Forever 21 Picks Up ‘If Not Now, When’ Tee
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Forever 21 Picks Up ‘If Not Now, When’ Tee

Hillel the sage continues to inspire. H&M was first--who's next?

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Mishnaic sage Hillel is inspiring the world of fashion yet again.

Retail giant Forever 21 is selling a graphic muscle tee that reads “If Not Now, Then When?”, the rhetorical question posed by Hillel in Chapters of Our Fathers [Pirkei Avot]. The shirt is selling for $14.50.

Just months ago, the international retail store H&M sold out of a t-shirt featuring the same famous aphorism.

A large billboard in Times Square featured Hillel’s urgent question, the third in a series after “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” written in oversized black letters on a slinky tank top selling for $9.95.

“That’s been one of our most popular items this summer,” said Kiera Elliott, H&M saleswoman in Times Square, who explained the shirt’s conspicuous absence from sale-racks. “We sold that item out weeks ago, but people keep asking me about it. It obviously made a lasting impression.”

The use of religious references has long been a pop culture trend – remember Madonna’s crucifixes and rosary beads – beloved in particular by retailers.

“It’s pretty cool that certain Jewish aphorisms now hold such an esteemed place in the American lexicon,” said Rabbi Kahn-Troster, director of programming for T’ruah, an organization that unites rabbis for human rights.

She added that she would definitely consider wearing the “If Not Now” tank. “Jewish value-statements seem to have become mainstream.”

hannah@jewishweek.org

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