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Faith and fabric: Berta Goldgaber has refined her colorful craft in Judaic fabric arts

Berta Goldgaber

Photo: Lisa Mandel

In 1970, Berta Goldgaber moved from Brazil to St. Louis with her husband and two children. Her husband, Alberto Goldgaber, is a doctor who specializes in internal medicine, and his work is what brought them to live in the United States. 

 “After moving to St. Louis we were immediately accepted by the Jewish community,” Goldgaber said. The acceptance she felt from this community is one factor that contributed to the success of her Judaica fabric art.

Goldgaber’s love for sewing began long before she arrived on U.S. soil.  Since she was a young girl her two favorite things to do have been reading and sewing.  There weren’t many classes that taught sewing in Brazil, but when she was about 12 years old she began learning from a woman who gave private lessons.

From that teacher she learned the basics and began sewing her own clothes, among other things.  After her marriage in 1962, she continued sewing, but never did it for anyone besides herself, her mother and her children.  “I loved doing it for the kids but never thought of it as a profession,” Goldgaber said.

When her daughter decided to get married about 28 years ago, Goldgaber asked one thing: To sew her daughter’s wedding gown.  She agreed and Goldgaber designed a beautiful gown for the occasion.  “It was the most important piece of my life.  I had to do it,” she said.

In the years following her arrival in St. Louis, Goldgaber continued to get more involved in the Jewish community.  She worked at the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library for nine years.  “In the back of my mind, I always thought I wanted to do something with Jewish work,” she said.

Goldgaber started thinking about how she could incorporate Judaism into her sewing, but she couldn’t find any examples to guide her.  “I hadn’t seen any, so I started looking in books at the library,” she said.  She didn’t have to go far.  The author of “The New Work of Our Hands” put together a book of fabric works that included quilts, professional work, sewing and chuppahs.  From there she decided,  "I’m going to make my quilts Jewish.”

She started her own fabric business in the 1990s and incorporated the Star of David into many of her early works.  Her Judaica work includes quilts, challah covers, chuppahs and other specialty items.  Her quilts range from about $120 to $165 depending on the size, but could be up to $300 for an especially large one.

For specialty pieces, Goldgaber is in high demand for personal quilts or items for bar and bat mitzvahs or weddings.  “Usually I show my customers things I have done and they get ideas,” she said.  “They give me three or four colors they would like included or certain fabrics and we go from there.”

A lot of her specialty pieces include work done for synagogues.  She did a quilt on behalf of Young Israel of St. Louis for Rabbi Jeffrey Bienenfeld when he left for Israel.  He had lead the congregation for 26 years and the synagogue presented him with one of Goldgaber’s quilts as his farewell gift.  

She continues to sell her work to many gift shops and synagogues throughout the United States. Her designs also have been featured in books and magazines. In 2008, she won the St. Louis Artist’s Guild’s Express Yourself Award.  

For more information about Goldgaber’s work, visit www.judaicafabricart.com.