Making an ushpizin chart

During the holiday of Sukkes, we symbolically invite Jewish historical figures to join us at our holiday meals in the sukke. The ceremony for inviting these guests, known as ushpizin from the Aramaic, is frequently printed on posters and hung in the sukke, so that, when a person eats a meal, they can easily invite the appropriate guest.  Usually, these posters are mass-produced.  Several years ago, however, I decided to write an ushpizin chart on parchment, to be used in our family sukke.  In this post, I’ll walk through the process of creating a custom piece of Judaica like this chart.

The first step, before actually touching any materials, was to create a layout for the chart.  This allowed me to see how large a piece of parchment I’d need, and to figure out what texts went where, and how the final product would fit on the parchment.  I do my layouts in Adobe InDesign.  This layout includes line numbers and various guidelines to make it easier to use as a copying guide down the line.

Layout for ushpizin chart
Layout for ushpizin chart

Having completed the layout, I needed to prepare a piece of parchment.  I purchased parchment from Pergamena, a parchment and leather maker in upstate New York.  Unlike klaf purchased from a sofrus supplier, Pergamena’s parchment comes without any guidelines, so I measured out the spacing for guidelines, and then scored them into the parchment using my handy awl.  After that, I numbered the lines and started writing.

The first few lines of the ushpizin chart

Because Pergamena’s parchment is smoother than klaf made for use by sofrim, ink sometimes needs a little bit of help adhering to the surface.  For this purpose, I use gum sanderac, which I purchase from John Neal Bookseller, a purveyor of traditional calligraphic and bookbinding supplies.  Gum sanderac is placed in a small bag, which is tapped over the writing surface to make it slightly tackier.

Because I wanted to make sure that this chart was suitable for those who can’t read Hebrew absent vowels, I wrote the text with vowels.  This added a great deal of writing time, and dulled the corner of many a quill, but, in the end, made the final product more user-friendly.

Almost done
The chart, almost done

Having finished the chart, I placed it in a waterproof frame, suitable for use in the sukke!

Finished chart
The finished chart

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