Entering Judaica Standard Time

We’re all familiar with the anticipatory thrill that comes with waiting for a special online purchase to arrive. Each day brings with it the hope that we’ll receive what we’ve ordered (even when the postal tracker tells us the item hasn’t even left the warehouse). So, when the promised package is delivered and the item isn’t what it seemed, disappointment sinks in because we have been deceived. Sometimes we’ll return the item, sometimes we won’t, and sometimes, albeit rarely, it’ll ignite an idea to create a better product. As is what happened with friends Jesse Kivel, Michael David, and David Kitz, co-founders of Judaica Standard Time. 

A few years ago, Kivel told me, he and David—who run a music company together and pursue solo musical projects—purchased the same menorah expecting to receive a “cool” product they’d be delighted to have in their homes. Instead, the menorah wasn’t “what we had thought, it was super clunky, and really heavy.” This unfortunate incident started a conversation amongst their friends expressing “we need better stuff.” What was better, and what was the stuff? Well, that was a vague idea that only crystalized a month prior to the start of the pandemic and launched just in time for the Hanukkah season.

Kivel’s family’s history in the watch and jewelry business—including a watch shop in Grand Central Station—coupled with an ongoing joke between friends about being late due to running on “Jewish Standard Time” inspired the company’s name. By learning the history behind the name, I can see how it relates back to their products. The artisans they commission and collaborate with to create Judaica and non-Judaica pieces respect tradition and history. Their items appeal to what the co-founders and their friends desire: a minimalist aesthetic valuing the subtle over the ornate. 

To enter Judaica Standard Time is to enter a design zone offering products reminiscent of utilitarian Bauhaus utensils, and dense shapes and colour tones inherent to landscapes like Joshua Tree National Park. From ceramicist B. Zippy’s (Bari Ziperstein’s) Kiddush Cup, to visual artist and ceramicist Michelle Blade of Good Kind Work’s Seder Plate, to Katheryn Herrman’s tie-dye Trippy socks, each has a technique that produces works quiet enough to blend in easily, but intimate enough to become a daily part of someone’s lifestyle.

Judaica Standard Time x B. Zippy’s Kiddush Cup. Photo courtesy of Judaica Standard Time
Judaica Standard Time x Good Kind Work’s Seder Plate. Photo courtesy of Judaica Standard Time

Judaica Standard Time’s goal “is to exist in this grey space where we’re meeting people where they’re at [the customers] in terms of their religion, where we’re hopefully bolstering some Jewish identity and sense of pride in the community” while giving customers the ability to use items not just during a holiday but throughout the year.

The “multifunctional element” of their Judaica pieces was present from the very beginning, specifically with B. Zippy’s modular menorah.

Kivel, David, and Kitz invite artisans to collaborate with them because they admire their work and consequently trust the artisans’ vision. With B. Zippy, they let her go “all over the place with a bunch of ideas,” and then picked “what she was most excited about.” Their only contribution was “the glaze and the idea of it [each of the eight pieces] being partially dipped. We wanted it to look a little rawer.” The eight pieces are three-dimensional rectangles punctured at the top with a circle to hold the candle. One is taller than the rest, and they can either be set on or off the square tray they come with. And when the holiday season is over you can take inspiration from Kivel, who at the time of our conversation had one piece on his table, and another in the window sill.

Judaica Standard Time x B. Zippy’s Menorah. Photo courtesy of Judaica Standard Time
Judaica Standard Time Stoneware Seder Plate. Photo courtesy of Judaica Standard Time

There is also the Stoneware Seder plate designed in collaboration with Clay LA and hand crafted by Ernie. The round large plate is accompanied by six pinch pot plates, neither of which have the usual Hebrew/English signage designating what condiment goes where. Making it possible to casually use during a night in with Chinese food. Though, you may face a predicament: what coloured pinch pot plate deserves to hold the plum sauce? 

Creating a Seder plate or Menorah that could be used as a regular plate or a candle doesn’t disrespect, diminish, or hide facets of Jewish culture, it does the opposite. I find Judaica Standard Time unique because it mirrors how many Jewish people interact with the world today which is: I am Jewish, but I am also just a human making my way in the world.

Kivel, David, and Kitz are reimagining what a Judaica company can offer, while challenging the idea of what a piece of Judaica can look like and how it can be used. The company’s Logo Tee, Kivel told me, has “nothing really” to do with Judaica, but is still a way to “represent this company and my culture. That’s another reason why we have the word Judaica in the company. I thought it needed to be front and centre and not something that makes you question ‘what is this design company?’”

While it is important for them to have “simple lifestyle pieces” and Judaica with “dual functions”, they do have items traditionally used just for holidays, like a Haggadah. Theirs was adapted from Rabbi Yonah Bookstein’s 10-minute version, and includes both Hebrew and English translations. It was also given a very important look over from Kivel’s childhood rabbi, Rabbi Jeffery A. Marx. Judaica Standard Time’s Haggadah is, as is written in the aside, a “condensed version.” However, fortunately or unfortunately, unlike the Haggadah Kivel’s family received from his rabbi, there are no references to kale, the beach, or the founders’ hometown Los Angeles.  

Judaica Standard Time’s Haggadah. Photo Courtesy of Judaica Standard Time.

Like many of Jewish Standard Time’s collaborators, James Anderson, the designer of their Haggadah is not Jewish. Kivel remarks, Anderson “did some serious research. Even though he was just designing it and laying it out, he got down a few wormholes and started finding these references that were really beautiful.” A process Kivel attributes to Anderson not being Jewish, as it made him “interested in understanding.” Kivel characterized working with someone who isn’t Jewish as a “beautiful thing” as they simply want to “bring that skill set [of the designer/artist] to our community.” I wanted to bring attention to this because it serves as a reminder that people of different faiths can support, work with each other, and learn about different cultures. Faith is not a requirement of who someone can work with or what someone can work on. Collaborations at Judaica Standard Time is about working with artists who use their gifts to create work that moves them, and will hopefully move you.

With new products on the horizon, like a challah cover, Shabbat candle holders, and mezuzah, this intriguing new brand is here to stay.

The thoughtfulness behind each handmade one-of-a-kind piece ensures that should you decide to have Judaica Standard Time enter your home and be part of your traditions, the anticipation you’ll feel waiting for your order to arrive will only be met with excitement.

Header Image Design by Orly Zebak. Photos courtesy of Judaica Standard Time. 

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Orly Zebak writes, designs sets and costumes, and makes art in various mediums. Her work seeks to challenge conceptions of female performativity in relation to womanhood, girlhood, and coming of age stories. In her spare time, you can catch Orly gardening—usually in her very comfortable off-brand crocs.

Orly earned her M.A. at the University of Toronto in Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies.

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