The ketubah, the Jewish marriage certificate, has played a major role in Susie Lubell’s life.
Lubell is a Jewish ritual artist, selling her illustrated marriage certificates, paintings and collage works on Etsy, the fine arts and crafts website, and more recently on Marmelada, the Israeli platform for local artists.
The contemporary watercolor marriage certificates are Lubell’s bestsellers, her artistic renderings of an ancient Jewish ritual that are bought by couples for their weddings, and hung in their homes as works of art.
Lubell’s version of the ancient wedding contract emerge as contemporary prints, geometric shapes and images created in her signature watercolors, scanned and then printed on etching paper that offers the feel of an original painting.
Clients choose from different text options for the ketubah wording, which is then scanned and printed along with the watercolor.
And yet, it’s a business that arrived somewhat unexpectedly to Lubell, who has a history with marriage certificates.
Some two decades ago, her parents’ Conservative ketubah was rejected by the Israeli rabbinate when she was applying for citizenship in Israel. Then, in the ultimate insult, the rabbinate ended up losing it.
“I felt like it was a big smack in my face,” said Lubell. “Being Jewish was a big part of my identity.”
She persevered, gathering other documents, including photographs of her grandparents’ cemetery headstones, a letter from her (Reform) rabbi, and knitted an entire, lengthy scarf during the eight-hour visits she spent at the Interior Ministry.
Lubell was finally given an Israeli identity card, but was identified as American, rather than a Jew under the designation for nationality. She ended up enlisting the help of the Center for Religious Pluralism to have the designation successfully changed.
When she later married her Israeli boyfriend in the US in a Jewish ceremony, Lubell made their own ketubah, an early signal to her later career.
It took some time, but ten years later, Lubell started a business painting Judaica prints and marriage certificates, while living in the US. She opened her Etsy shop, and has since sold more than 1,000 marriage certificates, most of them to the North American and European markets.
It was a business that was primarily geared to the North American market, even when Lubell and her husband and three kids moved back to Israel seven years ago.
“Most Israelis don’t commission a ketubah when they get married,” said Lubell. “Whether they’re religious or not, they think of the ketubah as a legal document that gets folded up in a drawer along with the title on your car and the mortgage papers. It’s not something beautiful that you frame and hang in your home.”
But sometimes, things change, even in Israel.
It was last summer that Lubell began hearing advertisements for egalitarian weddings, part of the Reform and Conservative Movements efforts to change the wedding ceremony culture in Israel, in defiance of the Orthodox rabbinate and its perceived monopoly on the life cycle ritual.
Lubell began receiving inquiries from some Israeli couples about her ketubot, often for couples with one North American partner, but it was still far more interest than she’d ever had in Israel.
She opened Ketubah Aheret, A Different Ketubah, on Marmelada, the Israeli platform for Israeli artists and designers, offering 30% off her Etsy prices.
Israeli couples can more easily provide the wording they want, while their North American counterparts “need much more hand holding during the process,” she said.
So far, she has sold two, but is determined to build up the market in Israel.
“For Americans, the ketubah is one of the most meaningful symbols from the wedding,” said Lubell. “I think it can be that way for Israelis too.”