What many don't realize when shopping for their olive wood carvings is that some carvings are started with machines and finished by hand, some receiving this hand finished attention to detail more than others. The best carvings to be found are done entirely by hand, and there is some incredible work to be found.
Once you're aware of the the difference between carvings, it's easy to appreciate and to understand the associated price difference. Some are confused by this and argue, "I got this camel for x amount, why is this one twice as much, but the same size?" While haggling for a good price is culturally expected and can be a fun part of shopping over here, it can also be embarrassing if you don't recognize this quality difference. As with many things, you get what you pay for.
Many of the olive wood carvings are made in Bethlehem, and its surrounding smaller villages such as Beit Sahor, just outside of Jerusalem. There are several impressive stores in Bethlehem, and though the prices may be higher than you find in the alleyways of Jerusalem, the quality is often better as well.
Our favorites included Johnny's Souvenir Store, whose starting prices and hospitality cannot be beat (we are currently looking forward to a dinner invitation with Johnny and his family this weekend). Another stand out is Kando's, whose store received the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were leather workers in those days, and the bedouin came by to see what they could get for these old hide scrolls they found in big clay jars. The original jar is still on display in Kando's. It's an interesting bit of history to enjoy, while shopping in their beautiful showroom full of olive wood, jewelry, and other high quality products.
Stacks of old olive wood sat ready to create, carvers were at work, and the wonderful smell of fresh wood shavings filled the air. Family run, George showed us around the shop and we were free to sort through piles of wood dust covered carvings for our treasures. Our kind of shopping.
George led us into a side room where a few finished pieces were set on a table. I quite literally squealed with delight (and I'm really not a squealer), when I saw the carving pictured to the right. Two little bears wrestling and playing immediately brought to mind the good ole days with my labs, who I affectionately refer to as "my bears." I didn't have a chance to ask how much it cost, George picked it up, polished it, and handed it to me saying, "this is for you."
Most people end up with camels and such, but I couldn't be happier with my little bears and am so thankful for the gracious hospitality of George, and so many we visited in Bethlehem. There are some absolutely stunning pieces of art, hand carved from olive wood and on display in many beautiful stores in Bethlehem. Even for non-shoppers, it is worth stopping by just to admire.