Jewish Origami: What Not to Make


You’ve heard of Jewish Origami.  I’m a fan. You may have heard of Dollar Bill Origami, in which dollar bills replace traditional, square paper.  I’ve made dollar models—animals, a ring, wee clothing— but there is one famous origami dollar pattern I will never make in public: the Jewish Star.  Come on, a Jewish Star made out of CASH?  It looks like clipart from Origami of the Elders of Zion.

The conflation of Jews and money is an ancient, persistent stereotype, so we might want to avoid perpetuating it with paper-craft. (Or by handing out gold coins at school every December, but that’s another story.)

The Jewish teacher who introduced me to the pattern did so with glee. It never occurred to her that the combination of dollar bill and Jewish symbol might not encourage the most positive associations in the innocent bosoms of crafting children, or in the savvy bosoms of nearby adults. Her bosom is savvy: she is a Professor Emerita in Education, a board member of a big Jewish agency, fluent in Hebrew, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.  Yet, to her, a Mogen David of legal tender was just another clever pattern. It was an exercise in creativity and skill, not unlike a paper crane.  She was surprised when I suggested that this particular star might be more complex. So, I figured that if this smart cookie was clueless, a Public Service heads-up might be in order.

Do think twice about programming a Money Mogen David craft.

the elephant in the [Jewish] room

I hope I don’t have to remind anyone that within living memory, Jews were forced to wear stars sewn to their clothing, and that part of  the “reasoning” behind the brand was the age-old perception that Jews were diabolically usurious with money.  I’m so vigilant against creating the wrong impression, I don’t make any dollar origami in a Jewish setting.  I want to avoid: “What, Jews have so much money they can afford to fold it into toy elephants?”

That being said, I can imagine a class with teenagers or adults, wherein a dollar bill Jewish star might be a powerful conversation-starter. You could show a finished model and just ask, “What do you see?”  Listen to the descriptors. The answers might go anywhere.  Sometimes, a dollar is just a dollar, but a star is never, ever just a star.

There are plenty of other Jewish origami projects to program.  I use easy origami mishloach manot baskets for Purim, origami frogs and locusts for the seder table, dreidels for Hanukkah cards and garlands.  I make an aleph-bet Ten Commandments for Shavuot.  See my easy one-piece-of-construction-paper tabletop sukkah, or the easy action-model that can demonstrate Jonah’s boat and the snapping jaws of his whale.  Oh, and gorgeous origami shofars for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The experts wrote the book(s) on the subject: Joel Stern’s  Jewish Holiday Origami, and the three classics by Florence Temko, Jewish Origami 1, Jewish Origami 2, and Bible Origami. Make an origami shofar, hamantaschen, whale, Torah, Noah’s Ark, dreidel and so forth.  And yes, make a Jewish Star, but out of paper, ordinary paper, not a dollar bill.




modular, 2 equilateral triangle star























P.S. See this page at the Origami Resource Center for several examples of 6-pointed origami stars. My two-color model above is apparently a 1977 design by Lewis Simon. Find instructions in the book Minigami, by Gay Merrill Gross (page 96)

5 responses to “Jewish Origami: What Not to Make

  1. bricktales

    Hey Joanna,
    ‘Origami of the Elders of Zion’ made me giggle. How about paper cranes that control the world’s banking and media?

  2. I agree, Joanna. When I searched for “Jewish Origami” and saw those dollar-bill Stars of David I just about fainted… makes you wonder whose stupid idea THAT was! I am looking to try that modular star you’ve featured, thanks!

  3. Dr. Ryda D. Rose

    Wow, Jo, I read your comments and see where I fit in. It never occurred to me at this time and place in my creative hobby that anyone would associate the money star with ancient, still extant stereotyping The wonderful, friendly origamists that I work and play with ,many of them Jewish high tech folks and mathematicians, have never mentioned this; but I guess you are right. Why do something that may have miserable, historical, still-extant consequences. Love all your work. Carry on.
    Supporting all, RDR G-G-R^2

    • Thanks, Ryda. Sometimes (and I’m saying this gently), sometimes specialists are so specialized that they might not be aware of the larger context and reception of the very things they specialize in. It’s a total no-brainer to avoid linking cash with Jews, especially to children who may have zero exposure to Judaism. God forbid when they think of Jews they think of money stars, and only money stars. The origamists who still program cash Stars of David need to do a few image searches online with key words like Jews and cash. Hate is alive and well. And oh the irony of seeing “innocent” origami money Stars of David in those very same search hits as more “proof” and ammunition for this deadly stereotype. It is horrifying.