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The Hanukkah merch market has exploded. But are Jews feeling more represented?



(JTA) — It was early November when Nicholas Wymer-Santiago walked into his local Target in Austin, Texas, and realized it was beginning to feel a lot like Hanukkah.

Instead of an endcap with a limited array of Hanukkah basics, as he had seen in past years, there stretched out a whole aisle of holiday products: pillows; dreidel-shaped pet toys; window decals; menorahs in the shape of lions, corgis and whales; and so much more. Even the $5-and-under impulse-buys section filled with seasonal products had a supply of Hanukkah goods, including a Star of David-shaped bowl and a set of dishes labeled “sour cream” and “applesauce.”

“In a good way, it was overwhelming at first, because there’s so much and I kind of want to buy it all,” Wymer-Santiago recalled feeling as he stood in the holiday section, looking up at a large photograph of a Hanukkah celebration alongside others showcasing Christmas.

The higher education administrator at the University of Texas decided to limit himself, at first taking home just a tea towel and a matching mug printed with a Hanukkah motif.

“And then I came back twice, maybe three times and each time I bought more and more items that I know I probably don’t need,” he said. “I think I’ve just had so much excitement about the novelty of it all, and having the ability to purchase these items, many of which I’ve never seen before.”

Wymer-Santiago is hardly alone in loading his cart with Hanukkah merchandise. Across the United States, big-box stores appear to be stocking more Hanukkah products than ever — and while off-color items such as Hanukkah gnomes and “Oy to the World” dish towels have raised eyebrows, the real story might be that American retailers have decked their shelves with menorahs, tableware and other items that are appropriate, affordable and often downright tasteful.

For many American Jews, the result is a sense of inclusion at a time of unease — although some are wrestling with what it means to have access to a fast-fashion form of Judaica.

“It is very exciting to go into Target or Michaels or a Walmart and to see Hanukkah merchandise,” said Ariel Scheer Stein, an influencer who shares crafting and holiday content for Jewish families on Instagram, where she has more than 20,000 followers.

Social media influencers in Miami, New York City and Denver respond to the flood of Hanukkah products at their local Target shops in 2022. (Instagram/@jamwithjamie/@cupofjo)

“The feeling is almost like pride and like we’re being seen and represented,” Stein added. “In a sea of Christmas … it feels really great, even if it’s a much smaller representation, that the Jewish holiday is there also and the Jewish community is being acknowledged and represented.”

The idea that retailers have stocked up on Hanukkah goods to make Jews feel represented is tempting, but it’s probably not the only reason for a shift in the market, according to Russell Winer, deputy chair of the marketing department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He said that while an endcap — the small set of shelves at the end of an aisle — might sometimes be given over for symbolic purposes, the devotion of an entire aisle at the busiest time of the year is purely a business decision.

“These stores are very sophisticated in what they put in them,” Winer said. “They’re not going to put stuff on the shelves, especially at the holidays, if they don’t think they’re going to sell.”

There are signs that the Hanukkah market might be much wider than the proportion of Americans who identify as Jewish, 2.5%, would suggest. Numerator, a respected consumer trends polling firm, found in a survey of 11,000 consumers conducted in January 2022 that 14% of respondents said they were “definitely” or “probably” celebrating Hanukkah this year, compared to 96% for Christmas. More than half of the Hanukkah celebrants said they expected to spend more than $50 on the holiday — suggesting that retailers can expect hundreds of millions of dollars in Hanukkah spending this year.

Part of that marketplace is the growing number of families in which Hanukkah is celebrated alongside other holidays, usually Christmas. Most American Jews who have married in the last decade have done so to people who are not Jewish, according to the 2020 Pew study of American Jews; most of them say they are raising their children exclusively or partly as Jews. They may want to have products that allow Hanukkah to share the stage equitably with the other celebrations in their family.

“I’m not terribly surprised from a cultural standpoint that there’s more merchandise,” said Winer, who is Jewish. He said he and his wife had purchased Hanukkah stockings for their grandchildren, who are being raised in two faith traditions. (Evangelical Christians and Messianics, those who adopt Jewish practices while believing in the divinity of Jesus, also represent an emerging market for Jewish ritual objects.)

Stein offered another theory to explain the uptick in interest in Hanukkah products: the fact that social media and Zoom meetings have made home lives more transparent than ever.

“The communal sharing of lives, whether you’re an influencer or even my friends on Facebook showing what their display is this year or taking a picture of a recipe they were really proud of, making latkes from scratch — there’s just more visibility than there has been in the past,” she said. “And that’s probably a factor.”

Whatever the reasons, shoppers are noticing. Like Stein and countless other Jewish influencers, Rabbi Yael Buechler, a devoted observer of Jewish consumer trends, has offered tours of Hanukkah merchandise to her social media followers. Wearing Hanukkah pajamas that she designed and sells, Buechler has posted 14 videos to TikTok showcasing the Hanukkah collections of national retailers and assigns each store a “yay” or “nay” based on several metrics, including whether items display accurate Hebrew or appear to be generic blue-and-white items being passed off as made for the holiday. The videos, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, have given her a broad view of what’s available to the Hanukkah consumer.


Welcome to the second installment of Hanukkah merch: YAY or NAY? .@target edition .Items were rated by:If the product was beyond blue & white Correct Hebrew Whether the Hanukkiyah was kosher If the Hanukkah pun was goodWhether animal was Hanukkah punnable (i.e. Menorasaurus) .#hanukkahiscoming #hanukkahfails #hanukkahcountdown #hanukkahyayornay #yayornay #hanukkah2022 #targetfinds #hanukkahpresents #hanukkahpjs #hanukkahgifts #hanukkahcheck #chanukah2022

♬ Oh Hanukkah – Maccabeats

“I see a lot more products this year than any other year,” said Buechler, who works at a Jewish school outside New York City. “I see a lot of new prints. I see more creativity in the market. I see more humor in the market.”

Like Wymer-Santiago, Buechler said Target, which has 2,000 locations across the United States, stood out as offering the widest array of products and the lowest proportion of “fails,” or products that miss the mark religiously, culturally or aesthetically.

“They have really stepped it up,” Buechler said. “Target also carries the Nickelodeon ‘Rugrats’ Hanukkah sweatshirts that are just brilliant. … I would definitely say they get the biggest ‘yay’ for this year.”

Target, which has a track record of using inclusive imagery in its advertisements and in-store promotions, declined to answer questions about its offerings, including how much bigger its Hanukkah collection is this year than in the past and how widely the products for Jewish buyers have been distributed. But a spokesperson said the feeling Wymer-Santiago and Stein described after visiting their local stores is exactly what the company is trying to cultivate.

“Target is committed to creating an inclusive guest experience in which all guests feel represented,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. The spokesperson noted that Target’s Hanukkah assortment “was developed in collaboration with Jewish team members and input from our Jewish employee resource group” and crosses several of the retailer’s in-house brands.

One of those lines, Opalhouse by Jungalow, was created by a Jewish artist, Justina Blakeney. Last year, Blakeney’s first Hanukkah collection included plates and pillows, as well as a gold menorah shaped like a dove. This year, Blakeney added new pillow designs and a clay menorah.

Target’s website prominent promotes Hanukkah products, including from a house brand by a Jewish creator named Justina Blakeney. (Screenshot)

“If I could go back in time and tell elementary-school-aged Justina (or ‘Tina’ as I was called back then) that I would have a chance to design a Hanukkah collection for Target, I would have lost my mind,” she wrote in an October blog post revealing the collection.

Hanukkah goods have always been widely available through Jewish merchandisers and at synagogue bazaars — but those products have been available only to people who already engaged in Jewish communities. Amazon and other online retailers have increased access, but only for people who are hunting for Hanukkah supplies. A Hanukkah aisle at Target, in contrast, reaches the many Jews who may not already have robust holiday traditions.

Stein, who said she particularly regretted not snapping up a marble dreidel sculpture that quickly sold out at Target, said she saw only benefits in promoting major retailers’ Hanukkah offerings, even if doing so has made her something of an unpaid advertiser at times.

“Right now, especially with the rise of antisemitism, if there are ways that we can spur Jewish joy — and for me, that’s by sharing and inspiring people with different kinds of Hanukkah merch and home decor and jewelry — I think that’s great,” she said.

Not everyone is thrilled by the shift in the marketplace. The sweeping Hanukkah displays are drawing criticism from those who have long lamented that the American primacy of Christmas has caused Jews to focus too much on a minor holiday, while leaving holidays with more religious significance relatively uncelebrated.

“I think: What would it feel like to see a giant Shavuot display?” Wymer-Santiago said.

The fast-fashion aspect of the big-box retailers’ offerings, many of which are imported from China, also raises concerns about whether easy access to trendy Judaica comes at environmental and cultural costs.

“How about we don’t extract fossil fuels to make crap that no one needs and that makes Jewish communities less distinctive?” asked Dan Friedman, a writer and longtime climate activist, though he emphasized that systemic change, rather than tweaks to purchasing decisions by Jewish consumers, is needed to avert climate catastrophe.

For Buechler and others, the benefits of a mass-market Hanukkah merchandise boom outweigh any possible drawbacks.

“As a rabbi, I am all for anything that will make Hanukkah celebrations more engaging and potentially lengthen a family celebration,” said Buechler, who said her own collection had outgrown the four tubs it occupied several months ago, and that one of her favorite purchases was of a Hanukkah sweater for lizards that she bought for a friend’s guinea pig.

“I really do believe that owning different kinds of Hanukkah merch, whether apparel or otherwise, will increase the likelihood that a family will celebrate with friends with family for more nights than they would have last year,” she added.

Nicholas Wymer-Santiago takes a selfie showing off his menorah collection, mostly acquired at his local Target in Austin, Texas. (Courtesy of Wymer-Santiago)

Wymer-Santiago plans to celebrate the holiday with his family in Ohio, meaning that he will be leaving behind much of this year’s Target haul in his Austin apartment: the device that makes dreidel-shaped waffles, the window decals that advertise the holiday to passersby, the giant dreidel-shaped jar that he has filled with, well, dreidels. He said he planned to make room in his suitcase for at least one item: a $5 menorah that reminds him of his dog.

Wymer-Santiago said a piece of him worried that Target was taking advantage of his excitement about Jewish representation, the way it has been criticized for doing around LGBTQ Pride celebrations, to sell him stuff he doesn’t need.

“Every time I buy something from Target in general, but definitely for Hanukkah, I think about this,” he said. “But then I think: This thing is so cute. And I just need it.”

The post The Hanukkah merch market has exploded. But are Jews feeling more represented? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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