Daniella Strick is learning how to weld. At 20, she’s the youngest in her class. But that’s a familiar situation for Strick, who is the youngest by far in her family and launched a successful jewelry-making career before she hit her teens.
Though she only recently made aliya officially, Strick has been living here – on her own – since before she was 16.
Strick was born in Chicago more than 10 years after the younger of her two siblings. “My parents had me so they wouldn’t be empty nesters,” she said, smiling at the irony of that statement. The plan did not work out quite as they’d expected.
Toward the end her sophomore year at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Strick opted for a six-week program the school offered at Bnei Akiva Ulpana Amana in Kfar Saba. “I never thought before that I would want to live here,” she said, “but I loved the girls and the school, and I loved Israel. So I asked my parents if I could stay.”
Though the ulpana, a boarding school, agreed that she could remain there for the balance of high-school, her parents’ initial response was negative. “They said I still had two years left at home.”
Because she was signed up for a Bnei Akiva Israel program that summer, Strick stayed put after the school year ended, and kept asking.
Eventually, she recalled, her parents “didn’t say yes, but they didn’t say no anymore. It was from God; I don’t know how I convinced them. I think they felt that it was okay because it was Israel. But it was hard for them to let me go.”
By the time she returned to visit Chicago for Succot, she was already an Ulpana Amana junior. “When I talk about it now, everyone says it must have been so hard, but I didn’t think it was so out of the ordinary,” said Strick. “Missing my family was the only hard part.”
Whenever she got sick, she went to a great-aunt and great-uncle in Holon; she generally stayed with classmates’ families for Shabbat.LIFE IN ISRAEL
After high school, Strick did a year of National Service as a counselor in Bnei Brak for the Jewish Agency’s Elite Academy program for overseas high school students. At 19, she began a year of studies at Machon Ora in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. Each summer, she has returned to the US to be a counselor at Camp Moshava’s Wild Rose, Wisconsin, campus.
Now she’s living in the central Jerusalem apartment her parents bought and her mother Minna, an interior designer, decorated. “When I was in 12th grade, I rented an apartment on this block for my mom while she visited me, and she ended up staying six months and loved being here in walking distance of everything,” said Strick. “Then she met a neighbor who told her about this apartment.” Her father, Michael, comes for shorter visits, usually during the holidays.PROFESSIONAL PURSUITS
“When I was a kid I liked arts and crafts, and one day a friend of my mom’s showed me she’d made a little purse necklace out of tiny beads. I liked it so much that my mom took me to a bead shop and I started making bracelets,” said Strick.
Soon, she was selling them at her synagogue and school. She began expanding her repertoire, and by 13 she had her own business cards advertising handmade jewelry under the brand name “Strickly Yours by Daniella.” She and her sister Tanya began a line of crocheted chapeaux, TaDa Hats, which they sold through stores in Chicago.
Over the next few years, she dabbled in a variety of styles, using original blown glass beads, crystals, textiles and wires. While still a student at Amana, she successfully sold merchandise to stores in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek shopping district. Her jewelry, hats and beaded headbands are available in Jerusalem’s Tashtari shop on King George Avenue, among other places. A walking advertisement for her own creations, she’s been approached by shoppers at the Nahalat Binyamin outdoor crafts fair and at Jerusalem shops to sell them handmade adornments she happens to be wearing.
In Chicago for Pessah last year, she recognized her handiwork on the head of an older woman. Sure enough, the woman turned out to be a congregant’s grandmother visiting from Jerusalem, who had bought one of Strick’s hats in a local store.
Last spring, the elder Stricks took a Michal Negrin factory tour and told Negrin about their daughter’s jewelry. Negrin met with the young entrepreneur, declared her work “perfect,” and advised her to stay in touch about a possible position as a designer with the world-famous company.
“First I decided to do the course in welding, and that’s why I made aliya officially now,” said Strick. “I was going to do it anyway, but this 10-month class is open only to citizens.”
And after that?
“I want to be a famous designer so I can make enough money to help my family make aliya,” she said with a laugh, and then reconsidered. “I don’t need to be famous. I just need enough to help my family get here.”LANGUAGE
“I hardly knew any Hebrew when I got to Amana – I knew how to count to 10,” she said. “I was a junior in high school, but I went to a freshman basics class. By 12th grade, I told them I didn’t know English. I’m fluent now. Every day and every year, I get better and better.”PHILOSOPHY
Strick has a ready smile and strives to be constantly happy. Not surprisingly, her favorite phrase is “mitzva gedola lihiyot b’simha tamid” (it is a great commandment to be joyful all the time), a teaching by Rabbi Nahman of Breslov.
Charity is in her nature. “When I was 16, I donated my Sweet 16 money to [displaced families of] Gush Katif, and I sold homemade sushi in Chicago to benefit Sderot,” she revealed.
And after earning a certificate from the Jerusalem Institute of Cosmetology, she began giving NIS 40 women’s haircuts to donate the money to Machon Meir, the parent institution of Machon Ora. She makes house calls and accepts appointments through Facebook.
Strick usually attends the musically upbeat Friday night services at a Carlebach minyan in Katamon. But nothing makes her happier than just being in Israel. “I’m always smiling when I come back” from visiting America, she said. “It’s home.”
She would like all her coreligionists to catch the spirit. “I feel like if someone’s Jewish and they have a [national] home, why aren’t they home?”
Even more than the “pushiness, honking and smoking” that she hopes to help eliminate from Israelis’ mode of behavior, it pains her that religious and nonreligious Israelis have difficulty getting along. On a whim, she created a Facebook group, “Daniella making peace throughout Israel,” to promote harmony among Jews.
“We should love each other and talk about our differences and find a solution,” she said.
She encourages Americans who’ve never been here to stop thinking of Israel as a scary place. “Try it out. It really can change your life.”