Rabbi Yael Buechler, the nail maven

Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover affords itself best to a manicure. 

“Ten Plagues for 10 fingers!” Rabbi Yael Buechler, founder of the nail art company Midrash Manicures, said with enthusiasm.

Every week since 1996, the 29-year-old Buechler has given herself a manicure corresponding to the weekly Torah portion. That equates to 54 parshiyot a year for more than 18 years — nearly 1,000 manicures and, as you can imagine, a whole lot of nail polish.

Buechler, who lives in New York, is a rabbi-in-residence at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, where she teaches students in kindergarten to fifth grade. The Conservative rabbi said she uses nail art as a means to educate. 

“It promotes discussion,” she said. 

Her manicure workshops are so successful, she’s expanded her efforts — a Torah lesson followed by a manicure session — bringing Midrash Manicures to camps, schools and even college campuses all across the country.

The stick-on nail decals she offers for Passover and other holidays are a fairly new advent for Midrash Manicures, which she founded in 2011, the same year she was ordained. Simply apply the cartoonish plague decals onto your nails, followed by a coat of clear polish, and voila! You’ve got Ten Plagues on your 10 fingers for up to 10 days. 

Ten Plagues Nail Decals are this Passover’s must-have fashion accessory. Photo by Kristy Leibowitz

Originally, Buechler started the website midrashmanicures.com as a blog to chronicle her intricately designed nails while offering a corresponding word of Torah. Soon, though, people were asking the ambidextrous rabbinical nail maven if decals were available. Midrash Manicures’ success has allowed her to recruit five part-time employees to help her manage the business, which distributes nail decals for all the major Jewish holidays and even some superfluous ones (Thanksgivukah included).

The Passover decals come in packaging that boasts puns and Passover-themed witticisms, such as “Why is this manicure different than all other manicures?” or “Experience the Exodus First-Hand!” 

The cartoonish visuals themselves can be explicit — the plague of blood is illustrated by a dead fish floating in red water, and death of the firstborn is an Egyptian eye crying blood. In case you don’t feel like sticking a decal of boils on your nail bed, there are alternative, family-friendly decals of matzah, Kiddush cups and seder plates incorporated in the set, too. Each set of 44 nail decals is priced at $11.99.

For those bold manicurists who’d rather design their own Passover-themed nails, Buechler suggests using a flat toothpick for minute details and, for the sake of being festive, filing with a Midrash Manicure Matza Nail File (an emory board that looks like matzah). In the event any manicure-related mishaps happen, there’s also Midrash Manicures’ Oy Vey! Klutz Strips
(Yiddishkayt-inspired adhesive bandages). 

Three years ago, Buechler decided to give the Ten Plagues a modern-day makeover. She collected suggestions and debuted manicure designs (not decals) that included hurricanes, fast food and iPhones. These were meant to inspire fellow midrash manicurists to follow suit and hopefully incorporate their manicures into their seders, promoting thoughtful discussion about making biblical stories relevant. 

“How can we, in modern times, connect with the concept of the Ten Plagues that afflicted the Egyptians?” she asked rhetorically.

Buechler recently unveiled her 2015 modern-day plague manicures, which fluctuate between frivolous (Disney’s “Frozen” is represented by the snowman character Olaf “because we were all plagued by ‘Frozen’ this past year”) and weighty subject matter (Ebola is illustrated by a neon biohazard suit, and anti-Semitism by the Eiffel Tower). 

“I think it’s really powerful and very serious in terms of the plagues we’re facing in modern society,” she said. 

Ultimately, Buechler’s hope is a simple one — that Midrash Manicures sparks conversation, bends tradition and embeds new meaning into the seder … one manicure at a time.