Jessica Hendricks Yee is more than an avid student of Jewish wisdom; she’s a designer who makes Jewish themes central to her two lines of jewelry and ritual objects. But figuring out how to make Judaism central to her life was a process.
Yee grew up in Larchmont, in a largely secular home.
“I always felt connected to Judaism, but didn’t know how to connect,” said Yee. At NYU she went on a three-week Israel trip run by an Orthodox student group. “That experience was a really intense introduction to Jewish learning, and I fell for it — hard.”
But although she loved the Orthodox Jewish emphasis on study, Yee was not Orthodox in practice, nor did her liberal tendencies jive with Orthodoxy’s traditional observance. This was emphasized after she met her future husband, Patrick Yee — a Chinese American. “I struggled with figuring out where I belonged Jewishly in the world,” said Yee.
She was studying acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but craved “opportunities to more directly practice tikkun olam,” she said. On a 2008 trip to Cambodia, Yee realized that she could incorporate tikkun olam into her career by selling jewelry made by Cambodian women. Her line, The Brave Collection, supports local artisans and empowers women to fight against human trafficking.
“As a Jew in the 21st century, the idea of genocide hits close to home,” said Yee. “With Brave, I could tangibly support survivors of genocide and the next generation of people who want to build meaningful lives.”
Their 2016 wedding, which combined traditions from two distinct heritages, gave Yee the idea to reimagine ritual objects, leading to her second line, Zahava, fine jewelry and ritual objects made in collaboration with metalsmiths in Tel Aviv.
“It’s empowering for me to navigate an interfaith marriage and different backgrounds in a way that’s new and reimagined,” said Yee.
The couple regularly studies Kabbalah and hosts large Shabbat dinners, which draw a diverse crowd. “We’ve even gotten support from OneTable for these dinners,” said Yee, who is expecting a baby boy this summer. “It’s been so meaningful for our growing family.”
Floral fever: Yee is obsessed with floral arrangements and often creates elaborate hand-picked bouquets for her Shabbat table.