My people – the Jews – have long been a part of the America garment industry. We were in the so called “rag trade” when not fashionable and far from profitable … more a means to an end as the saying goes. But like so much else in our complex America narrative – through circumstance and happenstance – we turned that marginal position into a gloried and hugely successful enterprise. Simply a case of what other Americans once thought menial or too difficult a work choice becoming our path to a rages to riches biography. Names flow easily in describing department stores and fashion houses that are known or little known to be ours … began and owned by Jewish Americans. Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, my Philadelphia family friends, Gimbels – the designers Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Diane Van Frustenberg and Israeli born American Elie Tahari, along with stylist/designer Rachel Zoe and my own family Philadelphia acquaintance, the generous philanthropist Sidney Kimmel whose fortune began in the clothing industry … these are to name just a very recognizable few.
Without a doubt this essay is about my prideful and one might say even boastful or braggart explanation of how we Jewish Americans created an industry profitable to ourselves and so many others … just the employment numbers of the fashion businesses we created are staggering and important to not only cities like New York but across the nation. Equally I am thrilled at the influences of art and design that our involvement has established. Why just alone the iconic Americana images of a lifestyle that Lauren has created defines an entirely complete and resplendent representation of who and what we are as a nation. We can not forget that twice our U.S. Olympic team has been present at the games clad in Ralph Lauren designs. Still there is a more poignant meaning that I attempt to establish for my readers … for each of these famous Jewish Americans in both small and large ways have attempted to give back to the land of either their birth or acquired citizenship that which otherwise the USA would not be the benefactor of in neither substance or tangible effects
Judaism dictates that we all perform Tikkun olam – meaning “repairing the world” actions. It seems no matter status or level of knowledge of our faith, all Jews somehow and in some way to some extent adhere to this promise. It is the simple reason we are so involved in organization and causes around the world – those in the fashion industry being no different. In this we find issues of American Jewish patriotism bred and developed. In the late 1990’s Ralph Lauren saved our 200 year old flag writing that he was part of the American Dream as son of Jewish immigrants … he responded to then President and First Lady Clinton’s request that our Star-Spangled Banner which flew during the decisive Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 be restored and hence persevered. Upon receiving the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in 2014, Mr. Lauren seemed both humble and without hubris gratified that his success allowed him to do so much for our beloved nation.
Being in New York City not long after 9/11, my friend Sonia, herself in the fashion industry suggested we stroll by one of my favorite go to designers, Israeli born Elie Tahari’s on 5th Avenue to see his commissioned American flag wrapped 3 story building. When receiving an award of recognition from Elie Wiesel in 2003, Mr. Tahari explained that after 9/11 as an immigrant Persian Jew, he wanted his then infant son to see how REAL freedom was represented by something like the American flag … yes an object to him representative of his “Paradise“, the United States of America”.
So here we are July 4th, 2014 holiday weekend. I an American Jew, with Albanian Muslim Maternal Ancestry and a Catholic husband who legally took my Jewish last name/wanted same for any children G-d blessed us with … family, friends and colleagues of every race, religion and nationality – a world wide blessing of people in my life that I have been privileged to meet by traveling the world as moved by the iconic American flag as Mr.Lauren and Tahari have obviously been. Why we feel this way as each of us equally devoted to our ancestral homeland of Israeli is actually quite simple: Here in the United States of America while imperfect through our neighbors anti-semitic actions, we are still made whole and able to be successful and participatory without restriction or need to hide our pride in being Jewish – in that alone the Stars & Stripes is our banner of glory. May G-d bless America and all around the world who recognize our REAL freedoms!!!
P.S. When I met my husband 11 years ago [August 2003/married November 2003] along with each other, National Public Radio, Football and Jaguar cars – one of our first chats were about us both wearing shirts the day we met with Lauren’s Polo Pony emblem. Trust me and all who know us personally agree – that my erudite feminist hubby who loves fine dining, Naational Public Radio, classical music, etc., as well as good design in clothes and more comes from a place far different than my own and not likely to have instilled in him an appreciation as my East Coast sophisticated background did for such things. So you see it is kismet and a little of Ralph Lauren that made our match a perfect fit!!!