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A conversation with Bracha Din, jeweler

by simone January 01 2010
InterviewArtHolidaysReligionShopping

Bracha and her bling

Bracha Din first visited Israel in 1968, and she came by ship. A true child of the '60s, Bracha traveled the country, spending the requisite time on an authentic kibbutz, before ferrying off to Athens, the first stop on an extended European tour which took her to 22 countries in three years.

Back in the United States, Din tried out college but left after a semester to hitch-hike across Canada and the western United States. This journey eventually brought her to San Francisco, where she met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and joined up with his House of Love and Prayer. It was in San Francisco that Bracha first began taking the steps toward observant Judaism - "I danced my way into Judaism," she likes to say – a path that eventually took her to Brooklyn, where she married and raised a family.

Bracha and her husband attempted to make aliyah as a couple, but they returned to America after a year. It was not until 1995, her children grown and her husband passed on, that Bracha returned for good to the city that had "always been like a magnet, pulling me in." She settled in Jerusalem's Old City and soon began her unique work with stones and prayer. Jerusalemite caught up with her in the calm before the Chanukah rush when Brachaleh (as the business is called) will be displaying her wares in her Jewish Quarter home.

If you walk the right streets, Jerusalem seems to be a city full of jewelers. How would you describe the scene here, and how would you describe your niche within it? There are a lot of jewelers here. I think that what draws people to my work is the subliminal message contained within it. People who have that sort of sensitivity are drawn to my work. All my jewelry is created with prayer. My world is also a pastel world, though I have recently introduced [bolder] colors. My focus is pastel stones and ethereal-looking jewelry.

A necklace and a prayerI've always been interested in stones and how a person can access their power, and when I came to Israel, I was happy to learn that there are Torah sources which relate to the power of certain stones – stones that have the power or qualities to bestow inner peace, love, etc. My middle name is Tzirel, which I'm told means jewelry in Yiddish, and the Talmud says that a person's name hints at what they should be doing with their life.

I've been blessed with good taste in choosing the right stones for my jewelry and the right designs, many of which are inspired by my meditations and prayers. I never actually studied art or jewelry making.

Your jewelry is specially designed to match the energies of the person it was made for. How do you translate the spiritual into the material? How does this creative process work? I sometimes design my jewelry with a specific person in mind – I concentrate on specific issues that person is facing and pray for them while I design the piece - and sometimes I just put certain energies into my jewelry and people find the piece that matches them. The rabbis say that an hour of prayer....(For more questions and answers with jeweler Bracha Din, click here).

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Dancing in the Emek

by michael October 24 2008
Things to doArtFoodFor the kidsMusicShopping
Emek Refaim
Ain't no party like an Emek party, cuz an Emek party don't charge admission.

One day in the not-too-distant future, the anti-gravitational effects of a thousand constantly puffing cappuccino steamers and ten thousand constantly lightening wallets will lift Emek Refaim completely above the more pedestrian streets of Jerusalem, whereupon those lucky enough to be carried heavenward with the street of the gods will shower the less fortunate with great torrents of upscale kosher dairy bistro fare. But hopefully that won't happen before you can hit the annual Emek Refaim Street Fair on Tuesday.

What's the Emek Refaim Street Fair about? Well, uh, imagine Chutzot HaYotzer...good...and then imagine it smaller in scale and taking place on Emek Refaim. The Emek, as nobody should ever call it, will be lined with dozens of local artists displaying and selling their pieces, including paintings, pottery and glass works, with avant-garde assists by the Hagigit collective, who will be taking photographs of the merriment around them, futzing with them on computers and then displaying them on a giant screen. Meta.

Then there are, of course, the bands: homegrown Balkan-booty-stomping brass band Marsh Dondurma and that band they get for every festival in the city, Ethnika, as well as some lesser names. Oh yeah, and fire dancers.

And if all that art and photo-twiddling and Balkan brass and fire-twirling makes you want to get a burn on, stop at one of several wine stalls for a glass or four of the red (or white, or...pink) stuff. Sop that up by stopping in any one of the many, many, many restaurants lining the street, all of which are running festival-only discounts. It's the cheapest mountainous Mediterranean salad money can buy!

Festivities last from 17:00 until the decadent hour of 23:00, and entrance is blissfully free.

Photo courtesy of the Merkaz Tarbut HaAmim.

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A conversation with Itzik Ozarko, Marzipan bake-master

by simone October 19 2008
InterviewFoodShopping

Worth Putting on the Pounds For?

The Marzipan Bakery's uber-chocolaty rugelach have been known to cause traffic jams on Agrippas St. as first-year yeshiva students crowd around to buy the treats for themselves, for their friends, for the people who tolerate them for Shabbat. While the rugelach are the bakery's main draw, especially amongst the Anglo crowd, Marzipan is a Jerusalem institution. Jerusalemite talked with Itzik Ozarko, the man behind the magic at the Marzipan Bakery.

Many proprietors of shops in the shuk are part of families with strong ties to Nachlaot. What's your connection to this neighborhood and what are your feelings on how it has been changing? My father, who moved to Israel from Turkey as a young child, opened Marzipan in Machane Yehuda in 1986 after learning the trade from some of Israel's finest bakers. Today, he's retired and I run the business with my brother. I'm in charge of the baking, and my brother does the business side. Our family also has strong ties in the neighborhood, and I've lived in Nachlaot for many years.

Regarding the changes, I think that both the neighborhood and the shuk are finally getting what they deserve: lots of honor, fame and glory. Nachlaot is famous, and it deserves to be famous. There are artists living there, government people. People used to run away from Nachlaot, and now they're running to it.

Machane Yehuda also deserves its fame. It used to be a simple place, and now it's getting fancy, as it deserves to. The vendors there work hard for their money - they work from early in the morning until late at night. They work on holidays when everyone else has off, they work on Fridays on erev chag (holiday eves) all the time. These people are the salt of earth, and the time has come when Jerusalemites have begun searching out the truth, searching out people like the vendors at Machane Yehuda. We're beginning to value not just the people who work in hi-tech and computers but simple hard workers.

In the English language, many brand names are so strong that they have become synonymous with their product categories over time - Band Aid, Kleenex and Xerox come to mind. Your rugelach are so popular, that many - especially English speakers who don't know what marzipan is - refer to them as marzipan. How do you feel about this? What's a good way to distinguish between actual marzipan and yChocolate Goodnessour bakery's rugelach? This sounds funny, but it's true. We used to think Americans called the rugelach marzipan because they thought there was a trace of marzipan in the rugelach. At first, we tried to correct this misunderstanding, but it didn't work, and there's nothing we can do it. Even though most Americans don't even like actual marzipan, they like to call our rugelach marzipan and not rugleach. At least now we know what they are talking about. If someone comes and orders marzipan, we give them rugelach.

Of course, there is no marzipan in the rugelach, and marzipan does not mean rugelach, but we work so hard and his is one of the ways we reap the fruits of our work. We don't have a lot.... (for more questions with Itzik Ozarko of Marzipan click here).
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A conversation with Shimon Vaknin, four species vendor

by simone October 12 2008
InterviewHolidaysShopping

 Etrog

Shimon Vaknin, a four species vendor from Har Nof got into the business some 25 years ago after a fellow yeshiva student lured him in, and he's been selling every holiday season since. The four species are three branches and one fruit – date palm, myrtle, willow and citron (etrog) – vital to religious Jews' observance of the Sukkot holiday. Throughout the holiday, the four species are gathered together and shaken in all directions. There are many traditional and mystical explanations for this commandment (there better be, because it's an odd one), including one which compares each species to a different type of Jew. Holding all four species together symbolizes unity, with each Jew playing his or her own unique role.

Just a generation ago, few people owned their own sets of the four species, and now it seChecking out the waresems to be the standard – almost every observant Jew buys his or her own set. Throughout the week of Sukkot, people can be seen carrying their lulavs (date palms) all around Jerusalem. What changed? Is it just that we're richer now? Were the farming processes or the import channels perfected? In Europe, people lived in cities far from the fields, so there weren't that many of them available. People had to travel far to get them. The etrogim especially were very hard to get. You had to travel very far and even then they weren't so easy to acquire. Rabbis used to sell their whole houses to get one etrog. The commandment of the four species is a very important commandment and the rabbis would go all out to get one.

In places like Morocco, Tunis and Tangier, the Jews lived near fields, but the etrogim were still fairly expensive, so there, instead of one per city, there was on per family. In Europe, often whole towns had to share. But in both places, people used to share their etrogim to some extent. Today, with improved transportation, farming techniques etc., more people have their own. Today, etrogim cost anywhere from 10 NIS to $500 depending on their quality. People want the nicer ones because a pure, unblemished etrog symbolizes a pure heart.

We know that in the days leading up to Sukkot, you're busy selling the four species, and over Sukkot, you're probably recovering from that rush. What four species-related work must be done during the rest of the year to maintain your business? What work outside the four species field do you do? I learn Torah all year. I'm not really involved in this work during the year. Farmers grow all the species and we got out there once in....(for more questions with Shimon Vaknin, four species vendor, click here).
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Fit to serve? Socially conscious kashrut sweeps Jerusalem

by josh September 24 2008
FoodEnvironmentMunicipal newsShopping
He cares. Do you?

The Social Seal: Because I care

Kosher certification is so passe. These days it seems every Ploni Almony with a deep fryer and some charif has a kashrut certificate (Tel Aviv's Kingdom of Pork excluded). But while rabbis worldwide have universally accepted a non literal translation of not bathing a kid in its mother's, or anyone's, milk, Kashrut certification generally ignores the idea behind those words. Over 100 years after everybody missed the point of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a small Jerusalem outfit is making waves by showing that eating by God's standards involves more than separating milk from meat and that guiltless gourmet has nothing to do with transfats and everything to do with treating people well.

Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem based consort of youths with a mind for social change, have taken it upon themselves to certify restaurants, catering halls, and other food service establishments with a social seal that verifies their commitment to workers' rights and handicapped access. A full one third of Jerusalem eateries now carry the social seal, including 1868, Bar Kochba, Village Green, New Deli and Emil (a full list of participating restaurants can be found on their website here.) A number of kibbutzim have also begun to employ the seal, even this place, which hopefully reformed its chicken stomping ways to get the seal. The Christian Science Monitor describes the movement, which has begun to spread across the country, as growing out of frustrations stemming from the political situation.

The popularity of the social seal, continues [Bema'aglie Tzedek founder Asaf] Banner, is a testament to a growing Israeli appetite for understanding and partaking in these community Jewish values. A shift, he muses, that might have to do with a collective sense of disappointment over the faltering peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A lot of young people are beginning to say, 'let's invest our energies internally. Let's fix our own society first,' " says Banner. "Once we know who we are, and what society we want to be – we will stop stammering and might be better able to move forward with peace as well."

A similar movement is growing in America, though one that would concentrate not on restaurants, but on kosher food suppliers. Their desire for change has nothing to do with Palestinians and instead stems from a number of concerns about how socially conscious kosher food is. Kind of like a Green movement for God with Rabbi Morris Allen, the project director, playing the part of Al Gore. One major target of the campaign has been the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world and a Chabad stronghold. The plant was recently raided by immigration authorities for employing illegal immigrants and making them work hours no God would be happy about, even if they aren't on Shabbat. The plant had already come under fire a few years earlier when a religious Jewish couple working for PETA taped animal abuse in the plant, which they said would render the meat unkosher by anyone's standards.

The American effort, being led by the Conservative Movement, has met with resistance from Orthodox leaders, including Chabad, and the kashrut powerhouse Star-K, who say it is not their job to monitor a plant's safety record. That job, they say, falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, that little agency founded 100 years ago after everybody misunderstood The Jungle. It seems when it comes to meat, kosher or not, it all goes back to Upton.

Photo of activist courtesy of Bema'aglei Tzedek

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Downtown merchants not digging the digging

by josh August 13 2008
City planningMunicipal newsShopping

All your merchants are belong to us

Downtown's main thoroughfare is officially a big balagan. The most central stretch of Jaffa Rd. has been narrowed by dividers to only accommodate one lane of traffic. In the past few days, a makeshift sidewalk in what used to be the middle of the street has been erected, in order to allow commuters to wait for their buses while intense digging takes place behind their backs.

The Jerusalem municipality and the transportation ministry's actual carrying out of a plan to build a light rail through the heart of Jerusalem has apparently blindsided Jaffa Rd. merchants, who last week found their shops located not in one of the busiest shopping areas of Jerusalem, but instead on a narrow one-way street where nobody would want to be.

Yes, it seems the construction of the Jerusalem light rail has hit the "all hell break loose" phase. Preparations for laying tracks are moving ahead full steam on Jaffa Rd., annoying commuters and angering merchants along the once bustling way, who say the construction will kill their livelihood, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"This morning they destroyed us," city store owner Shimon Malka said on Israel Radio. "There is nothing left for us to do here but pack up and go," he said, demanding that the city relocate businesses adversely affected by the construction for the next year and a half.

"This is ruining our business," concurred merchant Nissan Zuckerman. "We have no work because people are not coming to the city center. It is a catastrophe," he said.

An emergency meeting of city merchants Monday discussed possible legal measures against the city, including asking a court to issue a stop-work order or holding a district-wide strike, participants said.

In June, municipal opposition leader and mayoral candidate Nir Barkat confronted Mayor Uri Lupolianski about the merchants at least getting some just compensation, in the form of tax credits, for having to endure the near closure of their road. Lupolianski responded that the merchants did not even want compensation, an argument that probably doesn’t hold much water in light of their loud protestations last week.

In fact, the rift between Lupolianski and the downtown business owners only seems to be widening, not unlike holes in the asphalt, a meeting two days ago between the two parties descending into nasty shouting, finger-pointing, calls made to security forces and even fainting. It was almost as heated as a Knesset floor debate.

Merchants can rest easy knowing the Barkat stands a decent chance of taking over the mayorship in November. Getting a politician to keep to pre-election platitudes may be another story. Hopefully, the 2010 date set for the completion of the tracks will be kept, so long as they plan for where to put the dirt. Getting the rail lines complete will be an important step in untangling Jerusalem's clogged streets and making them more pedestrian- and neighborhood-friendly. Shoppers might flock to Talpiot or Malcha Mall instead of Jaffa Rd. for now, but for many merchants, the once-glorious thoroughfare is all they've got.

Photo of digging in downtown Jerusalem's Jaffa Rd. by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.

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Arts, crafts and Sakharof: time for Chutzot Hayotzer

by michael August 08 2008
Things to doArtFoodFor the kidsShopping
Chutzot crowds.
White-robed Israeli folk dancing? Par for the course at Chutzot Hayotzer

It's August, and you know what that means: It's time to buy some handicrafts. The beloved Jerusalem tradition Chutzot Hayotzer, an international arts and crafts fair encompassing hundreds of Israeli and foreign artists and artisans selling their wares and dozens of musical performances, is returning to the Sultan's Pool. It's the largest cultural attraction of the summer, so if you're around, you've got no excuse not to go.

The focus of the fair is everything handmade and aesthetically pleasing, from jewelry to woodworking to sculpture to religious artifacts, with special attention paid to the work of the 150 Israeli artists participating this year, many of whom maintain a permanent presence in the Chutzot Hayotzer artists' colony during the off-season. It's all for sale, and it's mostly one-of-a-kind.

And Yitzhak Moshik-Levy's carping notwithstanding, the list of international participants is impressive, a veritable who's who of countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel (and two that don't), including most of South America, much of Europe, much of East Asia, all the 'stans in Central Asia, a smattering of Africa, Jordan as the lone representative of the 'hood, and more, all selling their respective traditional handicrafts. Will the Nepali delegation defend their nation's honor by tramping all over the city blazed on hash and half-baked mysticism like Israeli twentysomethings do in Kathmandu? Probably not, but worth watching out for anyway. Also worth watching out for is the Korean delegation, staging a dance performance drawing on both traditional dance and martial arts on Wednesday and Thursday, which rates as a vast improvement over the regular artistic offering of the Korean community in Jerusalem, namely singing enthusiastically in Korean about Jesus on Ben Yehuda St.

But what really makes the price of admission worth it are the nightly concerts, featuring some of the brightest stars of Israeli music, carefully selected to make sure every segment of the national pop-listening audience is covered: Rami Fortis, Shlomi Shabat, Mosh Ben Ari, Ethnix, Aviv Geffen, Meir Banai, Gali Atari, Yizhar Ashdot, Boaz Sharabi and Berry Sakharof. Non-mainstream concerts, from flamenco to jazz, also take place nightly, and, in a terrible bit of planning, overlap the main stage pop performances.

And there's more: children's theater and activites. Food stalls. Workshops. Even if for some reason you hate handicrafts, you'll find a way to amuse yourself.

Check out the full schedule in English at the official Chutzot Hayotzer website. Or, as they spell it, Khutzot HaYotzer. Or Khutsot Hayotser. Ahh, consistency.
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Is Chutzot Hayozter being Chutzot Ha-unfair?

by josh August 04 2008
NewsShopping

Next Monday's two-week Chutzot Hayotzer, marketed as an international arts fair, might ironically be more local than it's touted as being. It's the kind of doublethink that leads a tiny Florida airfield that shuttles one flight to Cuba to bill itself as international.

Despite having submitted all of the requisite paperwork, vendor Yitzhak Moshik-Levy claims that Chutzot Hayotzer's planners have unfairly declined his application to sell his wares this year. Moshik-Levy, who sells wooden handicrafts imported from Thailand, was left off this year's vendor list, because, according to City Hall's spokespeople, "This year the committee decided to give preferential treatment to original Israeli artists."

But Moshik-Levy says he knows the truth. He says he’s been passed over because his prices were just too damn low at last year's fair, enraging other vendors who apparently have not read up on their Adam Smith.You will not find Thai wood structures at reasonable prices at Chutzot HaYozter this year.

Yitzhak Moshik-Levy said that vendors at last year's fair had complained about him to the fair's director, after he sold high-quality wooden products that he had imported directly from Thailand at more than 50 percent below the prices of the other vendors.

Moshik-Levy, who works as a part-time taxi driver and spends several months a year in the Far East, said that his request to operate a stand at this year's fair - which requires a NIS 5,000 payment - was turned down without explanation by Ariel, the company that runs the fair….

Moshik-Levy called the city's response disingenuous, and wondered aloud whether there would be no foreign products sold at the event.

This guy's understandably upset, and we do know that in Jerusalem, things shrouded in red tape are managed like old boys' clubs, but that doesn't mean that Moshik-Levy's conspiracy theory gripes are necessarily accurate. Regardless, this wouldn't be the first time the invisible hand has been slapped away in favor of "consumer protection." But aren't Israelis supposed to love a good deal? Protocols of the Elders of Zion aside, just have a the names of some of our grocery stores as an example. Instead of ones that emphasize quality and WASPiness, we've got ones with names that call attention to how cheap and shuk-like they are.

Jerusalemite's coverage of Chutzot Hayotzer continues later this week.

Photo courtesy of Brivey from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Ice storms for the mouth

by ben July 30 2008
FoodFor the kidsShoppingWeather

Wall of barad

Barad literally means hail, but in the context of the beverage industry, it refers to those flavored slush drinks that can be seen all around town now that the mid-summer heat is setting in. Not a flurry, not a blizzardbarad (the reverse psychology weather pattern marketing can get to be a little much).

Jerusalem coffee shops might not know as much about iced coffee as Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks does, but some of them make a decent espresso-based barad. Some have even diversified, offering exotic fruit-flavored barads, although the best coffee shops are the ones who will also agree to make a "café kar," basically an au lait on the rocks.

Kiosks around town also get in the barad game, charging less than the highbrow espresso bars, with results of mixed and unpredictable quality.

But like the great North American Slurpee, barad comes in many flavors, as one can see from the ironically named Fresh Juice Bar, which, during the summer months, is set up to be basically a glorified barad depot. Located on Ben Hillel St. near the corner of King George (across the street from Tower Records, which used to be a kabala center and KFC before that), here one can enjoy lemon, grape, cola, mint, strawberry and apple barad, which the menu lists as "slash" in Zohan-ese English.

A small cup contains plenty to freeze your brain, and it only costs 5 NIS. Premium flavors like coffee and passion fruit (which has seeds floating around in the churning blades, so it must contain real fruit, right?) run a bit more at 10 NIS for a small.

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Off the beaten retail path: Israeli designers on Bezalel St.

by Ziva July 28 2008
ShoppingThings to do

Bezalel street in JerusalemLike any other major city, Jerusalem has its fair share of mall-like retail chains touting the latest trends in global fashion. Walking its lovely pedestrian streets you can often pick out who's wearing what from where and when (as in, "That's a cute top she has on from Castro's 07 summer collection. I remember seeing that on sale at the Malcha mall"). Every once in a while though, we notice someone wearing something different, something striking and just very, very cool. Because dotting the city's side streets and new trendy areas, there are real Israeli designer gems to be had.

"This isn't your average street market." "This isn't the Mashbir [department store]." And "this certainly isn't Malha [mall]." Words uttered by shopkeepers of designer and one-of-a-kind clothes on Bezalel St. in Jerusalem - just a hop, skip and jump away from the city's most central pedestrian shopping area, Ben Yehuda.

Facing the old Bezalel Academy of Art and Design building in downtown Jerusalem, this newly paved pedestrian street has housed designers' and artists' stores for a few years now, but given the new addition of the artsy (read: all-black interior walls) Bezalel Cafe, designer fashion stores like Momi Mia and Homi are experiencing a resurgence of interest in Israeli designer clothes.

"Because of our location, you have to want to come here. And you're coming to find beautiful, quality clothes," explains shopkeeper Meital, who works in Momi's unnamed store at Bezalel 6. Down at number two, Israeli fashion designer Momi offers a slightly older style in a range of shirts and skirts alongside jewelry by local artists, including Bezalel students and graduates. Clothes on the rackHis store at six is much smaller and yet geared for a younger clientèle, with secondhand, barely-worn pieces presenting a more vintage and retro chic. The prices are also much more accessible for students and struggling artist types.
 
Up at Bezalel 8 is Homi's: home to the best of Israeli fashion and designers. From bags to jewelry, every day to evening, Homi casts her individual eye on everything she selects to sell - and it shows. Major designers like Tal Beck and Talli Imbar to newcomers like Lily Brush and Dikla Kedem. Here, trends are secondary to fashion; meaning, you may pay a little more for these designer threads but it won't be out of style or worn out by next summer. "People come here for something special," Homi boasts. "This isn't what you come across everyday, both In terms of our geography in Jerusalem and of what you can find in more mall-based stores."
 
In fact, even wearing one of these designer pants, skirts, dresses or tops - or even accesorizing with supercute bags from Giveret or classy totes from Estella - will bring you so many compliments that you'll forget what ever brought you to the mall or bigger chains in the first place.
 
Ziva Haller Rubenstein writes about art and design in, by and from Israel on her blog Designist Dream and for other leading blogs and websites. Photos of Bezalel St.'s pedestrian mall shops by Ziva Haller Rubenstein.
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