Arts & Culture

Magen David: The New “It” Accessory

By Simona Kogan via   Stars of David and other Jewish symbols like the Hamsa (known as the protecting hand of G-d that wards off the evil eye) are no longer only strictly worn by the ultra-Orthodox. Now Jews … Read More

By / February 10, 2009

By Simona Kogan via


Stars of David and other Jewish symbols like the Hamsa (known as the protecting hand of G-d that wards off the evil eye) are no longer only strictly worn by the ultra-Orthodox. Now Jews across the country are slipping them on, if merely for fashion purposes.

Now celebrities, Jewish and not, are in on the trend, too. Israeli rapper Subliminal has been seen wearing a rhinestone-studded Star of David necklace in the same way other rappers hang gold chains hanging from their necks to show off their bling. Actor Jeremy Piven clenched a handmade .925 sterling silver Jewish Star of David Magen chain and pendant made by Ari Soffer in a recent Gap T-shirt ad.

Back in February, Britney Spears was photographed wearing a large Star of David chain, a gift from Isaac Cohen, a male model who was said to be romantically involved with her at the time.

Then there’s Agyness Deyn, a popular model known for her sultry runway walk, popular fashion campaign ads, and independent hipster style. One night she noticed a guy wearing an interesting Hamsa amulet on the end of a rosary chain and asked him where he got it. When he told her, she requested one was made for her and a new wave of Jewish symbol followers were born.

Carlen Altman, the creator of the Jewish Rosaries line that gave Agyness that pendant, says that was the moment the line really took off, but believes perhaps it was because Jews were looking for a new, unique, and innovative way to proclaim their pride.

Jewish Rosaries does just that, taking on the trend the way the Christian faith has made wearing a cross on your chest the trendy thing to do. In fact, Carlen says she used the prayer beads worn by devout Catholics like Madonna to add Chais (the Hebrew letter and Jewish symbol for life), Hamsas (protection against the evil eye), matzahs, Torahs, and of course, the quintessential Star of David.

Carlen’s brand Jewish Rosaries, operates out of her Brighton Beach, Brooklyn home, where she dwells with a stand-up comedian father and a theatrical agent mother and where she taught herself how to make her own jewelry.

Hey Carlen! How did you come up with the idea for your brand?

I came up with the idea for a Jewish Rosary when I saw how beautiful that Catholic rosaries looked on such celebrities as Pete Doherty and Madonna – and wished I could wear one myself. Because there was no necklace of this style available, I decided to take things into my own hands and make one, and the rest is history!

How did you get your start?

I made a Jewish Rosary for myself and then friends of mine asked me to make them one. One night, my good friend Ian wore a Filigree Hamsa Rosary with black beads from my collection to a concert and model Agyness Deyn asked him where he got his necklace – Agyness then requested I make her one – and once she started wearing hers, my line really seemed to take off and I was getting emails left and right asking me to make more!

How do you come up with your designs?

I come up with jewelry that I would wear myself, which is actually very hard to do as I don’t wear very much jewelry! I only like to wear one statement piece of jewelry at a time! My favorite piece from Jewish Rosaries is the Olympic Rosary in Distressed Gold, which is based off of my Grandma Rose’s antique pendant that she said brought her good luck.

I also have a necklace in the Jewish Rosaries line called Everybody Doven Now, which involves a charm of a Dancing Hasidic Man and a Kiddush Cup. I thought this would be a really fun, special necklace for people to wear who want to make a bolder, more humorous fashion statement than some of my more classic styled necklaces.

In terms of style influences, I am a big fan of Chanel’s classic aesthetic use of pearls, as well as Juicy Couture’s use of bright colors, gothic text, and tongue-and-chic iconography. I think both these fashion houses have influenced my designs. Ironically, when I think about it, I do not actually own any clothing from either of these two companies! How ungrateful of me!

What do you hope your brand will bring to the Jewish community?

It’s funny, since I’ve been running Jewish Rosaries, I get so many nice letters from my customers saying how much they’ve been wanting jewelry like this for so long. I think there is a big demographic of Jewish people who (like myself) are really proud to be Jewish, appreciate their Jewish culture and where they’ve come from, but have a modern fashion sensibility and don’t want to buy jewelry from their local synagogue gift shop (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

I hope my jewelry fills that void for the stylish Jewish community – to show that you can still express your Jewish pride, but still maintain a cool and fun fashion sense that doesn’t take itself too seriously!

It seems like it’s more youth-oriented, are you going for a certain type of age or audience?

Being 25 years old has definitely affected my angle and approach to my brand, mainly because I know this demographic more than any other. Despite my youth focus, I have many elderly friends here in Brooklyn and to reflect this, there are a few 70+ models on the site.

Although my website and brand has a youthful style, Jewish Rosaries main audience and customer is not someone who is necessarily young in numerical age – but someone who is young at heart! A true Jewish Rosaries customer is someone who is stylish and has a sense of humor, at any age!!! I have customers as young as 11 and as old as 92! I don’t think anyone who doesn’t have a sense of humor or open mind will appreciate my jewelry (or should I say, "jew-elry") line’s charm.

As of now, Jewish Rosaries is mainly run as a E-Commerce business, (i.e. most of my jewelry is sold through my website and not in a store). Having an online business accidentally alienates a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable shopping online (such as elderly folks with slow computer modems, etc.) However, I am selling Jewish Rosaries in a few stores (and hopefully more on the way)! Currently they are sold at the Urban Outfitters’ Pop-Up Store hosted by designer Samantha Pleet, in Los Angeles, and I recently sold Jewish Rosaries at the Off Off Bowery Pop-Up Store hosted by Aaron Bondaroff, at a store called Colette in Paris, France.

Do you feel under pressure to be someone great because you’re the daughter of comedian Uncle Dirty?

This is a funny question because (sadly!) not very many people my age know who Uncle Dirty is. But it’s interesting because success is something I think about all the time. I do feel a lot of pressure to be someone great though I don’t know if this is specifically because of my father’s comedic career. Instead, I think my desire to be "someone great" is partially genetic, partially because of my family’s encouragement, but mainly because of the realization that there is only one chance to be alive and you might as well take advantage of it and become the greatest person you can be, as there will never be another person as special and unique as you. (I am thankful for my parents helping to remind me of this sad but beautiful fact.)

Not to sound overly dramatic, but I remember standing in front of an American Apparel store window last year, where a mannequin had a neon blue plastic Catholic rosary around its neck and thinking to myself – No matter what it takes, I have to make a plastic Jewish Rosary! Well, 11 months later, I had them made in China all by myself, with my own money – and now I am so happy to be able to share my realized dream with you!

I encourage anyone who is thinking about doing something artistic or risky to take steps to make your dreams come true. If not you, then who?

You call your company Jewish Rosaries. You create them in the fashion of a rosary because crosses are so popular and worn frequently throughout the world. What do you feel about the comparison of your jewelry to the Christian symbol? Are you looking to compare Christians to Jews? What is the message you hope your jewelry will send to Jews?

Hmm…I am not looking to make people compare the Magen David to the Cross. I hope it sends the message that we can wear Judaic jewelry that’s as cool, beautiful, and stylish as what is available to Christians.

The Star of David is a Jewish symbol but it was never thought of as cool jewelry (in the same way that the cross was). Are you hoping to change its status with your brand? Why? How do you hope to do that?

Yes! For example, I always wanted a Christmas tree but my mom would never let us get one! No offense, but the Hanukkah Bush has NOTHING on the Christmas Tree. I hope that the Jewish Rosary becomes as iconic as the Catholic Rosary. I am not sure how I hope to do this – perhaps starting a Jewish Rosaries cult! Just kidding! I think the Star of David is one of the most beautiful shapes in the world and hope to share this with others through my jewelry.

Subliminal wears the Star of David, Jeremy Piven wore one in a Gap ad…are you hoping that your jewelry will be the next step in making this symbol more hip?

Kind of, yes! But like I said, I don’t ever want my jewelry to be so "hip" that it alienates elderly people from wanting to buy it. I love elderly people so much. I live in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where most of my friends are over 75 years old. I would never want them to feel like they can’t sit in the cafeteria with me and the other "Jewish Rosaries cool kids."

What kind of feedback has your label received? What about negative feedback?

I would say 80% is positive and 20% negative. I received a lot of negative feedback after my jewelry was featured on the television show the TODAY show, as I am pretty sure the people who watch the TODAY show are not the demographic of people who would be into owning a Jewish Rosary.

You say you’re not looking to insult Judaism or Christianity, but some people think otherwise. What do you say to the critics?

I say that my jewelry is not meant to offend or mock. I am making this jewelry to instill a sense of Jewish pride – and if anything, bring people of both Christian and Judaic faith together in their love of the rosary necklace. I am genuinely sorry if anyone is offended – but I have to remind myself that people are often scared by anything new or unusual. Just look at what happened to Jesus!

What do you love about being Jewish? Do you hope your jewelry will convey that?

I love the perseverance to succeed that Jews have exhibited through history. And I love the Jewish brand of self-deprecatory neurotic sense of humor (ie. exhibited by comedy writers Larry David and Woody Allen) as well as the Jewish drive to do good deeds (perform "mitzvahs"). Because of this, a portion of all Jewish Rosaries proceeds will go towards helping various charities.

It would be a dream come true if one day, comedy writer Larry David, or Madonna would wear a Jewish Rosary. All Jewish Rosaries bring their owners good luck!

Stay tuned as I will have all new styles and soon unveil my newest design, a Moses ring whose mouth actually opens and closes with a lever!