Sandwiched between the sparkly Christmas windows of Bergdorf Goodman and the high-end Under Armour sportswear store, 75 or so modestly, yet trendily, clad women sipped organic kosher wines, enjoyed cheese hors d’oeuvres and tested their luck with various Christian Louboutin wedges, Gucci boots and Marc Jacobs slingbacks.
Their elaborate headbands perfectly placed on impeccably styled sheitels, the women had gathered at Chabad of the Plaza District for a couture and vintage shoe auction, where proceeds would benefit TheJewishWoman.org, a new Jewish women’s educational offshoot of Chabad.org, the Orthodox outreach organization’s Web site.
Spearheading the event was Shterni Seligson, 28, who has established a group called Rebeccah, which raises money for Jewish women’s causes in memory of Rivkah Holtzberg, the Chabad emissary killed in the terror attacks that gripped Mumbai, India, a year ago.
“I was brainstorming on how to get women involved,” Seligson said. “Every woman loves a great pair of shoes.”
“I got fabulous response,” she continued, crediting social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter for her sizeable turnout.
Not a professional businesswoman herself, Seligson is actually working part-time for Chabad.org while studying for her master’s degree in medical assistantship and volunteering at Mount Sinai Hospital. Yet by reaching out to friends, friends of friends and even perfect strangers, Seligson ended up collecting 60 pairs of like-new designer shoe donations, with brands ranging from Prada to Salvatore Ferragamo to Kate Spade. Each shoe donation counted as a ticket to the event, where the participants had the opportunity to bid on the meticulously displayed shoes through silent auction. Only about 20 of the pairs sold that evening, bringing in about $1,500, but Seligson said that the remaining pairs will be available for purchase online, where proceeds will continue to benefit TheJewishWoman.org.
“They provide amazing education for women online,” Seligson said.
The site provides a comfortable setting where Jewish women can find sensitive information and discussion pertaining to topics like sexual health, relationships and childbearing.
“This Jewish women’s organization is really important to me as a woman and mother — it’s crucial for women to have some inspiration or organization that they can turn to,” said Shaindy Backer, whose headbands appeared last season in the wardrobes of popular Upper East Side characters in the hit television show “Gossip Girl.”
Regardless of whether they purchased a pair of shoes, every woman left that evening with a Bloomingdale’s “Little Brown Bag” containing a complimentary headband from Backer’s label, SBNY. Backer, who herself is from the Chabad community, began designing headbands and other accessories two and a half years ago. Today, her designs have reached outlets like major department stores, clothing chain Anthropologie and boutiques around the country.
While Seligson said she had no luck convincing big companies to team up with her for the event, she found willing partners among smaller boutiques and caterers who were excited to get involved with a charitable cause. Some included Covet Shop, an online vintage couture store, which donated an Yves Saint Laurent bag raffled at the evening’s end, and Max Mara, an Italian designer that donated a gift certificate for a brand new pair of shoes. Lederblum Boutique raffled off vintage earrings and a hand-embellished hat, and Flatbush-based Liquors Galore provided an assortment of wines for the evening.
Though she admits to having a severe addiction to shoes — owning at least 100 pairs, jokes her husband — Seligson said she thinks that the next event hosted by Rebeccah will be something a bit different from a designer couture auction, and she hopes to establish a board of volunteers for Rebeccah in the near future.
“I want to stick to things that women enjoy, but I don’t want it only to be selling shoes or handbags — I want to maybe change the vibe a bit,” Seligson said. “I might get a fantastic speaker. My brain has been whirring with ideas, and I’m not even sure yet.”