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A conversation with Uzi-Eli Chezi, remedy and refreshment guru

by simone June 08 2008
InterviewFood

Uzieli hands off an etrog to a customer.
Uzi-Eli Chezi has been peddling etrog (citron) juice for over 20 years now, opening up shop in the Machane Yehuda market in 2003, just as Jerusalem's post-Intifada streets began to bustle once again. The move was good for Uzi-Eli, whose marketing style straddles the line between old-time witch doctor and gimmicky theme park stall: Rambam-inspired folk medicine for the masses. So while his drinks, especially the etrog and gat (khat) juice, are the ultimate pick-me-up, his schug (chili pepper paste) is mild enough for the birthright crowd. Uzi-Eli can be found at 10 Etrog St. (how much divine assistance placed him there remains unclear) in Machane Yehuda, or he can be reached by phone at 052-321-2615.

You make and sell liquids that are refreshments and at the same time medicinal and otherwise psychotropic extracts – where would you say your emphasis is? How would you describe your business in just a few words? I'm known as "The Etrog Medicine Man." I call my etrog drinks "A drink for Jerusalem" and the juice has health benefits that can be felt on the very day you drink it. In addition to the etrogUzieli pours a cup of etrog juice. juice, I have 12 other concoctions - date, pomegranate, apple, passion fruit, goat milk yogurt, kombucha mushroom, gat, etc - all of them with health properties, so I would say the emphasis is on health. I know what my customers need. Sometimes people come with a specific request, and sometimes I recommend things to them because I know what will help them.

How did you get into this line of business? I have an ancient wisdom. I'm a third-generation healer who acts based on the wisdom of the Rambam (Maimonidies) ,who made a drink from the etrog. Both of my grandfathers – who were brothers – would make holistic energy drinks. My grandparents taught my parents, who taught me. When I finished my army service, I spent five years traveling through 12 different countries, learning about herbs and natural medicine. I used this knowledge to create formulas for healing drinks. When I returned to Israel, about 20 years ago, I began making drinks for my moshav, (Moshav Eshtaol, 20 kilometers outside Jerusalem) and my large family. Eventually I began selling the drinks at health fairs and exhibitions, and I saw that the people wanted these drinks, so I built my own juice machine and special formula, a formula I created from things I had learned.

What are some of the health benefits of some of your signature concoctions? Drinking etrog juice leads to strength in the body, and feelings of satiation and calmness. It also improves heart health, and will make a person smell better. It helps fight depression, helps cure hot flashes in women and gives men strength and virility. I have a special etrog drink for pregnant women – it keeps their stomach warm, prevents morning sickness and gives the child a pleasant smell. I gave this drink to an Ethiopian woman when she was pregnant – and she ended up having twins, one black and one white because of it. I also have etrog creams and sprays that work like magic against wrinkles, acne, scratches.

My gat juice is also very popular. It's very rich in chlorophyll, has double the amount of vitamin C of an orange and is also rich in magnesium and zinc. It's energizing and healing.

I have clients who will go a whole year without getting sick - since they started coming to me, they visit their doctors less often. When I first opened my shop in Machane Yehuda, [the people who became] my clients were upset and unhappy – they had problems in their marriages, problems with their sex lives. They would ask me for help with health and with love. Now they bring their whole family to me, and they bring their friends.

You work with specifically indigenous ingredients – how do you find the right suppliers? I get all my supplies right here in Machane Yehuda. I can find everything here. I make my juices with ingredients I find right across the street. One of the reasons I chose to open my stand here was because it's where I was getting all my supplies anyway.

Would you ever consider expanding your enterprise – making Uzi-Eli stands in other Jerusalem neighborhoods or other Israeli cities? My profession is to create special formulas for a devoted clientèle. This is not a mass market business. The drink has to match the client's needs. I need to make a personal diagnosis. I can't make this a wholesale business – it’s a personalized thing.

But, I do have a daughter who's in the army now. I think when my kids finish the army I'll expand a bit. They help me with my production, so when they complete their service, I may expand and open a stand in one of the malls.

My big idea for the future is to create a special magnetic bed, and people will lie on it and we'll play natural music – sounds of the sea, the wind and the desert – and the mattress will make a rocking motion, like the motion of a fetus in its mother's womb. I will light their face with a light that illuminates their chakras (in Hindu philosophy, spinning energy centers within the body that are linked to sound, light and color). Each person will have a light that matches them. The bed will help with relaxation and allow people to know their bodies from the inside. While at first I'll have to be involved in the process, my ultimate dream is to create a coin-operated version of the bed which can be placed in malls across the country.

Where do you go to unwind after a long day of juice making? I go home and rest. I'm busy all day, so when I finish up, I just go home. I also have to catch up on a lot of phone calls. People call me all day long. On Uzieli delievers a serum to a customer's mouthshabbat, I walk the streets of Jerusalem (in addition to his home on Moshav Eshtaol, Uzi-Eli also has an apartment in Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighborhood). Each week, I walk through a different neighborhood. I also have a five-minute clip on three different radio stations – Reshet Moreshet, Kol Yisrael (Voice of Israel) and Kol Chai – where I speak about the health properties of different fruits and herbs, as well as a column in Kol Hair (a weekly newspaper).

What's with all the American girls who work for you? They all got married. I have a bunch of girls who start off as clients and then they need a job so they say, "Uzi-Eli, can I work for you?" I touch their hands – the hands reveal everything – and then I make my decision. They usually last about three to five months and then they find their soul-mate and leave. A lot of them find their soul-mates because they work here – I help them make their skin look better, or they meet their soul-mate on the job.

How have the recent trends in the Machane Yehuda Market – restaurants, upscale clothing stores, cafes and the like effected your business? In the past year, Machane Yeduda has seen a lot of positive developments. There are lots of tourists coming through and special tours of the area. The place is being renewed. It's great for business. There are almost 350 stores here now and almost 85,000 people come through each week. You have vendors here who have been selling to the same families for three generations; there's a real connection here between the vendors and the buyers. Maybe the influx of people means we will lose this personal touch, but it's good for the businesses and good for the people who come here. The shuk is much more interesting and colorful than anywhere else they would shop.

Photos by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.

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