Last week, as brands grappled with what to do, how to post and what to say as Israel went to war with Hamas in the wake of the terrorist group’s attacks on Israeli citizens, Jewish-owned jewelry brands found themselves in a unique position.
Stephanie Gottlieb, founder of the 10-year-old jewelry brand of the same name, said she was “devastated” last weekend. “It takes a minute to collect yourself and figure out how you can say what you want to say,” she said. But then, “I started seeing [a spike in] Jewish star [necklace] orders coming in. And that was sort of this light. … How amazing that something like this happens and it inspires Jewish people to want to show their pride for being Jewish.”
Gottlieb increased the number of Star of David necklaces on her brand’s e-commerce site at the end of last year, as antisemitism in the states was spiking. At the time, she released three styles with new takes on the Star of David, including one featuring rainbow gemstones and another with a heart-shaped diamond floating in the middle of the star. She announced that she would donate 10% of every purchase to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), which she chose “because it’s very much ingrained in New York life, and they are flexible and able to shift their initiatives as they see fit.”
On October 10, Gottlieb announced on Instagram that the brand would donate to the UJA 100% of the day’s profits linked to sales of the eight Star of David necklaces. It sold $70,000 worth of Star of David jewelry that day. On Friday, the UJA announced it had donated $20 million to Israel, including $7.1 million to support residents of Southern Israel, $2 million to supply and equip hospitals in the area, and $1.2 million for emergency operations and recovery efforts.
“I knew the community was going to come out and support this [fundraiser] because everyone was shopping the necklaces anyway,” Gottlieb said. “But I had no idea of the [extent]. The UJA was also super shocked and super humbled.” The eight necklaces, which are gold and feature diamonds and other gemstones, range from $525-$2,295. The Stephanie Gottlieb website site sells designs by both Gottlieb and other jewelers.
Now, Gottlieb’s jewelers are working to catch up to the demand. New orders will take 6-8 weeks to arrive but should make it before Hanukkah, she said. The brand will continue to give 10% of all proceeds from sales of these pieces to the organization.
When Gottlieb announced the initiative, she was flooded with DMs, she said. “There was so much feedback, with people wanting different price points, or Jewish stars for men, or bracelets or earrings.” Her design team is getting to work accordingly, she said.
Unsurprisingly, not all responses were supportive; some were hateful and antisemitic, Gottlieb said. What was less expected was non-Jews messaging to ask questions. “A couple of people asked, ‘Is it disrespectful if I wear one in unity, to show my allyship?’ which I thought was really kind,” Gottlieb said. “My response was that it could be a conversation starter. I said, ‘If people know you’re not Jewish, they will ask, which is a nice segue for you to share how you feel and why you’re wearing it.’ I also said that, if they didn’t want to wear it, they could donate it to someone [or to an auction].” Also, because many people may not feel safe wearing a Star of David necklace, Gottlieb plans to expand the collection to less obvious pieces, like bracelets, she said.
As for the hateful responses, Gottlieb chose not to engage. The brand lost about 1,500 followers, to which Gottlieb said simply, “Whatever.” Gottlieb’s Instagram account has 469,000 followers. “I had to block certain keywords so that certain messages were not coming my way. Luckily, Instagram has created an environment where, if you don’t want to see certain content, you don’t have to. I’m choosing not to engage in certain types of conversation that aren’t productive.”
For her part, Emily Faith Strauss, founder of the 10-year-old fine jewelry company EF Collection, was hesitant to say anything about Israel on her brand’s Instagram, which has 165,000 followers. “In complete transparency and honesty, I was fearful,” she said, “I am a proud Jewish woman, but I wouldn’t say I’m extremely religious. I don’t walk around with a Star of David every day. But [ultimately, I decided it was] really important to speak out.” On October 12, she posted a photo showing the brand’s Star of David necklace ($650) and its Hebrew Mom necklace ($895) — the latter features the Hebrew word for “mom,” in Hebrew letters. The caption said that the brand would give 100% of its proceeds from both pieces’ sales to Magen David Adom, which supports Israel’s paramedics and Red Cross service, throughout October. “I was like, ‘Maybe we’ll sell five, maybe we’ll sell ten. Let’s see,'” she said. Since then, the brand has sold $65,000 worth of the two necklaces.
“It took me a very long time to compose the post’s ,” Strauss said. “I acknowledged that I didn’t have the right words or the words that were going to satisfy everybody. And I just posted what was truly in my heart.” Responses were mixed. “There were comments that were supportive, and there were a lot of comments that were nasty and negative,” Strauss said. As the number of comments grew into the hundreds, Strauss decided to turn them off.
Ultimately, “the EF collection [Instagram] page is a space to try to bring light and bring hope, so that’s really what I tried to do through this initiative,” she said.
Gottlieb and Strauss are not the only Jewish-founded jewelry brands to launch initiatives tied to Jewish religion-affiliated jewelry. On October 13, jewelry and accessories brand Susan Alexandra posted a picture of her “Star of Susan” charm, writing, “We are donating proceeds of our Sacred Heart necklace, Star of Susan necklace and our Prayer necklace to @globalempowermentmission good shabbos everyone, be safe ” The Global Empowerment Mission works to provide immediate relief to those impacted by global disasters. The post has 1,902 likes — but, as with EF Collection’s post, the comments are turned off.
Also on October 13, jewelry brand Adina Eden announced that it would donate proceeds from its Star of David collection to Friends of the IDF, an organization that supports the Israel Defense Forces. It has since posted again, writing, “We want to thank you for selling out all of our Star of David Jewelry and helping us contribute to @friends_of_the_idf !!! We rushed to get NEW styles, which are now available for pre-order! 25% of proceeds on all Star of David Jewelry purchases will be donated to Israel’s EMS organization who provides medical care! @unitedhatzalahofisrael“
As Strauss said, jewelry can be comforting. “These pieces will bring comfort to so many in a time that’s just really horrific and difficult,” she said.