Last Word: Kristen Kreider Curates Judaica at the Weitzman Store

Kristen Kreider is a white woman with salt-and-pepper hair standing in front of the Weitzman's massive windows inside the museum.
Courtesy of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Kristen Kreider can pinpoint the moment that exponentially increased traffic on the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History museum store website.

On Aug. 4, 2020, former President Donald Trump, in a speech about the Great American Outdoors Act, pronounced ‘Yosemite’ as what can only be deciphered as ‘Yo, Semite.’ The Weitzman gift shop stuck the blunder-turned-Jewish greeting on a T-shirt. The store got 10,000 new customers, according to Kreider.

As managing director of business operations for the Weitzman, the 60-year-old Congregation Rodeph Shalom member not only oversees the museum’s store but also looks for ways to expand the museum’s audience. 

“It’s not just that first sale that the museum makes a profit on. It’s all those residuals,” Kreider said. “So we’re always looking for new avenues to promote ourselves.”

The Weitzman’s store has garnered an international audience through its viral “Yo, Semite” shirt, as well as a “Secret Jewish Space Laser Corps” keychain and more typical Judaica, such as mezuzot and kiddush cups, and Kreider hopes to bring those people through the museum’s doors.

Kreider attributes the store’s broad audience to their online presence and variety of Judaica that is hard to come by in suburban Jewish communities or smaller cities with fewer Jews.

“If you live in, you know, Biloxi, Mississippi, or Ketchum, Idaho, you might not have a Judaica store in your neighborhood or in your town, so we do have a little bit of a captive audience where people are forced to search online,” Kreider said of the Judaica business.

The East Falls resident has worked to curate the Weitzman store with wares that will draw in curious customers, Jewish and not, a skill she developed decades prior.

Always with a knack for knickknacks, Kreider opened American Pie on South Street in 1988, where she was a wholesale buyer for craft, furniture and artist accounts all over the country. She sometimes drove 1,000 miles a week to meet with clients, but her hard work paid off: For some sellers, Kreider was one of their top accounts in the country. With Kreider’s help, one client, a jeweler, expanded her business so much that she went from “renting the cheapest hotel when she would come to New York for trade shows to buying Clint Eastwood’s home.”

Kreider was not particularly artistic but had an eye for objects beautiful and different. After a successful menorah display in 1992, she began regularly selling Judaica — despite her Catholic upbringing.

“I always had this attraction to Judaism,” Kreider said. “I felt some kind of kindred connection; I couldn’t explain it.”

Catholicism intimidated Kreider, who was one of seven kids growing up in Bethlehem. It felt “ominous” and punitive. Though Kreider believed in God, she questioned the role of a deity in biblical stories and in her everyday life.

A babysitter to Jewish kids, Kreider became familiar with the religion by attending synagogue with the kids she looked after. She enjoyed hearing the rabbi’s sermons, which incorporated current events and politics, making the religion feel fresh and relevant. She learned it was OK to question God and other pieces of Judaism.

“Judaism just felt very warm and cozy, without the wrath and the fear,” she said.

Kreider started working at the Weitzman museum store in 2010. She closed American Pie in 2007 amid the telltale signs of economic collapse and a dissolving marriage.

But Kreider didn’t convert until 2012. She took an introduction to Judaism course at the Society Hill Synagogue under Rabbi Avi Winokur. Despite not feeling knowledgeable enough to convert at the end of the course, Winokur pushed her to make the leap.

“He was like, ‘You’re ready. If you want to do this, there’s nothing else required,’” Kreider recalled.

Kreider went to the beit din and took a dip in the mikvah and a plunge into Judaism. Her life and career had been entwined with Judaism for years at that point, but Kreider wanted to make sure she converted on her terms and timeline. 

“I wanted to do 100% for myself,” Kreider said. “Not for a marriage, not for a boyfriend, not for a job or any other reason than in my heart of hearts, this is where I wanted to be.”

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