Where Jewelry and Charity Meet

October 10, 2012 5:11 am 10 comments

Artisans at the Megemeria training program.

What’s the highest level of charity according to Jewish tradition? It’s giving someone in need a job or training for a career so they can become self-supporting, says the Rambam, the revered 13th-century Jewish philosopher.

Isaac and Orna Levy, owners of an award-winning Israeli jewelry company, have taken the concept to a new level.

In a tastefully renovated 160-year-old stone building in Motza, a few miles west of Jerusalem just off the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem highway, the Levys are running an innovative school that is teaching the jewelry trade to an eager group of motivated Ethiopian immigrants—alongside the Levy’s thriving Yvel family business that has been creating exquisite, high-end jewelry designs featuring pearls, gold and gemstones since 1986.

With 650 retail outlets around the world, the Yvel name is associated with the world’s most beautiful gems—a dizzying array of pearls and sapphires set off with diamonds in fresh, modern designs.  Yvel publicity photos feature celebrities like Rihanna, tennis star Marina Sharapova and actress Scarlett Johansson wearing Yvel designs at well-publicized society events.

Few Yvel customers are aware that Yvel (Levy spelled backwards) is based in Israel, and fewer still have any idea that ninety percent of Yvel’s employees in the custom-designed facility just outside Jerusalem are Jewish immigrants, or that a significant number of them pause to pray in the early afternoon.

But it’s the Megemeria training program that’s the most unique feature of the Levy empire. Taken from the Amharic word for Genesis, the school that trains the budding jewelry makers provides a new beginning for some 21 Ethiopian immigrants at a time, chosen for their artistic sense and propensity for precision work.

Many of the students came to the program with limited Hebrew and poor math skills, but through the Yedid Association for Social Empowerment that has been working on behalf of Ethiopian immigrants and other disadvantaged Israelis for decades, they develop the skills, work habits and motivation to succeed. “The Levys found us,” emphasizes Yedid executive director Sari Rivkin as she explains that Orna Levy was a kindergarten friend of Yedid’s deputy director.  When the Levys decided they wanted to help immigrants help themselves, Orna approached her old friend at Yedid and the innovative social responsibility program was hatched.

The first group of Megemeria students recently graduated, and their Ethiopian-inspired Genesis jewelry line is now for sale in the elegant Yvel showroom alongside the regular Yvel pearl and sapphire collections as well as at retail outlets and on-line.

The Genesis line features stunning pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings made of brass and plated with 24K gold at prices ranging from $50 to $200 per piece.  Each of the designs incorporates a hidden or mystery message inscribed in Amharic, the native tongue of the Ethiopian student designers.  Personalized messages such as initials or single words like “forever”, “love” and “friendship” appear in Amharic lettering on ID style bracelets, pendants on leather cords and rings.

“We are very proud of our first year graduates,” says Yvel owner, Isaac Levy. “These Ethiopian immigrants are now employed in full time jobs, and with the launch of this new collection, they are supporting the Israeli jewelry industry abroad.  We aim to find some excellent partners in this Mitzvah (good deed) as sales of this new collection will help us to continue this life-changing work and repair the world a little more effectively every year.”

All profits from the sale of the jewelry collection are channeled back into the business to help fund the school, pay salaries and recruit more staff.

Some of the graduates that will receive professional diplomas from the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, will continue to work in Megemeria, while others will take their place alongside former Megemeria graduates, new and veteran immigrants in Yvel. All will find employment on graduation, promises Levy.

Before they were accepted to Megemeria, several of the students were working as house cleaners and security guards.  In a Catch-22 situation, few training programs were willing to take on people with little formal education.

For people like graduate Sanayit Bayana the chance to learn a promising trade with the assurance of a job has been a life-changing experience. “Isaac & Orna Levy try and tell us that we are equal in society, only now I can feel it. We will now have a profession and can work and progress like everyone else. Our children will see this and be very happy for us.”

And the motivation for the Rambam-inspired charity project?  Isaac Levy knows what it is to make one’s way in a strange environment.  As an immigrant who made aliya as a child from Argentina with his family, Isaac watched his father struggle and get beaten down by the bureaucracy and unscrupulous business partners as he tried to support his family.

As a self-described committed Zionist, that’s an experience Isaac vows he will try and prevent for as many Ethiopian immigrants as he can train and launch into a better life.

10 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.