Laura Bercovich was interning for Martin Pear Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale, when she realized what she wanted to do with her life. While writing press releases and doing other public relations work, she was asked to design a flyer for an event. It turned out to be the “most fun” part of the job, she said. “This is really what I want to do.”
The first step in realizing her dream was graduate school in San Francisco. That led to a job with Lucasfilm designing “Star Wars” patterns for lunchboxes and T-shirts — a cool job that didn’t pay much. Next was Old Navy where she worked on designs for clothing stickers, gift cards and social media.
But it was while at Minted, an online market for a community of independent artists, that she decided to start Modern Mitzvah, an online Judaica store. She designs and sells a plethora of items like certificates for b’nai mitzvah, certificates for baby namings and greeting cards — her biggest sellers. Her cards’ whimsical Jewish greetings, such as “You had me at Shalom” and “Challah if you knead me,” stand out to people searching for something fun yet specific.
The idea for the business came to her when she was expecting a baby and attending the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Jewish Baby University. Someone mentioned making a baby ketubah. When she learned it was a baby-naming certificate she knew she could design her own. Classmates sought out her help with their versions, and soon a business idea was born.
Bercovich talked to Jewish News about designing for a Jewish audience, her conversion to Judaism and how her art came full circle.
How did Jewish Baby University inspire a business?
In one class someone mentioned a baby ketubah, which is essentially a baby-naming certificate. At the bris you can have your friends and family leave their fingerprints on a design that the parents and rabbi signs. Then you frame it and have it as a keepsake and piece of art in your home. I had never heard of this before, but I really wanted one. And I decided to make my own. My friends in the class started asking if I would make them one too.
While I was on maternity leave, I thought maybe I’ll just open a little Etsy shop and throw these up online and see if anybody wants them. And then, to my surprise, people started buying them. So it was really just this little side shop that I didn’t devote too much time to. But once I lost my job last April I thought, “Let’s see if I can make this into my full time job.”
Before COVID, you were doing Modern Mitzvah and working remotely for Minted — before remote work was the norm?
I was kind of sick of the commute to downtown Phoenix. I was still in touch with my creative director from Minted, and it was a long shot, but I reached out and asked, “Any chance you ever need remote workers?” And thankfully, they said yes and I started working remotely.
Then last April, they laid off half the company because of COVID. I knew I was toast. Not only was I this remote worker they’d made a special exception for, but I was also on the wedding team. The wedding business was just devastated by COVID. Everything just kind of got put on hold.
I’d been considering going off on my own for a while anyway, so this was just the extra push I needed to go out on my own, and I started working on Modern Mitzvah full time.
Is it difficult finding an audience for Jewish cards and designs?
There aren’t that many Jewish-specific businesses that cater to a younger audience. There’s a ton of beautiful Judaica out there, but a lot of it is, maybe a little bit more traditional and with very unique designs. Or it’s handcrafted in Israel. Mine is more modern and a little bit more simplistic and whimsical with silly greetings on the cards, and people are kind of delighted by how playful and how different my products are.
Also, some of them are really meaningful pieces for special celebrations like a bar mitzvah. It’s special with that religious aspect to it. Sometimes these designs really mean a lot to their customers and it’s very sentimental.
It’s really nice to be a part of that back and forth with the customer to customize it to whatever their event is. I’ve even had someone reach out after they lost a baby, and they wanted to make the baby certificate to commemorate the child that they lost.
Do you have to put time into researching Judaism for your design ideas?
I’ve always found religion really interesting. I minored in religious studies because I like reading about it. And I have taken a good amount of Jewish classes because I am a convert.
My stepdad is Jewish, and my mom is not. But my mom’s not religious, and it was as if I grew up in a Jewish household. Judaism was the main religion that was part of my life growing up. Ever since I was 11, I wanted to convert. I always felt Jewish. And I did convert, right before I got married.
Do you think you’ll branch out to other areas or stay more focused on Jewish designs?
I have so many different business ideas, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do and where I want to invest my time. I am an artist for Minted, one of those independent artists, and I just started licensing some of my designs to Postable.com. I’ve been looking into other places to license my artwork too. But I don’t see myself having the bandwidth to open a whole other website with cards and artwork in addition to Modern Mitzvah.
I’m really inspired by Jewish art because there are these really elaborate intricate designs, and a lot of them come from Israel where maybe there’s a 75-year-old guy and he’s hand-cutting these incredible designs or something. There is all this beautiful work out there, and a lot of times I see designs in the world and I think about how I would change it or try to make it better, how I might modernize it. A lot of times I see Jewish artwork and start thinking about how to make it my style.
I’ve always wanted to see my designs in some of the bigger retail stores. But in the past couple years. I’m really starting to see the value in smaller businesses. Supporting these smaller local businesses is great for the economy and your local neighborhood. I don’t know that the big retail idea is really my ambition anymore. Right now my focus is to produce new artwork and create things for all the Jewish holidays. I’m working on some stuff for Passover. My focus right now is just kind of serving the audience and growing
Do you ever think back to that internship at the JCC?
I never would have known that all this would come full circle. I realized that I wanted to do graphic design at the Jewish Community Center here in Scottsdale. Now that I’m doing graphic design for Jewish products, it’s kind of crazy.
That’s really where I got my start and now I have come back to the Jewish community and have my daughter at The J — it’s just crazy. It’s like I’m right back where I started. JN