‘From the Gegent’ is a series of articles featuring businesses, services and the people behind them in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. Presented by Mica Soffer, owner and publisher of community news service COLlive.com and neighborhood directory gegent.com:
Aliza Blizinsky, founder and owner of Judaica Creations in Crown Heights, remembers the day when a local resident came into her workshop with a question. To be precise, it was actually a critical statement.
It happened when she first started out.
Having married young, she was teaching in preschool and her husband Mendel Blizinsky was doing Jewish outreach work. When it came time to buy maternity clothes, they realized that they didn’t have a penny to spare.
Instead of buying clothes, Aliza Blizinsky decided to make them. “I did not know how to sew, but now I know it was Hashem telling me to sew on my own,” she says.
Her first creation was a simple dress which wasn’t wearable, since she didn’t know how to sew in a zipper. She didn’t give up and kept learning, practicing and honing her skill.
When her cousin was getting married, Blizinsky sewed her own gown for the wedding.”I stayed up all night long just looking at it saying, ‘I made this,'” she says, recalling the sense of pride she felt.
A few years later, she saw a home embroidery machine for sale and thought it would be a good match. “It was expensive – some $7,000-8,000 – but I decided to get it. I figured I would do anything to be able to pay it off, offering sewing and alterations from my home.”
“Then one day, I had this flash of inspiration: Why not create custom-made leather Tallis and Tefillin bags? Until then everything was was made out of velvet, with the same design of lions and luchos, for the last 50 years.”
There was a store in Montreal already offering leather for Judaica, but her idea was to provide a custom-made service. It started with a bag for her husband and boys, and continued for others when others wanted it too.
“People started to stop them on the street and ask them, ‘where did you get that?’ They would reply, ‘my mom made it.’ And they would ask, ‘can she make one for me too?'”
Soon enough, Blizinsky was filling an order a week. Her workroom doubled as the playroom, den and Pesach kitchen. “The business started getting busier and busier, and I was juggling orders while teaching sewing in Bais Rivkah,” she says.
“I decided to renovate my garage into a real workshop,” she recalls. “It was a big step, to quit my job and jump into it full time. Not everyone believed that I could do it. But I took the risk. I’m incredibly motivated to succeed and I believe you can’t know how things will turn out unless you try.”
That is when the local man, a prominent Rabbi, walked into the workshop. “Why do you have to be so modern?” he asked, pointing to the handcrafted leather creations with embroidered images. “Why can’t you be more traditional?”
Blizinsky says she was taken aback. “I always believed that I am doing the right thing, that my items are special and beautiful and add to the hiddur Mitzvah. I asked, does halacha say that things must be made of velvet specifically? The reply was, “Well, you’re a woman, what do you know?”
“Then, one day, a Sofer from Crown Heights arrived at my shop to pick up his son-in-law’s bag. He said to me, ‘Did you know that what you’re doing is a hiddur Mitzvah?'”
“I was so emotional when he showed me in Sefer Minhag Yisroel, where it says, ‘The custom amongst Rabbis and the sons of holy ones is to make their Tefillin bag from the hide of the cow.'”
The sofer went on to show her the source in Shulchan Melachim of the Ben Ish Chai where it says that the tikun for Cheit Ha’egel is Tefillin, and that Tefillin is all made from a cow, down to the thread. So it made sense that the bags should also be made from a cow.
What started out as a labor of necessity became a renowned address for beauty and creativity. The public seemed to think so as well.
Her first big order came from Montreal when a person ordered a single Tallis bag. “He was really thrilled with the result and said, ‘I am about to change your life.’ He was part of Hatzalah of Montreal and ordered 36 bags for all the members. That was my first big order.”
“It was such a miracle because I was able to invest the profits to create my workshop,” says the entrepreneur and businesswoman.
Blizinsky today directs a staff who hand sew and embroider tallis and tefillin bags, challah covers, matzah covers, custom bound seforim, cases for Megillah, lulav and etrog and kesubas, shofar bags, Torah covers and even a perochet for the bimah and amud.
Some of the proud recipients of her creations are former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Australian philanthropist Harry Triguboff, actor David Arquette and singer Gad Elbaz.
Some of the most interesting items she’s created include a Tefillin bag created of army-camouflage leather, and one of custom made leather which she embossed with passport stamps.
Despite her growth, Blizinsky assures that every single client receives a consultation on what their preferences and tastes are, as well as the specific needs for the use of the item.
If the bag is created for someone who does a lot of traveling, she will create extra pockets for passports and other items, or for a lulov holder, the lining is made of outdoor weatherproof fabric, in case the lulov is wet. Each item is created with the thought and care for the person who will be using it.
Her advice for women who want to start their own business is, believe in yourself. “You cannot let the outside world get you down,” she says. “Don’t let the people close to you get you down! Don’t give up, and with Hashem’s brachos you will make it.”
825 Montgomery Street
Between Albany and Troy Avenues
By appointment ONLY
Sunday through Friday