Icons for Unsung Heroes

14 Apr

This year, may we be liberated from tired stereotypes!


A Jewish handyman—is that an oxymoron? Jewnion Label doesn’t think so. They created the Union of Jewish Handymen (and yes, there’s a union for Handywomen, too).

With a nod to the graphic design of vintage emblems for long-standing organizations like the Moose Lodge and Elks Club, Jewnion Label produces intricate emblems with clever mottos for mythical groups. They celebrate Jewish quirks, customs, holidays, and traditions with multi-layered humor and meaning. Some of Jewnion Label’s creations include the Associated Jewish Outdoorswomen (and Outdoorsmen), the International Federation of Shofar Blowers (featuring a realistic-looking horned ram as its mascot), and the Amalgamated Menschen International, which exhorts “Be One!” through their motto. They also created the Allied Matzo Ball Makers League (motto: “Flat Bread, Fluffy Balls”) and the Federated Gefilte Fish Grinders and Fressers Guild, with an emblem in the shape of a fish featuring the motto, “Carpe Carp.”

Jewnion Label, the creation of Stacey and Joshua Abarbanel, started with the desire to recognize unsung “Jewish handymen.” Joshua, an artist with an MFA from UCLA, spent his teen summers doing maintenance on apartments for his grandfather’s property management company. In the process he gained a lot of handy skills, such as rebuilding toilets, installing garbage disposals, rewiring lights, and snaking bathtub drains.

“It’s not just the Marines who are the few and the proud,” Joshua often mused, “there ought to be a union for us Jewish handymen.” After visiting the home of a particularly inspiring, albeit non-Jewish do-it-yourself friend, he came home and designed the iconic logo for the Union of Jewish Handymen, with overlapping hammers in the shape of the Star of David. Together the couple devised a few more design details and the slogans “Repairing the world one light bulb at a time” and “Rare are those who are able.” Perhaps not so rare—a year into this endeavor, the Union of Jewish Handymen T-shirts are their best seller.

The Abarbanels have long appreciated old and unusual signage and it clearly informs the Jewnion Label aesthetic. The walls of their Santa Monica, California, home are punctuated with their collection: a large, circular metal sign for Dad’s Root Beer, a European license plate that happens to include Stacey’s initials, two handmade signs by a Jamaican artist who painted his own, slightly altered versions of aphorisms such as Khalil Gibran’s “Love that is not springing must be dying,” and an antique bingo card picked up in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Taking inspiration from these objects, as well as old emblems and idioms from social clubs, fraternal organizations, and trade groups, Jewnion Label seeks to capture some of that same appealing sense of nostalgia and kinship—with a bit of humor thrown in—and relate that concept to a variety Jewish experiences.


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