Springing from his childhood fascination with tools, Hershel Weiss started working with wood at a very young age. He developed a love of wood when he took carving lessons with Norwegian master carver Tom Shuman in the 1970’s. By carving, he discovered the beauty and individuality in every piece of wood.
Later, in 1985-1986, he studied at the Krenov School in Mendocino County, California with cabinetmaker James Krenov and grew ever more appreciative of the unique identity of every tree, the variations between each plank from the same tree, and how to work sensitively with a sacred material.
He has exhibited in numerous craft shows around the U.S., including The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, The Philadelphia Furniture Show, Baltimore American Craft Council Market, and many others.
His work has been featured in several books as well as magazines and newspapers and has won numerous awards. He helped develop Santa Fe Community College’s Fine Woodworking Program and taught there for six years.
Hershel was raised by a Sefardi mother whose native language was Ladino, or Judeo-Espanyol; and an Ashkenazi dad whose first language was Yiddish.
The Ashkenazi, or eastern European Jewish culture was prominent in his upbringing and the Sefardi, or Iberian Jewish culture was somewhat hidden.
Today, his workshop is located on the campus of the synagogue Nahalat Shalom, which means both “Inheritance of Peace” and “River of Peace”, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He build the sanctuary entry doors there, and the torah ark and torah reading table, the talitot rack and the baseboard molding.
Living in New Mexico he has had the opportunity to become friends with many Spanish speaking Jews who grew up Catholic, and as Director of Sephardic Programming at his synagogue Hershel is enriched by knowing and working with his New Mexican Sephardic cousins who were forced to hide their identities for centuries. Being with Spanish speaking Jews has helped him to embrace fully the Sephardic culture that was kept at arm’s length in his childhood. His work has been deeply influenced by several trips to Spain and its old synagogues and mosques.
He builds home and synagogue furnishings and carves mezuzahs, endlessly delighted by the simple act of incising an ancient Hebrew letter to fit the grain and character of each found tree branch.