When Dara Katz started searching the internet for jewelry with Yiddish words, she was surprised to find it didn't exist. So, she decided to create it herself--and formed her own business, Mamaleh Jewelry.
"They are trendy, fun pieces that you don't have to store in the vault," Katz said.
Launched in February, Mamaleh's first line includes stainless steel and gold-plated necklaces, each featuring different Yiddish words including
chutzpah, mamaleh, mensch, oy,
Prices range from $36 to $42.
The 30-something Katz began this venture when she herself had just become a
and was home on maternity leave in the midst of the COVID pandemic. "Late night nursing sessions led to a lot of time online. I just started researching how I could start this business," she said.
She learned she could design authentic Judaica herself. "It's uniquely my experience. I'm not trying to sell another version of Jewish jewelry. It's really what I wanted to wear and see," she said. She outsources production to factories, she added, accepts orders on her website, and ships jewelry right from her home on Chicago's North Side.
Raised in north suburban Deerfield, Katz "loved being Jewish," and felt a deep connection with her grandparents, who brought Yiddish into her life. She views the language as a portal to the Old World and a conversation starter in the new one. "It opened up a side of history with my dad. All of a sudden, he's telling us how his grandmother lived with them for so long and that she only spoke Yiddish with his mom…which explains why he can always pull a Yiddish word out of his hat!"
Mamaleh Jewelry arrives during a growing resurgence of Yiddish. First developed in the 10th century, the language has been spoken traditionally by Ashkenazi Jews from central and eastern Europe, and their descendants. Millions of Yiddish speakers died in the Holocaust, and those who survived limited their use of the language out of fear. Now, Yiddish is taught at universities around the world, it has an enormous following on TikTok, and of course, there are apps for learning it.
Katz sees this growing interest in Yiddish, along with Judaism overall, amongst her own millennial peers. She notes that the rise in antisemitism, and the passing of grandparents bring a new focus on identity and a sense of responsibility to keep up traditions.
She views her jewelry as a subtle "wink" from whoever is wearing it to another, acknowledging the common bond between fellow Jews. "When you meet another Jewish person, it's like we
to know each other from camp or from college or from this person [in common]. It's another way to open up conversation beyond just Jewish geography," she explained.
Since opening Mamaleh Jewelry, Katz has connected with an entire community of Jewish businesses, providing her a new perspective and new opportunities.
"I've discovered that there are so many different ways to be Jewish, and I can offer a different type of Judaism that I'm not seeing in the marketplace," Katz said.
Her upcoming line includes a collaboration with Dolly Meckler, the founder of Challah Dolly, a New York-based company that ships loaves nationwide. The two entrepreneurs are mixing their creativity and products to create a necklace with the word "challah" hanging on a braided chain.
Katz is also working on an enameled Jewish star necklace, earrings, and the "shtick" necklace she was modeling during a conversation via Zoom. "It's personality driven," she said. "I have shtick--deal with it!"
Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based freelance journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media.