Some Jewish kids secretly long for sparkling Christmas trees and candy-filled Easter baskets, but Carlen Altman was always drawn to another, more pious Christian symbol: the rosary. So the 23-year-old stand-up comedian took matters into her own hands and started making Jewish rosaries.
“I wanted to create something funny and stylish,” said the New York native, whose father is 1960s Borscht Belt comedian Bob Altman (aka Uncle Dirty). “I like how rosaries look.”
Altman’s pieces are handmade, one-of-a-kind necklaces with different ornamentations, including beads shaped as matzo, dreidels, menorahs, fiddlers and Stars of David; she recently ordered chai charms. Some of the necklaces even glow in the dark.
So far, most of the rosaries, which range in price from $25 to $40, have been sold to Altman’s friends, but she says she’s been receiving an increasing number of orders, mostly through word-of-mouth. British supermodel Agyness Deyn, whom Altman met at a concert in New York, is also a proud owner (Deyn is not Jewish). Altman trademarked the term “Jewish Rosaries” and the necklaces are available on her Web site, JewishRosaries.com, and also through her eccentric, not-so-politically correct blog, carlenaltman.blogspot.com, which proclaims a “Jewish Rosary Explosion.” The blog features humorous anecdotes and videos, including a clip titled “Ze Pride of Germany,” which stars an “Aryan” guinea pig wearing a little blond wig.
On first glance, Altman’s blog comes off as a bit irreverent, but in many instances it reveals a sweetly sincere nature. When asked if she thought people might be offended by the idea of Jew-ifying a Catholic holy symbol, Altman responded with an emphatic “No.”
“I’m not trying to make it into a serious thing,” she said. “Religion isn’t always seen as being fashionable. These necklaces are a way for people to be proud of their religion and to be fashionable.”
Altman, who currently lives in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach area, hopes to shop around her rosaries to boutiques in Manhattan, and she dreams of opening her own store someday.
“I feel like the rosaries will bring good luck, and I want people to experience good luck while they’re wearing them,” she said.
Sarah Kricheff is the features editor of the Forward.