We Found This 20-Year-Old T-Shirt In Kenya. The Internet Found The Original Owner

Dec 11, 2013
Originally published on December 11, 2013 11:46 pm

We recently published a story about how used clothes that get donated in the U.S. often wind up for sale in markets in Africa. As part of the story, we published some photos of used T-shirts we found in a couple of markets in Kenya.

One shirt in particular caught our eye:

The shirt had a name inside it (Rachel Williams) and a bat mitzvah date (Nov. 20, 1993). We wanted to close the loop — to find Rachel Williams, and Jennifer of "Dancing with the Toons" fame. So Tuesday, we threw up the Internet bat signal and asked for help tracking down Rachel and Jennifer.

Adam Soclof of JTA, a Jewish news service, saw a post about our search and set out to find Rachel Williams. He used Facebook Graph Search to look for people named Rachel Williams who had a friend named Jennifer, who would have been about 13 in 1993, and with whom he shared common Facebook friends.

The first Rachel he tried was not the Rachel we were looking for. But he found the right Rachel on the second try:

Rachel, super random, but recognize this bat mitzvah shirt? Let me know...

It is my shirt! Williams is my maiden name. The bat mitzvah girl is Jennifer Slaim, she is married now. That picture is crazy!

(Read Adam's full post here. It includes his conversations with both Rachel and Jennifer.)

We saw Adam's post and followed up with Rachel this morning (her last name is now Aaronson, by the way). She told us she had a bunch of bat mitzvah T-shirts that spent years sitting in the basement of her parents' house, in the Detroit area. This one had her name in it because she took it to summer camp. About five years ago, she said, her mother gave the shirts away to a charity called Purple Heart.

She told us she's happy that the shirt will have a second life in Kenya. "I would love for the shirt to continue to be worn, to continue to be used," she said. "I hope whoever's wearing it is wearing it in good health and happiness."

Rachel also put us in touch with Jennifer, who said that this was, indeed, the shirt she gave away at her bat mitzvah, which was held 20 years ago at a Somerset Inn in Troy, Michigan. She even sent us pictures.

Jennifer was into cartoons at the time, especially Betty Boop. Hence the theme. When she saw the picture of her shirt yesterday, she said, "I couldn't stop laughing. It's crazy. ... Twenty years later, who would think that my shirt would make it to Africa?"

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Two days ago, NPR's East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner brought us a story about finding a particular T-shirt at an outdoor market in Kenya.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Oh, my God. Jennifer's bat mitzvah, November 20th, 1993.

BLOCK: The shirt had cartoon characters on it: Bugs Bunny playing drums, Betty Boop, The Flintstones. Well, a shirt like that raises questions. Whose shirt was it? Who is Jennifer? How did it get to Africa? And how was that bat mitzvah party?

Here is David Kestenbaum with some answers.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, BYLINE: There was one additional clue to go on. In the neck of the shirt there was a nametag: Rachel Williams. There are a lot Rachel Williamses, but we posted a photo of the shirt online. And a guy who works for a Jewish news service found her. She was a friend of a friend on Facebook. I called her up.

It's really you?

RACHEL ARONSON: Oh yes, absolutely.

KESTENBAUM: This was your shirt?

ARONSON: Absolutely, that's my shirt.

KESTENBAUM: Rachel's last name is Aronson now. She's an international tax attorney in Chicago.

ARONSON: And it was pretty funny to see my name on the Internet. I don't usually get very much Internet coverage.


ARONSON: So it was interesting to see this question: Where's Rachel Williams? And here I am.

KESTENBAUM: The name tag in the shirt, she says that's easy to explain. It's, of course, from summer camp.

ARONSON: My mom spent hours ironing on nametags to all of my camp clothes...


ARONSON: ...which to me is one of the most amazing parts that she ironed that nametag on over 20 years ago and it has stayed on.

KESTENBAUM: Rachel says the T-shirt eventually came to reside in her parents' basement. About five years ago, her mom finally took it to a charity and now it's somewhere in Kenya.

Rachel passed the photo along to Jennifer, of Jennifer's bat mitzvah fame. Jennifer Ruhzansky. Here she is.

JENNIFER RUHZANSKY: It's crazy. It's insane.


RUHZANSKY: Twenty years later, who would think that my shirt would make it to Africa?

KESTENBAUM: Jennifer lives in Michigan and recently had a baby. She explained the other mystery. The cartoon characters on the shirt. That she says was theme for the bat mitzvah party.

RUHZANSKY: Each table was a cartoon character and you were either sitting at Betty Boop or you were sitting at The Flintstones, or you were sitting at The Jetsons.

KESTENBAUM: The party she says was a blast. Everyone wore those T-shirts and danced. This is the first time she's seen one in quite a while.


KESTENBAUM: David Kestenbaum, NPR News.



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