Takamasa Ota/Leadoff Studio
Judaica sales surge as community members seek ‘a little Jewish joy’ during a difficult time
In a burst of Jewish pride and personal statement-making following Oct. 7, sales of jewelry, mezuzot, the Israeli flag and even prayer books are rising, Judaica shop owners report
In any given year, the months leading up to Hanukkah are their own kind of Super Bowl in the world of Judaica sales, as hanukkiot purchases typically spike and retailers see their largest influx of business.
This year began similarly, with shop owners stockpiling supplies and logging orders ahead of their busiest quarter. Then came Oct. 7. and, in a burst of Jewish identification following the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust, sales of jewelry, mezuzot, the Israeli flag and even books of reflection are rising in Judaica stores across the country.
“We have people, definitely on a daily basis, that are coming in looking for Star of Davids, looking for chais. They feel as if they need to have a physical way of showing support,” David Cooperman, owner of Shalom House in Woodland Hills, Calif, told Jewish Insider. “Sometimes people will buy a small Star of David to pair up with a larger piece of jewelry that they might already own. So they’re wearing multiple pieces of jewelry, and they want to make sure that they’re wearing a star or chai as well.”
Mezuzot, Magen David necklaces, any public-facing symbol, are all signs to the outside world of the resilience of Jewish life.
“I think there’s an aspect of like, looking for joy in Judaism and culture right now,” Jordan Diatlo told JI. With his wife, Diatlo runs the online Judaica site Modern Mensch, known for its distinctive Nosh Menorah. His biggest seller so far this year is a new sleek, rainbow-hued mezuzah the shop calls the Sunrise Sunset Mezuzah. Modern Mensch only just released its new product line and color option at the end of the summer, making their popularity all the more surprising to Diatlo.
“If I tie it back to the feelings after Oct. 7, I feel like this one says the most about like, ‘here I am, I’m Jewish,’ like there’s a pride element to it,” Diatlo said. “I do think that just a big part of this one being the top seller is the boldness of it.”
Additionally, a number of shop owners interviewed by Jewish Insider noted an increase in Tehillim (Psalms) sales.
“Many people [are] just not wanting to be without a sefer Tehillim easily accessible. At home on the shelf wasn’t good enough. People were buying several sizes that they can carry in their purse, in their wallet, in their briefcase,” Moshe Udashkin, manager of The Judaica House in Teaneck, N.J., told JI. “A lot of people who previously didn’t feel the need to have an English-translated Tehillim were buying a lot of English-translated Tehillim, we couldn’t keep them on our shelves.”
Yitzi Gruen, COO of Brooklyn-based store The Judaica Place, said that not only were Tehillim sales up wildly, but he’s also been seeing “a huge increase in people getting books of self-development, introspection, things like that.”
Buying pieces crafted in Israel, as an additional show of support, has taken on a greater importance for many customers. Josh Zwelling, owner of Rosenblum’s World of Judaica in Skokie, Ill., was at first hesitant to bother his Israeli vendors with such mundane requests, but they quickly assured him of their need for his business.
“Many of our vendors have called and said, you know, tourism is down [in Israel], whatever you can do to continue to order, we’ll get it out to you,” he recalled. “I said, OK, you know what, we’re going to place our orders [and] whenever you ship, you ship. Hopefully we can have it for Hanukkah time and things like that, but in the meantime, just know your orders are gonna continue to come in.”
Amy Kritzer Becker, co-owner of online retailer ModernTribe, had similar conversations with her own vendors in Israel, and now has an entire section on her site dedicated solely to Israeli-produced products.
“I’ve made it a point to keep purchasing items from the artists we work for in Israel and to promote them on our website and via emails and social media.” she said. Becker also sells a number of charitable items, including a highly requested “Bring Them Home” necklace that splits all of its proceeds between Magen David Adom and The Hostage and Missing Families Forum, the largest and most prominent civil society organization supporting and advocating for the families of those abducted by on Oct. 7.
Judaica sales in the U.S. have fluctuated from store to store, with some shopkeepers reporting a rise in overall numbers in comparison to years past and others noting little change, but all of them are seeing an increase in sales of items that symbolize Jewish identity and pride.
“The ongoing war and certainly the rise in antisemitism, at least within our community, people are not afraid of showing that they’re Jewish and they don’t want to shy away from it,” Cooperman said. “There have been reports of different places urging Jewish people to not wear their jewelry, to take down their mezuzahs and maybe just put the mezuzahs on the inside of the house, but fortunately in our community here it’s just the opposite.”
“People want to find a little Jewish joy during this horrific time,” Becker told JI. And it’s not just observant Jews who’ve been turning to religious practice. Becker and others noted that many unaffiliated and formerly-affiliated individuals have also been showing up, looking to start practicing anew.
Udashkin described many such customers in Teaneck. One man, he said, bought a pair of tefillin for a Jewish stranger on his bus who wanted to start wearing them in support of Israel and the hostages, while another shopper, an elderly woman, purchased a menorah for the first time since she was a child.
“We saw a lot of [people] coming in who were not affiliated and just wanting to get affiliated,” Gruen said of his clientele at The Judaica Place. “[We had] people coming in really not knowing anything and just wanting to put up a mezuzah, wanting to identify as Jewish in any way possible.”
“The most beautiful thing is the fact that Jews want to connect to our roots,” said Choni Cohen, owner of Cohen’s Judaica in Boca Raton, Fla. “Every Jew feels what’s going on, and they’re coming in to connect with the roots of Judaism by lighting Shabbos candles and, of course, representing by wearing the Jewish star, the chai.”
“We are a lone nation in the world, and people want to connect to one another via doing what our tradition, our way of life is, and be united and uniting via doing these traditional things,” he added.
Judaica shop owners also noted an uptick in traffic from non-Jewish customers looking to buy pieces for themselves or for Jewish friends in a show of solidarity. Many also spoke of individuals sending messages or stopping by their storefronts to share condolences. It’s happening “more so than we’ve ever noticed” Cooperman said of Shalom House, while Zwelling recounted several church officials who came into his store asking for his largest Israeli flags, “as large as the American flag,” so they could display them during their services.
“A lot of people are trying to show that they’re still connected, and regardless of what you’re seeing online, and on social media, American Jewry still stands very strongly with Israel, and people are just trying to do what they can,” Udashkin said. “If it’s just saying a little private prayer, if it’s taking up a ritual that they haven’t done in 40 years… they’re trying to do something personally meaningful for the Jewish people.”