Hanukkah | Peaceful nuclear program makes Jewish jewelry in Golden State

While at the U.N. General Assembly and other public forums, Iran continues to tout what it calls the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program to a skeptical audience. But the peaceful intentions of another “nuclear program” — one that will come in handy for Jewish shoppers this Hanukkah —  are unquestioned.

Using the words of the prophets as inspiration, a San Luis Obispo-based company called From War to Peace is turning swords into ploughshares — actually, recycled material from nukes  — into Jewish jewelry.

A menorah necklace. photos/jns-from war to peace

The line of peace-oriented products that includes flower power earrings, peace symbol pendants, tree of life bracelets and household accessories is made from recycled copper cabling that once carried the launch codes to Minuteman III nuclear missiles.

The copper, taken from a disarmed and deactivated Intercontinental Ballistic Missile site in Grand Forks, N.D., is cast by the company into an array of wearable and usable symbols from many religions, including Star of David earrings, hamsa pendants and mezuzahs.

In time for Hanukkah, a new menorah pendant has been added to the offerings.

From War to Peace’s work is available online and in stores nationwide and in Canada, and at the Clinton Presidential Library, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Jewish Museum in New York.

“The Jewish prophets are the absolute inspiration for what we do,” said the organization’s founder, Paul Ogren, a former Minnesota state senator who lived in Israel in the 1970s.

The truncated Bible verse, “Turn your swords into plowshares, and you shall know war no more,” from both Isaiah and Micah, is featured prominently on the website of the company (www.fromwartopeace.com), which was launched in 2010.

“The cabling is a good source of copper,” said Ogren, who first found out about the metal from a friend who had the scrap contract from the federal government for the silo’s metal and plastic.

Tree of Life pendant are cast of copper cabling from a decommissioned nuclear missile site. photos/jns-from war to peace

Ogren said he bought 10,000 pounds of copper, but initially was not sure what he would do with it.

“I’m always looking for a transformational element,” said Ogren, who recalled that hearing a niece singing a Hebrew song, “Lo Yisa Goy El Goy Cherev,” (“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation”), put him on the path to making jewelry.

“Weapons that kill people can be used for constructive means,” said Ogren, a peace activist during the Vietnam War.

After discovering that copper needed to be alloyed to be cast successfully as jewelry, Ogren decided on a mixture that included manganese and silicon to create a “Peace Bronze,” which is cast into various shapes in Albuquerque, N.M., and Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County). Various styles are given an iridescent finish in San Luis Obispo, or dipped in silver or gold in Albuquerque.

One of the mezuzah designs is cast with the words “Peace to all who enter here.” Other styles feature the word “peace” in three languages — Hebrew, English and Arabic — or an image of a dove.

“There is a naïve quality to them, like American folk art,” said Nestor Diaz de Villegas, who owns one of the mezuzahs as well as a pendant. “That they are made of metal from nuclear weapons is really amazing,” added Diaz de Villegas, a poet and journalist.

“We do museum-grade castings, using the lost wax process” said Ogren, whose company also uses its Peace Bronze in casting the Gandhi Peace Prize as well as the Sean MacBride Peace Prize, awarded by the Geneva-based International Peace Bureau.

Ogren said 20 percent of the company’s profits are dedicated to peace and social justice organizations, with current recipients including Veterans for Peace, Homeboy Industries, and Mothers for Peace.

Seeing a benefit in injecting “humor and lightness” into the message of his work, Ogren also creates beer bottle openers that say “Beers Not Bombs,” and wine bottle stoppers that say, “Make Wine Not War,” from the Peace Bronze.

Just how hot is Ogren’s nuke-related jewelry? The cabling was buried 6 feet underground, has been tested, and is not radioactive.

“I get asked, ‘Will I glow in the dark if I wear your jewelry?’” Ogren said.

“I would have to charge you more,” he said he often responds.

Edmon Rodman
Edmon J. Rodman

Edmon J. Rodman writes about Jewish life from his home in Los Angeles and is the author of the weekly Guide for the Jewplexed on virtualjerusalem.com. Contact him at [email protected].