It’s a weekday lunchtime and Jem’s Beer Factory in Petah Tikva is full to
capacity, with a line of people waiting outside. “What would you like to drink?”
Jeremy Welfeld, Jem’s founder, asks as we sit down to chat. I ask for soda but
he insists I also try a small glass of Jem’s Pils, which won’t affect my
concentration, he says, as it’s only 5 percent alcohol. Pils is one of six beers
brewed in the factory that houses both the brewery and a kosher restaurant.
Behind us are huge stainless-steel vats in which amber beer is being brewed as
we speak. Welfeld jumps up every so often to adjust the temperature, lift the
lid and stir the brew. “It’s an exact science,” he explains, and one that has
taken him years to perfect. Jem’s is the successful culmination of his long-held
ambition to brew beer in Israel.
Welfeld was born in Boston in 1965 and
when he was a young child his family moved to Washington, DC, where he attended
the local Jewish day school. In 1983, he visited Israel for the first time, at
which point he decided to make aliya. He spent six months in yeshiva and then
joined a Nahal group as a new immigrant in 1984.
“I served two years,
nine months and 26 days,” he recalls. “I was in Lebanon and Gaza with the Nahal
Shortly before he completed his army service he met his
future wife, Sandra, when she was 18 and here on a youth program from Brazil.
“She told me then that we would get married,” he says, but it wasn’t until
August 1992 that they tied the knot in Sao Paulo.
Meanwhile, he had
decided in 1987 that at the age of 22 he was ready for higher education. He
returned to the US to study, intending always to come back to live in Israel. He
spent two years in culinary school in the Catskills and followed that with a
hospitality and management degree from Florida International
“That’s where I got the beer bug,” he says. “In the mid-’80s
there was a beer renaissance in the US and for the first time I was able to
taste fresh, unfiltered, aromatic beer.”
After his marriage to Sandra, he
worked for a catering company and organized numerous events at the White House
during the Clinton administration. Now living back in Washington, he began
brewing beer at home.
“I was brewing 20 liters at a time but I soon
realized that if I was serious about opening a brewery when I went back to
Israel, I needed to understand the science of beer.”
microbiology and brewing science at UC Davis in California, followed by an
advanced brewing course at the Siebel Institute of Technology in
“I put on 10 pounds in 10 weeks,” he quips. “But now I was ready
to make aliya again, this time with my wife, two kids, $5,000 and a business
THE FAMILY first lived in the absorption center in
“I worked in the local construction industry and commuted to
the US for roughly half the year to work there during the catering high season,”
But after a while, the pressure began to tell on Sandra. She had
a full-time job in a hi-tech company and the couple now had three
“It was tough for her, managing on her own so much of the time.
In 2003 she told me either I had to figure out a way to make enough money
working in Israel, or we were going back to the US. I found work in a restaurant
and set up a small catering company in Ra’anana. We were just about managing to
survive financially when I met Dan Alon. Twenty years after beer first came into
my life, I finally found a partner who had the credibility and sophistication to
find the serious money we needed to turn my dream into a reality.”
took another five years for them to find the right venue – an old factory in
Petah Tikva’s industrial zone – and sufficient capital.
Welfeld worked on
much of the construction himself and finally, in 2009, Jem’s Beer Factory was
open for business.
The Welfeld’s fourth child was born in 2006, and the
family still lives in Ra’anana.
Jeremy routinely puts in a 15-hour day,
but he is Shabbat observant so once a week the family will always be home
“Shabbat is a gift: there’s no phone, no computer; just time to
be with Sandra and the kids,” he says. It hasn’t proved a drawback in business
terms, either. “I was told I was out of my mind to close the pub on Shabbat, but
being kosher allows us to get a mixed crowd of secular and religious Israelis
and the atmosphere is the better for it.”
His advice to new immigrants is
“Persistence,” he says emphatically. “This country tests
you, but be persistent and be patient. I had a lucrative job planning events at
the White House, and then in Israel I was filling pitot in a restaurant. The
challenges you face only strengthen you, and always remember that simply being
here is the most important thing.”
He doesn’t have any plans as yet to
open any more branches of Jem’s.
“I’d like the beer to be a national
product, but as it is we’re brewing 3,600 liters a week. I’m taking it one day
at a time, one customer at a time.”
His Hebrew is very good, allowing him
to interact with his customers, something he relishes.
“What we are
producing here is medicine – beer is the beverage of friendship. It’s the
perfect drink for Israel, with its hyper-connected and hyperactive society. This
is a place for Israelis to sit and chill.”
It has been a very long
journey but Welfeld clearly loves and appreciates every minute of his life as a
brewmaster in Israel.