History

In 1956, the US Army sent me to France, stationing me in Chinon, a few hours train ride from Paris. I had never been in France, the language was totally alien to me and for a brief period, I was afraid to go anywhere. After a few weeks, I went to visit my cousin Frank, who was attending the University of Paris. He took me on a whirlwind guided tour of the City of Light and before we had gone very far, I found myself madly in love with Paris. A love which has grown stronger over the years.

Toward the end of our sightseeing jaunt, we visited the Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris, with at least two objectives-I wanted to see where Jews had created a solid base in Paris and cousin Frank and I both wanted to change money. The legal rate of exchange at the time was 350 francs to the dollar, which is what I could get on my engineering base in Chinon. Frank's contact, whom I never knew as anything other than Harry," on the other hand would give us 400-500 francs on the dollar, if we could produce greenbacks rather than military scrip. Oh, another objective in the Marais was eating well.

After we finished our financial transactions and had some excellent pastries and espresso, we wandered down the Rue de Rivoli, doing some casual window shopping. In an antique jewelry store, an elderly jeweler showed me something I had never seen before, a Jewish star, a Magen David, which could be worn in one of two ways. When closed it looked like and was a six-pointed Jewish star. When open it had a unique design totally new to me.

He told me how, in the depths of the Spanish Inquisition, a jewelry designer in Barcelona had created this star to be worn by the Conversos, Jews who had been forced to convert (they had an option, leave the country, convert or die), but wished to maintain their Jewish heritage. They wore their star, which I immediately dubbed The Secret Star, closed when in secret prayer meetings and opened it when they left to live among the Spanish population.

I was a private earning next to nothing, but I asked what it cost and was told it was not for sale. It was a family heirloom. I handed it back to him and walked away, thinking about it on and off for many years. Who was the jeweler who had created the design? How brave were these Conversos who would have been murdered had they been caught in prayer? I saw a connection between those Jews and myriad others, including the millions murdered in the Holocaust, but I never saw another Secret Star.

Many years later, spending an evening on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I saw in the window of a very small antique store a Magen David, which looked very much like the one I had first seen in the Marais. I felt an excitement as I went inside. The Puerto Rican shopkeeper had no idea what it was, only what he wanted for it. We bargained a bit and I left with my star.

Wherever I went and showed the star, there was interest. I found others had created them over the years and they could be found, albeit rarely, in silver and gold and with precious and semi-precious stones. But they were rare, few and far between. So I decided to produce and sell them to a few friends, who showed them to others who wanted them and I soon found myself in a new business. I'm not sure where it will go and most of the people who formed the background of this story in Paris are long gone. But I know it has been a labor of love and one I find very rewarding.

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