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November 1, 2015 2:51 pm

Creators of Yiddish-Themed T-Shirts Say Judaism Is Hip in America, Not So Kosher in Europe

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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One of the t-shirts with Yiddish phrases marked on the front. Photo: Unkosher Market.

One of the t-shirts with Yiddish phrases marked on the front. Photo: Unkosher Market.

Two young Jewish women in Los Angeles have come up with a line of t-shirts with Yiddish-themed memes proudly on display, according to a feature in The Guardian on Thursday.

Friends Alice Blastorah and Shiran Teitelbaum created “Unkosher Market,” selling shirts with Jewish catch-phrases – such as “Kiss My Tuchis” and “Schvitz It Out” – which one usually doesn’t associate with cool California chicks.

It is certainly anathema to many European Jews today, who report feeling uncomfortable exhibiting recognizable signs of their ethnicity on the streets of Paris and London, for example.

The idea for the budding business came to the two women — who told The Guardian they had both worked in the advertising business — by accident.

In the “About Us” section of the Unkosher Market website – which Alice and Shiran refer to as “The Shpiel” – the two entrepreneurs describe how their venture was born.

They relate having thrown a “Jewchella” party for a friend who was converting to Judaism (“joining the tribe,” is how they put it). The name is a play on the “Coachella” Valley Music and Arts Festival, held annually in Indio, California.

“Alice and I surprised everyone with shirts for the occasion – white hand-cut tanks with black typeface,” Shiran told The Guardian. “Our friends took a huge liking to them and posted them on Instagram. The next thing we knew, everyone wanted to know where they could get one. We decided to make a whole new batch of them with more sayings, and put them on Etsy to test them out. After a few dozen sales, we knew we were on to something.”

And this, say the women on their website, is how Unkosher Market was launched. “Imagine the look on our parents’ faces when we told them we were getting into the schmatta business” they wrote. “But then again, we were used to Jewish guilt.”

They finish their “spiel” with another Jewish witticism: “Our fabric is sourced and sewn in Los Angeles with 100% chutzpah. Deal with it.”

Shiran said she believes that Judaism has become unexpectedly “hip” in recent years – certainly among her friends and acquaintances. The Guardian put this in the context of a 2014 Pew poll revealing that Jews are among the most positively regarded group in the United States.

Making a comparison between North America and the UK, Shiran told The Guardian she imagines “that few [in Britain] are going out of their way to show off their Jewishness. But living in Los Angeles and Toronto, I’ve observed it’s ‘in’ right now to self-identify as Jewish.”

Clearly, the women also think there is an “Unkosher Market” for non-Jews as well, considering that one of their latest T-shirts reads: “Not in the tribe, but I dig the vibe.”

Whether they will “dig the vibe” enough to fork out $48 to say so on a sleeveless garment is another story.

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  • I live in California, USA and Jews here in America are very comfortable on expressing their Jewishness. There are plenty of synagogues here in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. They wear their garbs every Saturday. I don’t see any reason for them to hide their religion or race. I’m catholic and they don’t bother us…we don’t bother them. Remember Jesus Christ is a Jew. Son of God born in Israel. How could you hate these people? Only in America where Muslims and Jews live in peace. The laws here protect all forms of religion.

  • new MarcH

    Judaism may be “getting hip”, but this isn’t Judaism, it’s vulgarity.

  • duPont

    Way to go! Jew Pride! I’m lovin it!

  • jakob was

    What a lot of balcony. Yiddish on tee shirts, not even written in Hebrew characters, is more a bit of non news. Jews in Europe are more likely to learn Hebrew than Yiddish. In the US, Yiddishkeit arouses nostalgia for a time long ago, especially among pensioners. I belong to a Yiddish club, even though Judeo-Arabic is my ancestor’s language. Hardly anyone can speak Yiddish, but the group goes jelly in the belly when they hear a word or two in Yiddish. No one really wants to learn it. Yiddish is a password for Jew, and find some comfort in a gathering of fellow Jews once a week and speak English.
    Don’t expect a Yiddish revival. In New York, there’s a strong staging of ‘Toydt von a Salysman’, in performance that are largely papered. In 2014, ‘Vartan oif Godot’ played well, and thanks to large screen with supertitles in English and Russian, most attendees would’ve known what was being said on stage.
    And let’s not forget David Ben Gurion labelled Yiddish ‘a ghetto language’. And that strong culture was destroyed during the Holocaust. Only groups like Satmar and other Hassidic sects keep the language alive. But would they appreciate the writings of say Itzak Manger? And who remember this ironic writer today?

    • E benAbuya

      You and I remember Itzik Manger. Ober, mir zennen baider alayne.