Postmodern House Rings

The Old Is New Again

Ken Goldman, 52, is one of the most whimsical Judaica artists out there [check out]. A communitarian — he’s lived on Kibbutz Shluchot for 27 years, but is a New Jersey boy — he was first drawn to house rings because they “belonged to the community, then became personal property for a short while, then reverted to the community with additional marriages in their history.” Goldman sees his artistic responsibility as “reviving traditions and making them work in this century,” and he especially likes forms, like house rings, that have both Ashkenazi and Sephardic antecedents.

When Goldman’s oldest daughter, Vered, became engaged, he started thinking “about weddings and responsibility. What had I done as a father to prepare my kids for the big real world of marriage?” Goldman’s thoughts drifted to Monopoly, “which held great memories for me as a Sabbath observer. As a kid I spent just about every Shabbat afternoon with my friends in endless Monopoly games. It introduced me, in a fun way, to the rules of the grown-up world — real estate, investing, even jail time. I associate Monopoly with being both Jewish and adult.”

Vered has been married for a year now, and she wears her dad’s Monopoly design (sterling silver with a 14k gold plate) “as an actual wedding ring. It works for her on many levels,” says Goldman. “And that’s what I’d hoped.”

Mila Tanya Griebel, 49, is a formidable silversmith and freeman in London’s Goldsmiths’ Company (royally chartered in 1327). Studying art at college, she one day returned home to experience her parents’ possessions with fresh eyes. “Why don’t we have any inherited family Judaica?” she asked. Her father filled her in: his flight from Poland, alone, at 11; his aunt Mila’s death in Auschwitz; his grandmother’s survival at Auschwitz and her subsequent murder, post-War, when she returned to her home. Virtually all of her father’s extended family was killed. Griebel learned that her grandmother had buried the family’s silver and that her father returned to dig it up 50 years later, but it was gone.

She made her first house ring “when I was going bonkers doing a huge tree of life for a synagogue — it took months, and I decided to do something totally different.” Griebel loved the idea that house rings “had these little roofs that opened up. Inside there’d be a goblet or set of tablets. Mine open to a table with wine, a symbol of people coming together.”

(Griebel also made a ring topped with the word “Marriage.” Inscribed inside is “I’d rather have a cup of tea” — her response to the plight of agunot.) She enjoys the artistic constraints of halakha. “How much wine you need in a becher [wine goblet], how far you can push the form of a menorah.”

The Jewish Museum owns four of Griebel’s rings, and she custom-designs. “Send me a photo of your childhood home or fantasy house and I’ll interpret it in silver.” Griebel’s rings are light, wearable and unbeatably charming. []