Tuesday, March 29, 2016

New Beginnings

Friday, March 25, 2016
written by Robyn Awend, photographs by Josh Awend 

Our day began with a visit to Yvel, a last minute add to the itinerary. After an impressive 3D introductory film about the company we were greeted by Daniel Israel, the new US marketing representative for the company. Daniel, a charismatic individual, shared his moving story of immigration from Ethiopia to Israel when he was 5 during Operation Moses in 1984/5, a year long journey with many  struggles and losses. "I was surprised to see white Jews when we arrived," laughed Daniel with his ear to ear grin. Through his difficult childhood Daniel stayed strong and became an IDF soldier; paratrooper, sniper and eventually captain. He found his way to Yvel through his desire to give back and help the future of the Ethiopian community. 

Yvel, a creation of Issac and Orna Levy, celebrated its 30 year anniversary.  Yvel employs a mosaic of cultures and supports 122  families - 90% of the workers are from 23 countries. Yvel (Levy spelled backwards), is among the most celebrated and recognized high end jewelry companies in the world winning many prestigious awards and honors. A special part of Yvel is a new initiative, Megemeria (meaning Genesis or new beginning in Ethiopian). It is a business within a business. The purpose of Megermeria is to give back. It is a jewelry school for immigrants over the age of 35 who are unemployed and have no formal training. It also includes people with disabilities. Megemeria employs 21 people for yearly courses in jewelry making to help them master a skill that they will have for life. In addition, Megemeria offers classes in subjects such as history, finance and language to ensure that when people graduate they will have the skills and expertise needed for success and to be contributing members of society. They receive a scholarship and stipend and at the end of the course, each student creates his or her own brand of jewelry. Isaac, also an immigrant at a young age, wanted to give the same opportunity to others for new beginnings. 
After an exciting and informative tour of the design studios, they opened their beautiful showroom special for us (on Purim) to browse, shop, sip cappuccinos and taste the wine from their cellar. Many of us took part in all of these offerings! We ended our visit with a l'chaim and group photo with Daniel, who we all fell in love with.

Thankfully, Daniel, the story of Megemeria and their beautiful jewelry will be coming to Minneapolis this fall as part of collaboration between the Sabes JCC and the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

From there, we headed to Modiin, "The City of the Future" and the hometown of the Maccabees. Our first stop was lunch at Caffit overlooking the impressive city. Our lengthy farmers table was filled with one delicious dish after the next. A few of the favorites were the fried cauliflower and a salad that was a culinary work of art in itself (greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, feta cheese, homemade bread crumbs, topped with crunchy sweet potato strings). YUM! During lunch, we met with Meryll's cousin Giora who was one of the first families to move to Modiin. He shared with us his experience in Modiin over the past 20 years and how the city as developed in that time.  We also met Gila Miller, art teacher at Yachad in Modiin. She is doing amazing work in the school system to broaden the curriculum as well as to offer additional lessons for special education students. She shared with us the quote from the famous art philosopher Herbert Read, "There is no art without society and no society without art." Words that resonated. 

Dessert was served. Delectable warm mini chocolate and cream cups, homemade muffins, coffee and green tea. During dessert we met architect Yvan Lang from Modiin, specializing in sustainable 'green' architecture. He shared with us the architectural history of Modiin. In 1988 it was decided that there needed to be another city added to the landscape, as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were becoming too crowded. Moshe Safdie, the most famous Israel architect, was responsible for Modiin's design. In 1996 the first families moved to Modiin. 20 years 
later, its population is nearly 100,000 people. Modiin is the community between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv located at the edge of the green line. It is a city that started from nothing, which is a difficult endeavor. We learned that many of the original concepts were changed and things did not always work out as originally planned. One example: originally there were no stop lights, then they had to be added several years later due to the rapid growth in the city's population and commuters who need to work outside of Modiin. Currently, the city is not considered a "real city" because it is still a bedroom community. Today, Modiin is a desired place to live. It is becoming quite expensive and highly populated. These are some of the issues they are facing today. 
We were able to get some beautiful views of Modiin after lunch. We spotted almond bushes, date trees, pomegranate trees, zatar bushes and sabras emerging from the cactus. From there we visited Beit Omanoot (Artists' House) in Modiin, where we were greeted by local artist Alejanda Okret & curator and artist Gabi Yair. The structure is dual purpose with its main function serving as a shelter in times of need, however this white walled space is home to the local artists' community, with rotating exhibits of varying media. Because the walls are made with protection in mind, they are hard to nail into, making this a challenge to hang work. The walls are filled with large holes (similar to a submarine) for ventilation. It's a visual reminder of its original purpose.

We then headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for Shabbat. 
Several people from our group went to visit family in Jerusalem while the rest of us headed to the Kotel. Rabbi Davis found the perfect spot for our group to daven (pray) in the egalitarian section of the Wall. He lead us in prayer and in dance, we inserted notes in the Wall, we were surrounded by other groups praying and dancing around us with such pride and emotion. The air was consumed with Jewishness. It was a feeling that permeated us all. We visited the traditional area of the Kotel for additional prayers, men with men, women with women. Together, we slowly wove our way back through the the old city, the Jaffa Gate and back to our hotel for Shabbat dinner surrounded by Jews from all sects and geographic areas. We ended our evening on the balcony singing, studying and reflecting about our day -- talking about the important of place and power of ones dream(s) in life. 

Purim Evening 
After dinner, several of us went "into the night" to experience the Purim night life in Jerusalem. We found ourselves on Ben Yehudah Street in a sea of Purim costumes, characters and personalities; dancing, schmoozing, and of course partying! Anat took us to a nearby cafe, just off the beaten path, known as a local spot, to grab a drink and be witness to all that was taking place around us. Josh paid a local 5 shekels to take a photo with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume head. Such a bargain! I was dressed as Wonder Woman, not to be confused with Gal Gadot, the new Israeli actress staring as Wonder Woman. However, I did get stopped several times by Israelis, who did a double take.  Just as the evening was beginning to rev up, we began winding down. We passed through the sea of lively Purim goers again, taking note of as many costumes and moments as we could on our way out of Ben Yehudah street, and on every street corner back to our hotel. 

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