Redesigning Polish Jewry

December 5, 2013


For fashion designer Antonina Samecka, her clothing line is about more than selling trendy dresses and streetwise hoodies: It’s about redefining what it means to be a Polish Jew.

“The main message … is that being Jewish is becoming sexy,” she said, with a laugh. “We’re rebranding Jewish identity and focusing on the positive, on all the great things we have.”

Samecka’s line — RISK OY — incorporates various Jewish symbols and motifs in a cheeky, hidden way.

The line is an offshoot of Risk:made in warsaw, which Samecka developed after she ended a 12-year career in magazine journalism to focus on fashion.

All of Samecka’s clothes are made of grey sweatshirt material — be they ball gowns or T-shirts. The fashion line is designed to be “comfortable but elegant,” she said.

Samecka said the idea of reclaiming Jewish motifs through fashion came after she returned from a Taglit Birthright Israel trip as a teen and began wearing a Star of David necklace.

“My grandmother said, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, you have to take it off. It’s dangerous to wear it,’” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt her, so I just took it off, but I wanted to do something to de-stigmatize the Star of David.”

One shirt has the message “You had me at shalom”; another incorporates a slightly warped Star of David as part of a larger geometric pattern.

“The idea was to use the Star of David, menorah, mezuzah, and the hamsa to talk about Jewishness in a modern way,” she said. “I wanted to make something Jewish and pretty.”

Samecka recently wrapped up a three-city U.S. tour with JDC Entwine that took her to Detroit, Houston, and Dallas to speak to crowds about her fashion line and the state of Polish Jewry today. The events were marketed as “RISKy Business: How a Fashionista’s Start-Up is Changing the Fabric of Jewish Poland.”

“We were thrilled to be able to bring Antonina to speak with our local volunteer networks in these communities,” said Talya Greenspoon, JDC Entwine’s Director of Networks and Engagement. “Antonina’s passion, skills and unique perspective resonate deeply with young American Jews, who are themselves thinking about issues of Jewish identity, while at the same time shedding light on the incredible revival of Jewish life taking place in Poland today.”

Samecka said becoming an “official Jewish person” — the sort of celebrity who gets interviewed for articles and films about Poland’s Jewish renaissance — has been an interesting and unexpected shift for her.

“That’s the other thing that proves that it’s really cool to be Jewish in Poland,” she said. “Being Jewish doesn’t make a difference because everyone in Poland knows I’m Jewish, and my line is still No. 1 in many stores.”

JDC’s work developing Jewish cultural programming, as well as Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in Warsaw and Krakow helps ensure that Jewish innovation and education can thrive in Poland, Samecka added.

“In Poland, JDC is really doing a great job. All the meaningful things in the Jewish world in Poland are organized by JDC or JCCs that your organization funds,” she said. “For me, the Polish Jewish community and JDC are synonymous.”

Next up for Samecka is developing a PR campaign centered on themes of Jewish empowerment in Poland. The country’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich has already expressed interest, she said.

“It’s changing,” she said. “It’s not like you think it is in Poland anymore.”

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