When 30-year-old Antonina Samecka returned to Poland after her first visit to Israel on Birthright, she wore a Magen David (Star of David) necklace. Her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, was shocked to see her, and asked that she take off the necklace from the Holy Land. Her grandmother believed it was still dangerous to identify oneself as a Jew in Poland.
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But Samecka, a young Pole of Jewish descent decided to keep adorning herself in “Jewish” fashion items. Over the decade that has passed since then, she says that her goal has been “to remove the stigmas, so that we can wear our Judaism when, and where we want to.”
A fashion line she created in 2012, Risk Oy markets “sexy and cool” Jewish fashion, she says. The line was born in Krakow, but has since moved to Warsaw, a city still considered by many to be the antithesis of cool, fashionable or trendy.
With effective Internet marking, Samecka has found exactly the community of customers she was looking for. Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich also caught wind of the brand. Samecka describes her target audience as “people who don’t exactly identify with the Jewish religion, but still want to be connected to their roots.”
The clothing, which comes in various shades of gray, is adorned with slogans meant to shock Polish mothers, wink at Jewish friends, and make fun of both of them. The clothes’ self-deprecating humor includes words like “chutzpah,” “shalom,” and “Israel,” alongside symbols like menorahs, Magen Davids, hamsas.
One shirt reads: “Thanks to my mum,” and the reason is clear: “It’s common that whenever you tell someone you’re Jewish, they ask whether it’s through your mum or your dad. The above design pokes fun at this routine, and intends to remove all doubt,” reads the website for the clothing line. This particular shirt is adorned with Magen Davids and snowflakes. “As our Yiddishe mamas are always concerned about us getting cold,” reads the description.
Another shirt reads, “I love J Forever.” Use of the letter “J” as shorthand for Jewish isn’t meant to recall the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, but rather references the popular Jewish dating side, JDate. “In reality we all date who we want, but our parents all say the same thing: ‘Find yourself a good Jewish husband/wife!’ This is why we've incorporated a menorah into the head of our Cupid’s arrow.”
One exception is the shirt that reads, “Oy oy, my boy is goy.” “Sometimes we joke that Jewish girls prefer goys,” reads the clothing line’s website. The shirt is depicted just above a tie that contains the words, “Got more chutzpah than charm.”
“The word chutzpah used to have a negative connotation, but today it’s completely changed,” explain the designers. Today the Jewish chutzpah is described as self-confidence, straightforwardness and honesty. The designers say, “Chutzpah symbolizes going after your goals, in order to face the toughest challenges. Because of its chutzpah, Israel became the ‘Start-up nation.’”
The brand Risk Oy is an offshoot of the larger "Risk Made in Warsaw brand," which Samecka also founded. Her clothes are sold over the Internet and in stores throughout the world, including in Germany, Italy, France, the United States and even Saudi Arabia.
Samecka has yet to penetrate the Israeli market, though. “The most important message is that being Jewish has become sexy. We’re rebranding the Jewish identity, and focusing on the good, and positive things we have,” says Samecka.