Looking for something therapeutic to do during your next Covid-19 lockdown? How about an adult coloring book based on the Jewish mystical tradition called Kabbalah?

David Friedman has, for the past 40 years, been creating colorful Kabbalistic art filled with Hebrew letters, geometric patterns, symbols and mandalas.

Friedman, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before moving to the Holy Land, has long been a popular stop on Birthright tours of the art galleries in the Old City of Safed  (Tzfat) in the Galilee. Synagogue groups and even celebrities would regularly pay Friedman a visit.

All that stopped, however, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down incoming tourism.

Faced with an unexpected pause in his busy schedule, Friedman was persuaded by his friend, fellow Safed resident Zev Padway, to consider adapting his art into a coloring book for adults.

Padway was facing his own economic conundrum. The owner of Elements Café, named by ISRAEL21c as one of the best vegan restaurants in Israel, had also seen business slow to a trickle since Covid-19 hit. Padway took on the project of managing and publishing Friedman’s coloring book.

“Coloring images composed of symmetrical geometric shapes that are rich in detail can be a therapeutic, meditative and spiritual experience,” Friedman says.“The focus, repetition, relaxation, mindfulness and creativity involved are healing for the body, heart, mind and soul.”

From a scientific point of view, “coloring books have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety while promoting relaxation as they help users remain present and focused,” explains Martha Dorn, executive director of the Art Therapy Project in New York City. “Repetitive strokes provide temporary relief from life stressors, and the focus required to color can keep negative emotions away.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, hotels and travel companies have jumped into the coloring book game as well, offering downloadable, print-at-home pages as a means of making quarantines and shelter-in-place orders more palatable.

Coloring appears to reduce activity in the area of the brain responsible for emotions in response to stress. Studies suggest coloring can benefit all levels of stress, from mild anxiety to PTSD.

Each folio of the “Kabbalah Coloring Book: A Book of Creation” presents an image to color and Kabbalistic teachings, meditations and artistic guidance. Photo courtesy of David Friedman

Mystic comfort

Kabbalah has leapt out of the Jewish world in recent years, attracting a wide cohort of celebrities including Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Ariana Grande and Mick Jagger.

For his 110-page Kabbalah Coloring Book: A Book of Creation, Friedman completely redrew 50 of his paintings fromthe past four decades, omitting the color.

“I’ve done it differently than the original,” he notes, indicating that there’s always something new to be found in Torah.

It’s not just a gimmick to sell more of his art. Rather, “the Kabbalistic concept of a world which was made incomplete, for us to complete, and to make more beautiful” is a key component of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world.

“Kabbalah Coloring Book: A Book of Creation” is meant to foster relaxation and mindfulness. Photo courtesy of David Friedman

Friedman’s book contains black-and-white artwork on one page, and on the facing sheet, Kabbalistic teachings, meditations and even artistic guidance, all written by Friedman.

The large-format book’s wood-free, extra-thick paper pairs well with colored pencils and fine-point markers, explains Padway, who moved to Israel from Berkeley, California, in 2010.

You can buy the coloring book, which is available in both English and Hebrew versions, online or in Elements Café in Safed, where Padway can sell you a vegan burrito or burger (take away for now) to go with your spiritual stimulation.

To see the coloring book on Instagram, click here.