"Trading Spaces" Amy Wynn Pastor: Jewish Girls Can Build!
November 16, 2006Comments (8)
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"Trading Spaces" Amy Wynn Pastor
By Suzanne Kurtz
As one of the first women carpenters on television, Amy Wynn Pastor, the practical, level-headed carpenter on TLC’s popular home-repairs reality television show, “Trading Spaces,” has no fear of power tools.
But after seven years traveling across the country with the show, she’s exhausted.
Having just wrapped taping “Trading Spaces” sixth season, Pastor, 30, recently returned to her cozy, single-family house on a tree-lined street in suburban Philadelphia.
“I want to nest, work on my own house,” she says wistfully. “I’ve had this house for three years and I haven’t even been able to take the wallpaper off.”
Yet as she proudly gives me a house tour, I can’t help but notice casual reminders of Pastor’s Conservative Jewish upbringing; a map of Israel here, a Challah plate there.
“I grew up being very involved in USY and going to my synagogue’s junior congregation every Saturday,” she explains. “I always had a tzedakah (charity) box and marched on Washington for Soviet Jewry as a little kid. And once a month our junior congregation would walk to an old age home and sing.”
One of her happiest Jewish memories was the week she spent with her youth group at Camp Ramah in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
“We held [Shabbat] services overlooking this lake. I remember being so connected to nature and being surrounded by friends. We were a community,” she recalls. “It was pure good.”
Most telling, Pastor attributes the positive influence of those summer days for her continued involvement in tzedek (social justice) projects.
Recently, she spoke at a fundraiser for a local Habitat for Humanity chapter and lent some hands-on carpentry support during an all-women’s house build in Bucks County, Pa.
“By being a woman in carpentry, I want to inspire other women to take care of their own places. It’s not a strength thing,” she says. “It’s a knowledge thing.”
And it was this “knowledge thing” that led her to write a book last year, appropriately titled, “Yes, You Can! Home Repairs Made Easy.” On the cover, a smiling Pastor confidently shoulders a tool bag, complete with hammer and carpenter’s square.
Her own carpentry confidence developed during college as an undergraduate in the theater department at Penn State University.
A performance major, Pastor initially thought she would be an actor. But after taking a mandatory basic carpentry class, she learned to build sets and props - and was hooked.
“I wanted to work in theater and it didn’t matter to me in what area so much. I discovered that I really liked being behind the scenes,” she says.
After graduating from Penn State in 1999, Pastor spent a year traveling with the Broadway touring company of “Victor/Victoria” as a prop manager. In 2000, she successfully auditioned and joined “Trading Spaces” ensemble crew of carpenters and designers.
Based on a British television show, Pastor and the designers help two sets of neighbors redecorate one room in each other's home. Each two-person team has two days and a $1,000 budget to get the job done.
“The constant travel is my least and most favorite part of the job,” she says. “I think the only states I haven’t been to are North Dakota and either Alabama or Arkansas. You really see how diverse the country is.”
Moreover, her being Jewish has also brought diverse reactions.
Once, to the surprise of one couple, she commented on the ketubah hanging in their home. “I said something to them about how beautiful it was and they said ‘You know what a ketubah is? We didn’t know you were Jewish!’”
“But I’ve also had letters stuffed under my windshield wipers telling me I need to convert [to Christianity] and accept Jesus as my savior or I’ll go to hell,” she says. “I try to see it in a positive light though; at least they don’t want me to go to hell!”
For anyone with an astute eye, however, Pastor’s Jewish identity is even evident on her book cover.
On the hand grasping the aforementioned tool bag, she wears a simple gold band engraved with Hebrew letters.
“My sister bought the ring for me when she was studying abroad in Israel,” Pastor says as we examine the cover. “I don’t think I even realized I was wearing it.”
The tiny Hebrew letters spell out “Hannah,” her Hebrew name. For Amy Wynn Pastor, who may also be the first Jewish woman carpenter on television, it might as well spell out: “Yes, You Can!”
Suzanne Kurtz is editor of Hillel Campus Report.