Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paying it forward

A girl burning glass at Susan's House

Recently I had been fortunate to attend two very different places that have something in common. Both places try and give something back to the community.  I'd like to share the experience with you and try to "pay it forward".

The first place I've visited is the new Yvel Center located at the entrance to Jerusalem. YVEL Company is one of the leading companies in the jewelry industry worldwide and is considered synonymous with grandeur and prestige among savvy. Yvel Company was founded by Orna and Isaac Levy, about 28 years ago. The jewelry company designs have won first prizes in prestigious competitions worldwide, they are marketed in five continents and in more than 650 points of sale in dozens of countries around the world. Famous figures such as Maria Sharapova, Rihanna, Beyonce, Carolina Herrera and Scarlett Johansson are just a small part of a long list of loyal and satisfied customers who wear the desirable pearls of YVEL. In recent years the Levy couple won almost every design award possible.
Photo courtesy of Yvel 
  One would have thought that all this glamour and prestige will take Orna and Yzhak Levy the founders to places easier to live in than Israel. But the couple decided not only to stay here but to help and promote  weak and needed populations. In 2011, after more than 25 years the couple decided to open a new facility, Yvel Design including the production plant, a visitor center and school for jewelry that employs students from the Ethiopian Community. The Levy's decided to establish a school that would train Ethiopian as jewelers and will integrate them in the labor force. Unfortunately the state of Israel that went through great length and brought here the Jewish Ethiopian community didn't continue to support it once they've arrived, and currently they are one of the weakest communities in Israeli society. For Itzik whose family immigrated to Israel from Argentina 50 years ago, it was a form of closure.

About a year after the project was launched and seven graduates have been employed by the company, the Levi couple decided to further develop the school. With the help of Yadid voluntary association they set up a new company called "Megemeria", a business that all its profits are dedicated to the expansion of the school and creating new jobs. Megemeria in Amharic means "Genesis, becoming".  The school named after Andrea Bronfman is located at the YVEL center and currently has 21 students from Ethiopia. In addition to the training each student receives a monthly stipend of 4,000 shekels. A lot of attention is invested in the school and the teachers are leading experts in the field. "Above all", says Orna "We teach students to become proud citizens with equal rights; the country doesn't always remember to do so." At the end of the program students earn a certificate from the Ministry of Industry and some of them are even combined in the factory. A few weeks ago the Collection Megemeria was first exposed in the International Jewelry Exhibition- Jovella, and won enthusiastic compliments.

Photo courtesy of Yvel

My visit to the Yvel center was a fascinating experience. The center is located at a beautiful old house that although renovated kept all its timeworn features. The jewels are spectacular; one understands how the Levys won so many prizes. But what impressed me most was the genuine will to improve the world, to help, to give something back to society.
Go visit Yvel at the entrance to Jerusalem in Moza, admission fee costs 25 shekels. 
You'll see wondrous creations and help support their truly Zionist project.

The second place I've visited is also a project where craftsmanship and art are used to save young people. I was very moved by my visit to Susan's house in Jerusalem. It's story is a sad one but full of hope. It started after Susan Kaplansky, a well-known personality that led many educational projects died of cancer at the age of 38. Her husband, Eyal Kaplansky a jeweler, decided to establish "Susan's House". Wanting to fulfill her dream of helping, habilitating and integrating youth at risk through the art world. Susan's House gathers boys and girls aged 20-15 in risk mostly without any other normative framework.

"Susan's House" is a success story. Youth, who cannot fit in any other work places - can persist as part of "Susan's House" two years or sometimes even more than that. Since its establishment about 500 teenagers worked in "Susan's House". We have heard some of the kids' stories and they were shocking tales of neglect and abuse.  At "Susan's house" the teenagers are trusted to work freely with fire, glass and very sharp cutting blades. Avital, the manager, says the place gives them the tools (self-confidence, maturity, responsibility, and team work), through which children can down the road integrate into regular labor force.  Many of these youngsters began to experiences success, confidence and faith. We met the kids while they're worked and they seemed peaceful, concentrated and content with what they do.  Susan's Home also provides boys and girls added value of hot meals, school enrichment, field trips, talk therapy, and much more.

The youth are the ones who make the products including a variety of  products: Glass jewelry - necklaces, earrings, bracelets, pins, etc., greeting cards from recycled paper; photo albums; key chains and more. The products are incredibly pretty and in high standard. All are handmade by the boys and girls with lots of dedication. The initial design is made by volunteering expert designers. In addition, prices are surprisingly quite reasonable.

The products can be purchased at the store and visitor center of "Susan's House" located at Yad Haruzim 19 ,Talpiot, Jerusalem. Susanart products are shipped to all parts of the country and even abroad, special packs prevent breakage. In addition, you can order the products on the site -
I left the visitor center with some lovely glass jewels. Unlike other places, "Susan's House is a stand-alone independent business where the kids now fight in order to survive. In here they come to realize that together, staff and youth can create, earn and enjoy. 
"Susan's House", a place that saved hundreds of children in and around Jerusalem, is currently under a threat of an economic collapse. In its 12 years the house of Susan helped many.  The state (through the Ministry of Social Affairs) and the Jerusalem Municipality partially funded by the activity. Today it is no longer enough and the house may not celebrate a Bar Mitzvah.
I wrote this post as my way to help to maintain this wonderful project, hope you'll read and join the effort. Let's pay it forward.

* Acknowledgement - The visit was part of a publicity tour organized by Marom Communications. 

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