A Natural Path to Remission?

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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”

A famous Jewish trial lawyer, Louis Nizer, penned this saying about artists.

When I interviewed Joyce Harari, creative designer and founder of jbhmosaic, I was inspired by her art and her heartfelt passion for making things of beauty with her hands.  Her desire to teach and share her talents shines through when she talks about her crafts.  I am honored to share her story with you.

Growing up in Brooklyn – Family, School, and Marriage

Joyce Blanco Harari grew up in the 1950’s in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn.  Her parents, Rena and Marc Blanco, were born in the U.S. Joyce is very proud that her paternal grandfather, Ezra Blanco, was one of the first of three Syrian Jews to emigrate to the U.S. in 1901.

Joyce speaks lovingly of her childhood: “We had a very warm family . . . very close. My mother was the oldest of 10 children . . . one of seven sisters. We always had people over… I have wonderful memories of all the times with my aunts.”  As I spent time with Joyce, I sensed that growing up in this close-knit and loving environment contributed to her calm, kind, and warm nature.

Joyce and her two sisters attended public school.  As was common in those days, her brother studied in yeshiva.  Joyce recalls junior high school as her happiest time, when she studied art daily in a special arts program.  It was there that she learned to paint.

Joyce met her husband, Joseph Harari, when she was a senior at Lincoln High School, and she married him after graduation in 1961.  The young couple lived in Brooklyn for 16 years before moving to Oakhurst, N.J.  Joyce tenderly articulates her gratitude for the 56 years that she and her husband have been married.  Joyce confides, “Joe is very sentimental and he shows his love . . . he's very supportive. He still thinks of me and treats me as when we first met... he's very proud of me. He doesn't mind that sometimes I'll spend seven hours in my workshop. I get lost in my work. He understands.  He goes shopping with me to buy china. . . and always shares his advice.”

Not surprisingly,the first gift Joseph gave his wife was a used sewing machine.  Joyce says it was one of her best gifts ever. “I sewed everything. When I was pregnant, I sewed baby clothes, the little nightgowns, and blankets. I just couldn't stop sewing. I loved that sewing machine.”   

When Joyce couldn’t find a particular skirt or other item, she would sew it herself.  She derives much joy and pride in wearing something she made with her own hands, much more than buying an expensive outfit.  Joyce continues to create outfits for herself, her daughter, and her grandchildren.  For Joyce, her sewing projects not about saving money, but rather are about wanting to fashion something for people she loves, and for others to enjoy.

Joyce still delights in knitting, which her mother taught her.

Role Model

Joyce’s mother, Rena Blanco, was her role model. “She was very strong and very smart. My mother was always very optimistic too, and had a very good outlook about everything.” 

The trait that Joyce especially admired about her mother was that she never complained and was always a lady, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. When Joyce was young, she sometimes resented her mother for not taking her side when she came home from school upset about an incident with a classmate.  Now Joyce finds that she follows her mother’s practice. She does not assume that a person intended to hurt her, but perhaps something went wrong in that person’s life that day.

Career, Challenges, and Accomplishments

With her family being her main focus, Joyce worked from home when her children were young, mainly producing needlepoint pocketbooks for sale.  Joyce considers herself fortunate that she was able to stay at home, raise her children, and do all her crafts.

Joyce views her three children, “all grown up and amazing” as her greatest accomplishments.

In 1994, when her children got older, Joyce accepted an exciting job offer in Manhattan, to design sweaters in a large baby wear company.  Joyce fashioned over 100 designs for children’s sweaters for the National Football League.  In the middle of the year, Joyce was asked to take over the production manager’s job when he became ill.  Not only was Joyce still in charge of sweater design, but she also traveled from one factory to the other. “It was a little difficult, but I learned. . . I learned how to get along with all these different people.  It was exciting. It was a big challenge and I enjoyed it.”

During this busy four-and-a-half-year period Joyce kept up her needlepoint. “I always do my needlepoint.”

Joyce’s Foray into Mosaics

Approximately 18 years ago, Joyce began to explore mosaics. Joyce had attended a boutique show and admired the mosaics on display.  Having never seen mosaic art up close, she decided to go to the library and do some research.  Going to the library has always been Joyce’s method of choice when she wants to learn something new.  Joyce took out some books and started teaching herself how to do mosaics.  “From day one, I loved doing it!” 

Joyce’s home is equipped with a big basement and a darkroom with sinks and counters, which was perfect for her new craft and business.  Her first pieces were serving dishes, such as cake plates and trays, which she gave as housewarming gifts to friends.  She then advanced to doing mosaic artwork for her kitchen counters and even her fireplace!  Joyce has even created mosaic tables and medallions for people’s floors and has participated in many boutique shows displaying her pieces.

One of Joyce’s friends who admired her mosaic pieces asked her to teach mosaics to her and her daughters.  Joyce recalls, “I said, ‘I don't really know if I can.’ She said, ‘Just try it.’ It was three close friends with their daughters. It was a happy atmosphere. We were laughing and giggling with the children. . .I loved it. I found I loved to teach. That's how it started.”

That friend’s request launched Joyce’s teaching career. Joyce is impassioned about teaching, and gets enormous satisfaction from showing others how to create art.“Teaching women to love to make things, that's very important to me,” Joyce says.

Before Joyce knew it, she was teaching mosaics three times a week at home. She also taught once a week at the SCC in Brooklyn.  The days she taught at the SCC were very special to Joyce, as she and her sister and nieces would take her parents out to lunch and have amazing family time. 

Joyce has taught mosaics to over 180 girls and women, including camp and high school children.  She is currently teaching once a week, making custom pieces for clients all over the country, and working on her own home.  In addition to teaching art, Joyce’s weekly class provides a safe space for women to bond.  Three of her first students still come to her classes and have become like sisters. “We sit, we talk, and we laugh. If anyone has a problem, we discuss it and try to solve it. It's like a therapy group with mosaics.”

What’s Next?

Joyce believes in stretching and challenging oneself, and is always looking for new projects.  She is currently doing the mosaic tile work on her dining room panels.  Joyce admits that it’s not easy to climb on the ladder and work on the floor, but she loves it nonetheless.

Her Advice to Women

Try making something with your hands. “I feel every woman should take some kind of art class. A woman came to my class saying, ‘I don't know if I can do it,’ and she did it. If you don't try, you're not going to know. I think that it’s very important for people to make things . . . to create something of beauty.”

Joyce believes her secret to success is that she truly loves what she does. She is always shopping for pretty beads and plates to use.  She works with colorful, bright, and happy materials.

Yours truly was so motivated by Joyce’s story that I am searching for a mosaic class in Brooklyn.

Be sure to check out Joyce’s works of art at Instagram @jbhmosaic. You can also connect with Joyce at sadiebelle18@icloud.com.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen helps people find their passion, purpose. and positivity in life and relationships.   Ellen can be contacted at: ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).