CHAI SPY – The Back Story

Recently, I was asked about the story behind Chai Spy®.

Chai Spy®  has become such a part of my professional life that it has really become my own story…at least for the time being.

Back in 2006 I created a piece of Jewish art entitled, “From Generation to Generation”.  This was a three-dimensional collage and assemblage depicting various facets of Jewish Life and the Jewish Home.


As viewers engaged with this particular piece I kept hearing the same comment over and over, “Each time I look at your work, I see something I hadn’t noticed before.”

It took a while before I had my “light bulb” moment.

Finally, it dawned on me that I needed to create art based on the childhood game that many of us used to play on family road trips, “I spy with my little eye”…and then you had to find it as well.  The twist is that in Chai Spy® there are no lists of objects to find.


You look.  You see.  You find.  You share.  You talk.

The special spin on the game is that there is a miniature Chai on each page hidden in each of the pieces of art.  They are hidden in plain sight for you to find.  That’s the common thread throughout.

As for the Chai from the book’s title there are 18 pages of art, each of which hold objects that go with the Jewish holiday or Jewish place…all of which are part of a Jewish journey through life.


I have always loved dollhouse miniatures, collage, and multi-dimensional works of art.  Most of my art incorporates all of these in some way whether the piece is Jewish or secular.

In fact, the first art show I was in as a child was a collage for which I won a blue ribbon.  I was so into collage that I actually collaged the back of the laundry room door in our home with various images clipped from magazines back in the 1960’s.  I’m not at all sure that my mother appreciated it, but then it WAS on the BACK of the door after all!!  Not everyone was subjected to my creative talents.

While I may have an eye for putting things together visually; it is our daughter who is the poetic writer in the family.  She gets all of the credit for the rhyming verse corresponding with each art work.  And, although some of the objects are referred to in her poems, the real idea behind the poetry is to give the reader a flavor for the subject matter.  It doesn’t serve as a list of things to find, however, it does serve as a great conversation starter.

Most people assume that Chai Spy® is for young children.  Yes.  While young children will certainly enjoy this book, children of all ages and stages will do so as well.  The poems are lively and educational.  The art is saturated with color throughout.  The high quality of publishing is immediately apparent.  And, there is no perfect age group or level of Jewish observance that is necessary to enjoy anything Chai Spy®.  The less you know, the more you’ll learn.  The more you know, the more you’ll be able to “connect the dots.”

Chai Spy® is indeed a book, but it is also a brand.  The brand currently includes a line of Jewish holiday gift cards as well as blank note cards for gift giving or for the writing of personal notes…seemingly a lost art which is undergoing a renaissance.  We anticipate expanding the line to include puzzles, playing cards, card memory games, baby bibs, placemats, men’s novelty ties and bowties, posters…an ever-expanding list!

As many of you know, there is a high correlation between art and memory.  In particular it is our hope that elderly Jewish with or without cognitive impairment will enjoy and benefit from the book.  Chai Spy® is a conversation starter for those memories which are tucked way back inside of the brain.  Art is the key to unlocking those memories.  Memory care facilities are also wonderful outlets with whom we hope to form valuable partnerships as they use Chai Spy® for art and other creative therapies.

Years ago I participated in an art training program which was based on the Artists for Alzheimer’s program in NYC.  Afterwards, I volunteered with the elderly living in assisted living and full-time care, some of whom struggled with memory challenges.

One of the workshops that I gave was beach themed.  The participants used seashells, sea glass, textured papers, and various other ephemera to create collages.  Suddenly, one of the gentlemen shouted out, “I remember when I was a kid and we went to Miami Beach…with my mother and my brothers and sisters…”  Something about the creative process and touching/feeling the seashells brought those memories rushing back to him.

That’s the beauty of art.  That’s the beauty of memory.  When you put the two together it’s a powerful thing.


*At the present time, Chai Spy® may be purchased in a soft cover version online at, the premier online website for self-published books.  A hard back version will be available later this summer as well as a number of signed, numbered, upscale collector’s copies in limited edition.

Feel free to contact me directly for more information at:





About Ellen Sharf Filreis

A finance and real estate professional in a former life, I am a self-taught artist currently working on several commissioned pieces of art. While my collage and assemblages cover a wide range of themes, my most important project at the moment is building on the Chai Spy ® brand which is a collaborative project with my daughter, Ayelet Ribakow who wrote the text for our book. Looking to license the art for the Jewish gift industry. The shadow box art is available for exhibition in Jewish venues for children and adults.
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5 Responses to CHAI SPY – The Back Story

  1. Ayelet Filreis says:

    I love your post!!



    • Thank you Ayelet Ribakow. YOU did an amazing job with the poetic text. Couldn’t have done it without your creative talent, sweetheart. May you continue to go from success to success. And remember, “always follow your dreams…wherever they may lead.” The real joy is in the journey.


  2. Steve F says:

    SO DO I ! But we are perhaps insiders….. We know that is exactly the way it happened !


  3. ES says:

    I purchased Chai Spy for everyone in my family. It is such a great conversation piece. My grandchildren even played Chai Spy with me one day over Skype (me with my copy and them with theirs)! I remember when we first got it I had my teenage son and my son-in-law challenging each other to find pictures, as they were sprawled out on the couches in true male fashion :).
    A real all-age people pleaser.


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