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Young entrepreneurs ‘Jew it better’ with Judaica



Josh and Michelle Hayman are young parents with busy careers, but in between it all, they have managed to create a range of Jewish gift cards, aptly titled “Jewishes”. They’re part of a number of young, dynamic South African entrepreneurs who are building businesses based on their Jewish identity and traditions. “The essence of the brand is to send love, literally,” they say.

“Jewish traditions, holidays, and childhood memories were the real starting point,” says Danielle Abel of Chai Modern. “The old embroidered tablecloths, crockery, and silver jugs all played a role, and making them modern for today’s families was the key driver. You don’t just want to inherit Judaica – you want to make it your own.”

For Casey Sher of Bayit Judaica, “As I started envisioning an online store, my upbringing and family traditions became central,” she says. “I kept being pulled toward the challah cover, and it very quickly dawned on me why. Growing up in a home where the dining room table was always extending, and still is forever extending; where the food is bottomless, the love is boundless, and the challah stretches for miles, there was and is always a constant sound of joy. As the challah gets passed around the table, it’s that sound of joy that I hope I can bring into your home.”

“We both have jobs in the creative industry, and we’ve always collaborated and weighed in on each other’s work. When COVID-19 came around, we finally had a bit of free time to explore the idea and brush up on our Yiddish,” says Josh.

“I wouldn’t be a good Jewish boy if I didn’t mention my mother at some point,” he quips. “My mom has a bit of a reputation for always buying weirdly specific and appropriate birthday cards, but over the years, has always complained that she could never find suitable Judaica cards to wow her recipients. With her voice in the back of my head and Mich wanting to turn her love for gift-giving (and receiving) into a business, it seemed like a good idea.”

In our screen-filled world, “There’s something special about a handwritten note that can’t be replicated digitally,” says Michelle. “There’s a level of care that’s intrinsically present in the act of putting ink to paper – or a high quality textured card in our case. The thought of friends, family, and loved ones exchanging our cards and keeping them in their homes is really gratifying.”

“There’s a distinct humour or personality that comes through in all the cards, always with a focus on quality. We call it “chutzpah-chic”. While all our cards have a Jewish flavour, we also intentionally use terms that would be understood and enjoyed by people outside of the community,” says Josh.

Examples include a play on the chocolate bar, KitKat, with the logo changed to “KitKa” (the distinctly South African Jewish word for challah) accompanied by the wish: “Have a break, have a good Shabbos.”

The cards are sold at Kleinsky’s (in Cape Town and Joburg), Fabricate (Cape Town), and the South African Jewish Museum (Cape Town), and they’re working on an online shop. “We’d like to reinforce the idea that Jewish-focused design or creativity can be just as good – if not better – than any other contemporary work that’s out there,” says Michelle.

Abel feels that “at the heart of every Jewish family is tradition”. Chai Modern “celebrates this tradition by bringing life or chai to modern families”.

She worked in the clothing industry and then turned to ceramics. “Family simchas made me think of appropriate tableware for the first time. I searched locally, and was amazed at how little modern Judaica items there were. It challenged me to use all my skills to produce items for special occasions.”

Her bespoke items “play a role in other people’s simchas, which is so exciting. We get immense nachas from seeing our items on a Shabbat table or at a Bar/Batmitzvah, specially designed to fit the décor and feel of the event.”

Products are available in South Africa on her website. She also supplies stores all over the United States and Europe. She’s about to launch ranges of menorahs and mezuzahs “that I keep getting requests for”.

Sher says, “I’m at the stage where I’m building my own Jewish home. I wanted a specific look for my Judaica, and to give gifts to friends and family, which I just couldn’t find.”

On a visit to Israel in May 2022, “I started collecting pieces for my own home, and decided to take the plunge and purchase my first round of stock to bring back to South Africa and start my own brand.” She named it ‘Bayit’, meaning ‘home’.

She notes that “there are three mitzvot particularly related to women, one being challah. This mitzvah was instilled in me at a young age as the women of the house would gather to prepare the challah for Shabbat, and the memories remain. Each handmade challah cover represents my mother, my sister, my grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and friends. Each challah cover represents a piece of me.”

In fact, she went on to name each challah cover after female members of her family, from babies to grandmothers, the array of colours and textures reflecting their unique personalities.

At the moment, she takes orders through Instagram. “Our next step is to build an online ecommerce website.” She would love to have her own modern-day Judaica store one day, “a shop which is inclusive, affordable, and where our community feels welcome to find Judaica pieces for all occasions. We have a special community, and I’m proud to be part of it. I’m excited to continue this journey with you, bringing joy from my home to yours.”

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