.
“I believe in past lives,” she said. “I could have been one of the apprentices, painters painting the synagogue. I don’t think, ‘It’s just this life and then it’s…