Unique Israeli Bling Dazzles

In the early decades of the Jewish state, brilliant green Eilat stones and intricate Yemenite silver filigree were the hallmarks of Israeli jewelry. Of course, there were also traditional Judaica pieces: tiny mezuzot, chai charms, Jewish stars, names spelled in Hebrew letters.

The more classic designs captured the attention of my Israeli grandparents, who gifted my mother with beautiful pieces she would wear to synagogue and then tuck away until the next Shabbat or holiday. As we sat in shul, she would ease my restlessness by occasionally handing me a ring or a bracelet. The prayers washed over me, as I turned the jewelry over and over, marveling at the craftsmanship and studying every detail.
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Helping Israel’s Economy

Don’t buy Israeli products just because you love Israel.

There’s a better reason, says Eli Groner, minister of economic affairs at Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C.

“People want to give business to their friends and to their neighborhood,” he says, “and Israel is part of the Jewish neighborhood. But most buyers are interested in quality, and Israeli products are high in quality.”
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Experience One of Israel’s Sweet Sides

Israel isn’t just the land of milk and honey — it’s the land of milk and cocoa, too.

Maybe you enjoy whimsical candies like candy canes, jellybeans and gummies. Maybe you revel in the nostalgic feeling evoked by eating halva. Maybe you enjoy chocolate with popping candy inside. Whatever your tastes, Israeli candies have something to offer every sweet tooth.

Achva: Achva’s sesame seed halva has come a long way since the company started in 1929 in Tel Aviv. Combining Polish, Turkish, Russian and Greek influences to make the best sesame products available, Achva produces a wide range of offerings, including vanilla, marble, pistachio, curly, spread and sandwich halva. Achva now produces organic halva and sugarless halva in vanilla and fibers and nuts flavors.

Aleh:  For more than 40 years, Aleh’s factory in Petah Tikvah has been producing fine candies and chocolates. With the advent of new technology, Aleh’s manufacturing process has become automated and involves little to no hands-on contact. Among its products are Gazoz Candy Canes (plastic tubes filled with small, colorful candies), Moon Stones (chocolate rocks) and Blessing Sticks (large tubes filled with small, colorful candies).

Maya Foods Industries:

Candy might seem an unlikely product for Maya Foods, which started out selling baking powder and spices three decades ago under the name Mia Spice of Life Jerusalem Ltd. The company, based in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem, has since expanded and, in 2010, changed its name to reflect its offering of more than 300 products, among them beans, rice, cereal products, baking products, spices, nuts, dried fruits, snacks and candy. Jellybeans come in apple and cherry, cola and lemon, orange and lemon and carnival (mixed) fruit flavors.

Strauss Group: Israel’s second-largest food and beverage producer, Strauss Group, owns several different companies, including Elite. Eliyahu Fromen-chenko, a Russian Jew living in Latvia, had a candy factory in 1933, which he sold due to the rise of anti-Semitism and moved to Israel. He then partnered with seven other people to create Elite. In 1938, Elite produced chocolate for the British army and other allied forces in Palestine, according to the Strauss website. Strauss merged with Elite in 1996.
These days, Elite sells $93 million worth of candy annually, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Carmit: Founded in 1973, Carmit produces a wide range of confections including chocolate coins, marshmallows, 100 percent dairy-free chocolate and gluten-free wafers. The whimsical marshmallows come in a variety of shapes and flavors, including spaghetti, twister, coconut, fruit-shaped and spring.

Hashachar Ha’ole: Hashachar Ha’ole’s chocolate spread has been a staple as a sandwich in Israeli children’s lunchboxes for decades. According to the company’s website, five Wideberg brothers started a small candy factory in 1948 and were joined by the Levkowich family two years later. Seeing a need for a new product in the Israeli market, Hashachar Ha’ole focused its production on chocolate spreads in 1955. The spreads come in a variety of flavors, including milk, dark and white chocolate, with the milk chocolate variety being the most popular.

Not Your Grandfather’s Israeli Wine

You can’t go wrong with a bottle of wine from one of Israel’s big five wineries — Carmel, Barkan, Golan Heights, Binyamina, Teperberg — or from other well-known brands, such as Tishbi, Dalton, Galil Mountain and Recanati, whose consistent quality has earned them a solid place on American retail shelves.

These wines have been winning customer kudos and international tasting awards for the past decade, which is largely responsible for the steady growth in Israeli wine exports to the level of some $15 million annually.

But if you’re ready to spend more and be a bit adventurous, you’ll find additional choices from Israeli wineries you’ve probably never heard of.

“There’s been an explosion of the [Israeli] boutique brands, such as Domaine Ventura, Adir, Saslove, Gvaot, Lueria, Alexander, Psagot,” says Richard Fishman, general manager of Skyview Wine & Spirits in New York.

Some of these boutique brands were brought to Fishman’s attention by importers, but most of them are on Skyview’s shelves because customers told him they’d tasted these wines in Israel and wanted to buy them locally. His personal favorites include Gvaot Pinot Noir, Adir Plato and Alexander Amarolo.

They are not cheap. “Generally, these brands range from $25 to $75,” says Fishman. “It does not seem to be a barrier. They’re very high-end, unusual and extremely different tasting.”

“All around the world, wine magazines are naming Israeli wines, so among experts everybody recognizes the surge in quality,” says Gary Landsman, director of marketing for Royal Wine, the largest importer, distributor and producer of kosher wines in North America.

Importers and Israeli trade organizations are trying to get the word out that these labels are worth the price.

“Israel isn’t what you think,” says Landsman.

He notes an “elegance trend” in newer Israeli wines that reflect where winemakers get their training. Those schooled in Australia or the Napa Valley favor robust, fruit-forward wines, he explains, while winemakers trained in Italy or France espouse the European approach that wine is made to be enjoyed with food and shouldn’t overwhelm the food or be overwhelmed by it.

“According to this philosophy, wine should be complementary, restrained or elegant, as opposed to bombastic,” says Landsman.

“You’re starting to see a trend more toward that style in larger wineries, like Carmel and Binyamina, and in the Castel boutique winery for example, where the proprietor is Egyptian-born and grew up in Europe enjoying their cuisine. You’re beginning to see this also in the small Flam Winery, whose owner was trained in Italy, and Shiloh, Psagot and Alexander all are doing a great job with this.”

Israeli-bred Manhattanite Yossie Horwitz offers contact information and a map for 70 Israeli wineries on his “Yossie’s Corkboard” kosher wine blog.

“In any wine store specializing in kosher wine — which is unfortunately how Israeli wines are still marketed, instead of with Mediterranean wines — the majority is going to come from Israel just because of the sheer number of the wineries,” says Horwitz.

Altogether, more than 100 Israeli wineries (kosher and a few non-kosher) produce about 60 million bottles per year. Exporting is critical because the Israeli market is so small, and more than half the bottles of exported Israeli wine are bound for the United States. When asked for a few recommendations, Horwitz thinks a bit. “I like different, interesting tastes,” he replies. “Recanati Wild Carignan is a good wine but high-priced. Gvaot Pinot Noir is one of the best. Bravdo, a Judean Hills winery, has a Coupage blend that is excellent. Carmel Riesling 2010 succeeds in an area where kosher wine has not been so successful, and it’s the right price, too. Yarden Katzrin 2008 is the best kosher wine, period.”

The Golan Heights Winery decided a few years ago to create a brand of wine specifically tailored for the American palate. “The Gilgal product line consists of wines that have been found to be exceptionally well-suited to American tastes. They are of a high quality, yet not overly complex, and [are an] excellent value for money,” said Udi Kadim, the CEO of Yarden Inc., which imports Gilgal Wines.

A new Israeli wine website is soon to debut from the Israel Wine Producers Association, which works closely with Royal. The 15 wineries it promotes represent all of Israel’s grape-growing regions, from the Golan Heights and Galilee in the north through the Judean Hills down to Mitzpeh Ramon and the Southern Hebron Hills: Alexander, Barkan, Bazelet Hagolan, Binyamina, Carmel, Castel, Domaine Netofa, Flam, Gamla, Psagot, Segal, Shiloh, Tzuba, Yatir and Zion.

“The wineries are helping fund this initiative to penetrate places that don’t know such wines exist in Israel,” says Landsman. “The idea is to put a nice glass of merlot in someone’s hand and hear them say, ‘Can you believe this is from Israel?’”

Buy Israel Week

Pick a Jewish holiday, any holiday. Let’s take one of my favorites: Sukkot. This is a holiday bursting with meaning. Inside a sukkah, we can experience the fragility of life and appreciate some great Jewish values, such as gratitude, modesty and hospitality.

Now, ask yourself: After the eight days of the holiday are over and you put away your sukkah, do you also put away the spiritual meaning you gained during the week?

If, for example, during the holiday you reconnect with the virtue of gratitude, shouldn’t you keep that connection all year long?

The Kotzker Rebbe once wrote that when we speak of keeping Shabbat, the deeper, spiritual meaning is that we’re supposed to keep Shabbat with us during the week. In other words, Shabbat’s message of peace and renewal is always relevant, always appropriate, always needed.

It’s the same with Buy Israel Week.

The notion of “one week” is not there to be taken literally. It’s only there to concentrate the mind on a great Jewish value — supporting Israel.

Buy Israel Week is always relevant, always appropriate, always needed.

When I try to convey the importance of supporting Israel to my kids, I remind them of how much they love their bubbies and zaydes. I ask them to visualize a long human chain of 100 bubbies and 100 zaydes holding hands in a big field. These are your grandparents, I tell them, your direct ancestors, going all the way back to the destruction of the Second Temple.

For almost 2,000 years, I say to them, your bubbies and zaydes prayed every day to return to Zion, to Jerusalem, to the land of our Bible. And you are privileged to live in the generation that has fulfilled that dream. How fortunate you are!

But that’s just one side of the story. There’s a catch, I tell them, and it’s this: With blessings come responsibilities.

Now that we have regained this priceless gift of our own nation, we have so much more to lose, the stakes are so much higher, the responsibilities so much greater.
It is the fate of the Jewish nation that we seem to always be put in very difficult situations.

It’s hard to imagine a more difficult story than the rebirth of Israel. As soon as we came out of the womb, enemy armies swarmed us. Somehow, we fought them off and survived.

This pattern has continued for the 64 years of our existence. Enemies attack us, and, somehow, we fight them off and survive.

But as Israel survived, another miracle was happening.

While the eyes of the world were on the wars that threatened Israel’s existence, little Israel started building things.

It built roads, highways, farmlands and desalination plants.

It built hospitals, universities, high-rises, hotels and brand new cities.

While being virtually under siege, Israel built the freest and most sophisticated civil society in the Middle East.

By the time this little country turned 60, it had turned into an improb-able startup nation, winning Nobel prizes, developing cures for diseases and inventing new technologies.

It embraced more than a million new immigrants, spawned a thriving, homegrown culture in music, film and the arts, and sent rescue teams on humanitarian missions all over the globe.

Of course, Israel, with all its achievements, is far from perfect. It has tried but failed to make peace with all its neighbors. It is what I call a “mess in progress.”

But what sets the country truly apart from its neighbors is its “corrective mechanism,” rooted in the sacred right to protest and dissent. For every flaw or problem you find, you’re bound to find a group or entity fighting to fix it. The solutions don’t always come, but the corrective engine never stops roaring.

Perhaps because of this corrective noise, Israel’s problems are much more visible to the outside world. This is a sign not of weakness, but of success.

Israel is an open society, with no fear to show its faults.

And still, despite this success — or maybe because of it — Israel’s enemies have not gone away. If they can’t fight Israel with bullets, they will fight it with boycotts.

Buy Israel Week is a direct response to this challenge.

For many years now, the enemies of the Jewish state have been on a global mission to undermine and delegitimize the successful Zionist enterprise. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is the centerpiece of their effort. It doesn’t matter if these attacks are unfair or hypocritical. What matters is that they are real, and we must respond.

How do we respond? The Jewish way — by transformation. By transforming boycott into “buycott.”

If our enemies tell the world to stop buying Israeli products, then we shall encourage the world to do the exact opposite: Buy Israeli products.

Optimism is a deep Jewish value with a long and complicated history. Despite all the hardships and tragedies we have suffered in our long history, we never stop looking forward with hope and strength.

The ultimate Jewish question is not, “What shall we believe?” or “What shall we think?” but “What shall we do?”

During Buy Israel Week, we shall all buy Israeli products.

And when the “holiday week” is over, we shall Buy Israel Forever.