"I'm often asked where the name Danke comes from," says Karen Last, founder of and lead designer at Danke Judaica. Karen is a mother of five, born and raised in Manhattan before getting married to a Londoner and living in Golders Green for 30 years, and now settled in Ra'anana, Israel.
Karen explains that she loves making Shabbat for her large family. Cooking, baking, setting the table are her weekly rituals in preparation of Shabbat and Karen always tries to make Shabbat special. In the past, this has included exciting new recipes, glow-in-the-dark jelly, pretty table settings, floating tea lights and unusual flowers. But she grew increasingly unhappy with the old-fashioned challah covers she had in her home. "Those velvet monstrosities!" she laughs. "Even the ones that were supposed to be modern - they'd still be black or navy velvet, with added rhinestones or silk. I hated them."
New IdeasNot one to let a good idea pass her by, Karen put her Photoshop skills to good use and designed the Flowers challah cover. It was inspired by Shabbat roses that adorned her table and crafted with a heavy nod to Andy Warhol, whose art Karen has always admired for its use of colour and bold patterns. "It was our first product and is still our bestseller. And it's my favourite." says Karen. It sums up her aesthetic: colourful, graphic, but with a traditional heart.
Karen continued to seek out inspiration. She wanted to use traditional Judaica as a jumping off point that allowed her to add a modern twist. She created designs using photographs of heirloom silverware, which were digitally manipulated into an abstract pattern; she made a print using close-up images of challah; and even made one using the American flag - a nod to her childhood patriotism.
Eventually Karen had designed a range of products. After selling them at local gift fairs, she created a website and Danke's popularity has soared. The Danke range now includes challah covers, passover matzah covers and afikoman bags, an etrog bag and a havdalah mat.
And where did the name Danke come from, after all? Karen laughs. "There's not much a story there. I just wanted a nod to tradition - sort of Fiddler on the Roof tradition - so I went with Yiddish. And I think it's nice that it means thank you."
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