How My Jewish Values Inspired My New Business
When I think of the many factors that helped shape me into the woman I am today, I think, in particular, of lessons from my mother. Her wisdom inspired me and imbued me with a strong voice and commitment to social justice.
Now that I’m a mom, I can look back with pride at a time my mom embarrassed me one afternoon, rolling down her window and screaming at an anti-choice protestor who was blocking a Planned Parenthood facility (“They’re educating our children! They’re providing safe medical care for women in need!”). I curled up in the passenger seat that day, but I was inspired the next year to hop on a bus from Cincinnati and go to march on my own in Washington, D.C., as a mere ninth grader, in a pro-choice rally. It was a thrilling and hopeful experience.
Other factors shaped me, too, like accompanying my mom to her polling station and talking about what the right to vote meant, and learning that my great-grandmother, a suffragette, had also marched on Washington. My focus on social justice played out in my college major, in my jobs, in my volunteer and board work – and, now, in my messaging to my sons.
The day I became a bat mitzvah, I proudly belted out “Tzedek tzedek terdof” (justice, justice shall you pursue) as I read my Torah portion; today, I wish to instill that same sense of justice in my sons. They’ve accompanied me to the polls and campaigned for presidential candidates; they’ve even heard me firmly question a protestor who said Israel has no right to exist.
Growing up, I heard so much about Israel – again, from my mother – that perhaps it’s no surprise that, in the last 15 years, it’s become a focal point of my career. Some aspect of Israel has found its way into my work at all times, and my family travels there as often as we can. During both of my pregnancies, I made a point of traveling to Israel (for good “juju,” as they say, for my sons). We’ve taken two trips there since my oldest was born four years ago. For all its challenges, Israel is a place where I feel so at-home and happy.
On my 11th trip to Israel, accompanied by my eldest son, a dear friend took me to a beautiful store called Kelim Sheluvim on Dizengof Street in Tel Aviv. I was excited to browse the shop, which is full of gifts and objects made by artists and by craftsmen with disabilities. One particular item, a handmade doll, called a Jaffa Doll, caught my eye not only because it was adorable but also because it was made in a women’s collective by Arab and Jewish women. I bought one of the colorful dolls as a gift for my young son.
In June of 2015, we again took a trip to Israel, this time with my younger son also in tow. I went back to that store and as I bought a second Jaffa Doll for my younger son, my excitement rekindled. I had an idea: Did they have a U.S. distributor? I was eager to find work that combined my activist interests, something with Israel that I could do from home, and I loved the idea of a business that empowered women and promoted coexistence. Before the end of the trip, I met with the Israeli-Arab founder of Arous Elbahar (Bride of the Sea), where the Jaffa Dolls are made – and 10 dolls came home with me.
Since then, I’ve set up a website, asked for multiple shipments of inventory, exhibited at a charity event, set up a vendor table at a major Israeli conference in New York City, got some wonderful press hits, and recently showed at a new pop-up market in Brooklyn. It’s incredibly empowering to work on something that I know contributes to making Israeli society fairer and more just, especially amongst women.
You know who my biggest supporter in this endeavor is? My mom! And it’s my two sons who could be the Jaffa Doll’s biggest – and littlest – fans.
Laura Beatrix Newmark is the U.S. distributor for Jaffa Dolls. She was raised in Cincinnati, OH, and grew up at Isaac M. Wise Temple. She now lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Matthew, and her young sons, Elias and Milo.