Even Karen Cinnamon’s name conjures up something sweet and joyful. For thousands of Jewish women, that is exactly what she is, as the founder of several Jewish community groups which are about bonding and friendship.
On Instagram, posting under Your Jewish Life where she has 65,000 followers, she sports huge Magen David earrings while talking about everything from latke recipes and dealing with the Christmas season as a Jew, to antisemitism.
She’s a tinselly ball of Jewish fun. But, of course, there’s another side to that. And that is where her new Jewish Joy Journal comes in.
Part words of wisdom, part recipes, with lots of space for kvetching and kvelling, it fits into her ethos – her brand – of Jewish joy. But it emerged from a much darker place.
“I’ve always had this message of Jewish joy, positivity, gratitude, and the values of feeling connected but I also know that the more connected we are meant to feel, many of us feel more disconnected than ever,” says Karen, 47. “And I wanted to create something that is more about protecting your own well-being, your psyche, working through things that are causing pain or anxiety. And it really helped me when something terrible happened on a personal level.”
Journalling has become a fashionable element of self-care and Karen initially started it with her two children as a way of helping them appreciate what they had in life. But when her Israeli mother Zmira died last year, she realised just how useful a journal could be.
“A journal can help you work through the pain, look ahead at what is possible and also what is right in front of you,” says Karen. “It is easy to be grateful when things are going well, but a journal really comes into its own when you are having a challenging time.
“It can help you focus on the things you can control. Even when I was immersed in grief, it forced me to sit down and think about what there was in my life to be grateful for. And I am so grateful for my mother’s legacy – everything she taught me. We were incredibly close. You need to feel grief, not put it to one side; writing it down helped me to pour out my feelings.
“But the journal also forces you to look at positivity – to look ahead even if it also gives space to feel loss. Focusing on the good things, bringing them to the forefront, was incredibly powerful. And it doesn’t need to be about the big things in life; for example, I have two young daughters and am often guilty of hurrying them out of the door in the morning. I’ve been thoroughly impatient. I wrote it down and asked myself to be more patient; I did something about it. It can work on big things and small things.”
Karen, who lives in Kentish Town, never imagined that she would be at the centre of a Jewish movement which would have thousands of fans across the world. Growing up in Hampstead Garden Suburb, she says she never truly felt part of the Jewish scene.
“I struggled with the cliquey Jewish teenage scene in London – I wanted to fit into it but I just didn’t,” she recalls. “Most of my friends weren’t Jewish. But when I moved to Israel for a couple of years in my 20s, I realised I didn’t need to be hanging out with Jewish people to maintain that core of my identity. I also realised that there are a lot of other Jewish people who don’t necessarily fit into the mould or feel they are doing the Jewish thing right.”
She worked in branding and design but took her first step into using that in a specifically Jewish way when she was planning her wedding in 2013. She realised that there was nothing out there specifically for Jewish brides.
She started a blog about Jewish weddings which turned into a website, Smashing the Glass ,which attracted hundreds, and then thousands, of young women in the same position as her. When it increasingly started taking up more time, she turned it into a business, Brides Club, where, for a monthly fee brides-to-be can receive guidance and discounts as well as friendship with others in the same position.
Members loved it so much they didn’t want to leave – so she set up Smashing Life, a club whose members also pay a monthly fee but they have become a genuine community of hundreds – to the point where Karen has employees both here and in the US to service all the resources, deals and meet-ups they need.
The Jewish Joy Journal is her first tangible product and was released in consultation with her members, who helped design both the look of it and what they wanted to see inside – from pearls of wisdom to colouring in, from recipes to space where you can ponder things from Jewish guilt to Tikkun Olam – and what healing the world really means. There has never been anything quite like it.
“It can be quite a challenge being Jewish in a non-Jewish world – whether it’s navigating the fact that school drinks are always planned for Friday nights or tucking your Magen David away when you get on the tube,” says Karen. “But there is so much to celebrate too – and that is what I hope people think about when they get this journal.’
Jewish Joy Journal is £31 and shipping is free. Karen is offering Jewish News readers a 10 percent discount with the code JEWISHJOY. www.jewishjoyjournal.com
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