'I'm a Kosher Barbie girl in a goyish world': The frum girl who broke the mould

Growing up, Charedi-raised Ayelet Raymond wasn’t allowed to play with Barbies, but now her alter-ego is a social media hit


Children of the 1990s might well associate Barbie with vacuous musings such as “math class is tough!” or “will we ever have enough clothes?”

Both of these observations can be attributed to a talking iteration of the famous plastic figurine released in 1992.

But there is more to the bendy beige plaything than meets the eye if the marketing surrounding Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie is to be believed.

Strange as it may sound, the life of Israeli-born, US-based online influencer Ayelet Raymond parallels that of the swishy-haired doll in several ways — starting with the name she goes by professionally: Kosher Barbie.

Growing up in a strictly Orthodox family in Jerusalem, Raymond, a children’s educator and filmmaker, craved a Barbie of her own but her wish was denied.

Much like the protagonist of the new film — billed a smart vehicle for director Gerwig’s feminist message that sees our titular heroine cast out of the utopian Barbie Land due to so-called flaws, grapple with questions of existence and embark on a quest to the real world — Raymond went on to break the mould, deviating from the path set out before her to go her own way.

“I grew up in Jerusalem in an ultra-Orthodox Chasidic community where children were forbidden to play with Barbie dolls,” she said.

“Despite being denied the chance to play with Barbie as a child, it played a major role in my life.”

To her, Barbie represented freedom, and the opportunity to become anything she chose.

In her early twenties, Raymond left behind the Chasidic community, and Israel, to pursue a secular education in New York. She has likened her experience of adjusting to a secular world to “being a domestic cat who has moved into the wild”.

In a first-person piece for the US entertainment site The Wrap, Raymond wrote:

“When I first arrived in New York, I felt like a kid in a candy store [when I went] shopping for the most fashionable clothes and accessories.

"Though I looked like I was a typical stylish young New Yorker, all it [took was] a short conversation to reveal that where I came from
might as well have been a different planet.”

It was while she was studying at the New York Filmmaking Academy that she acquired the sobriquet “Kosher Barbie”.

When her classmates struggled to pronounce her name, they started calling her Barbie because of her blonde hair. One day, she was asked by a member of the crew on a film she was working on whether she ate bacon. “No,” she replied, “I’m Kosher Barbie.”

The name stuck and, realising she was onto something, Raymond made it part of her professional identity, incorporating her Kosher Barbie persona into a musical children’s web series, My Hebrew Land.

She has amassed nearly 90,000 Instagram followers since adopting the moniker, but unlike her contemporaries, Raymond uses her online platform to showcase her love of Israel, being Jewish and teaching Hebrew.

In another departure from what tends to be expected of online influencers, she does not stick to resolutely “happy” posts online.

Rather, her feed is peppered with heartfelt messages expressing solidarity with victims of terror, taking a stand against antisemitism and anti-Zionism and commemorating the Shoah.

On April 10, the day on which Rabbi Leo Dee asked social media users to post images of Israeli flags in memory of his wife, Lucy, and two of their daughters after they were murdered in a terrorist attack on the West Bank, Raymond wrote: “May the memories of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee be a blessing.”

There are, of course, upbeat posts to be found, and Kosher Barbie’s Instagram grid frequently features her beloved Pomeranian, Kiss, whom she credits with transforming her into a “dog person”.

Even the decision to own a dog has a hint of rebellion about it for Raymond: “Growing up in Jerusalem I was forbidden to have a dog, or touch a dog. And now I have the most unique dog,” she said.

“I called her Kiss because it’s the Hebrew [word] for ‘pocket’. And she is small enough to fit inside one.”

Coincidentally, Raymond’s birthday is March 8, one day before the real Barbie’s “official birthday”: National Barbie Day has been marked on March 9 since the doll, created by Ruth Handler — herself the daughter of Jewish-Polish immigrants — made its debut at the New York Toy Fair on that date in 1959.

The Barbie movie pays tribute to Handler, who died in 2002 aged 85, with Jewish actress Rhea Perlman portraying the doll’s inventor.

Raymond is pleased that Gerwig is giving Handler her dues and acknowledging Barbie’s Jewish origins. “It’s a big reward for Ruth Handler,” she told The Algemeiner, a US-based news site.

If Handler were alive she would be “thrilled and proud” that the producers recognised her roots and Jewish heritage, she added.

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