Must Have: Jewish Rosaries

This will, admittedly, freak some of you out. Jewish Rosaries is a hot new line of “(jew)elry” by multi-tasking Brooklynite Carlen Altman. Carlen first got the idea for Jewish Rosaries after the traditional, Catholic rosary was popularized as a fashion … Read More

By / July 18, 2008

This will, admittedly, freak some of you out. Jewish Rosaries is a hot new line of “(jew)elry” by multi-tasking Brooklynite Carlen Altman. Carlen first got the idea for Jewish Rosaries after the traditional, Catholic rosary was popularized as a fashion accessory by certain tabloid celebrities. She explains, “I loved how ‘real’ rosaries looked, but knew I would never wear a cross! After seeing how popular Catholic rosaries had become (Kate Moss/Pete Doherty wore them so much!), I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a rosary using a Jewish Star.”

But the Jewish rosary did not remain a private invention for long. As soon as she started wearing her rosary in public, she began to generate a huge amount of interest. Carlen recalls, “Once I made one for myself and wore it out, a bunch of people asked me where I got it. Then that fancy Aryan dreamboat model Agyness Dein asked me where I got it and I told her I made it and she said she wanted one. And it has just snowballed from there!”

Snowballed, indeed! It seems as though everyone wants to get their hands (or necks) on one of Carlen’s Jewish rosaries. My first correspondence with Carlen ended like this: “Okay Jessica, it is now 5:17AM. Ever since Daily Candy wrote an article about my line, my house has turned into a one-woman sweatshop of me! But I am so happy people are interested!”

Carlen, the daughter of comedian and artist Uncle Dirty, grew up in Manhattan and currently resides in Brighton Beach. When she’s not busy single-handedly manning the Jewish Rosaries ship, she engages herself in several other pursuits. Carlen elaborates, “I do stand-up comedy, make little comedic videos with my mom and pets, do artwork, and play with my 7 guinea pigs. I am obsessed with funny elderly people and because I live in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where not very many people speak English (except the elderly Jewish people,) I have made a lot of elderly Jewish friends, which is great for me!!!! I think my dreams (for now) are to be a character on MadTV, have a Jewish Rosaries™ empire, and help animal and environmental causes!”

For now, it seems the empire is on its way, and Carlen’s elderly Jewish friends look pretty snazzy in their rosaries on the Jewish Rosaries site (which, by the way, Carlen also designed herself.) In fact, Carlen’s entire gig as a (jew)elry designer has been one big learning process for her. She says, “I never went to school for jewelry making, so it has taken a lot of time and effort to learn everything (I majored in Psychology!) It has been so fun to learn so much…I do everything myself: website design, jewelry design, jewelry making, email writing, press, everything! Oy vey! I like to know as much about so many things as possible. I hope to learn Flash, so I can do an animated Rabbi with swirling payis on my site one day soon!”

The Jewish Rosaries come in a wide variety of colors and styles. Shoppers can make their own bead combinations, or can choose from a whole array of aptly named styles, from the “Let My People Go-Go” featuring Moses and matzo charms, to the “Everybody Doven Now” featuring Kiddish cup and dancing Hasidic man charms.

Carlen explains her bead choices, saying, “Many of my beads are vintage and some are from Judaica Stores. I pick them out by what I think is funny, cute, and wearable. My favorite beads are the "Excited Dancing Hasidic Man" and the Gefilte fish charm. I used to sell a Hamentachen bead, but it looked a bit vaginal, so I removed it from the site! I love glow in the dark stuff, so I decided to carry glow-in-the-dark rosary beads as an option!” She was also excited to announce that staring very soon, the rosaries will also be available in plastic as well as bracelet form.

There has been a bit of criticism about the rosaries in regard to their being based on religious iconography. Carlen addresses these critics not only by pointing out that many people who buy Jewish Rosaries are Christian, but also by explaining that she means no harm. She states, “I know that any artist/jewelry maker/comedian who discusses (or alters, in my case) religious imagery is bound to receive some negative feedback. But I try to be as clear as possible on that my line is not intended to mock or insult Catholicism, or any other religion. I have many friends of all Creeds and they (even the Christian friends!) are supportive of Jewish Rosaries™, as they know I am just doing my line with good intentions, and if anything to help instill Jewish pride without devaluing Christian pride."

Criticism aside, Jewish Rosaries are at worst an excellent conversation piece, and at best an awesome bit of jewelry that flaunts your New Jew pride. Possibly the best part about Jewish Rosaries is that after you order one, you will automatically become Carlen’s BFF. She says, “I LOVE hearing from people who love their Jewish Rosary™ and I write a hand-written note to everyone who orders from me! I feel like everyone who owns a Jewish Rosary™ is a friend, and it is AMAZING to see people on the street wearing my creations! So nice!!!” And if you still can’t get enough of Carlen, you can check out her writing and art on her personal website.

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