Asher and Ruthie Kaplan are something of an immigrant success story. They met in Israel and got married here in 2014, and now run a successful wellness center together in Rehavia called Spark Body & Soul. Spark offers clients a myriad of high-quality massage and facial treatments, but also something intangible; something that can only be attributed to the couple who run it: heart.
Ruthie (Bergman) Kaplan’s story began in Overland Park, Kansas, where she grew up in a very pro-Israel family, and she visited Israel often on family vacations. Ruthie pursued her passion of esthetics by studying at the Atelier Esthétique Institute of Esthetics in New York, from which she graduated in 2009. The founder of the school, Annette Hanson, is a renowned figure in the esthetics world.
“I was fortunate to have her as a mentor in the beginning,” Ruthie recalls. “She was very active in my schooling and was always very supportive of me taking off time for Shabbat and holidays. She is Jewish actually, but not observant. She is a trained nurse who studied skincare in France and is a leader in the industry. Having the chance to study with her, along with other amazing teachers, was a real opportunity for me.”
Fast forward a few years, and Ruthie was once again visiting Israel. She met Asher, who would soon become her husband. The two got engaged, after which Ruthie went back to America to prepare to make aliyah. “Living in Israel, and especially Jerusalem, was always a fairy tale, and then it came true when I moved here suddenly,” Ruthie says. “I was 25, and it was a good time to move.”
Asher’s path to Jerusalem (and to Ruthie) was a slightly more winding one. Born in Safed to a Chabad family that moved to New York when he was eight, Asher eventually settled in Boca Raton, Florida. After graduating high school, he immediately went to study massage therapy. He became licensed and certified in 2006.
“I always had a natural healing ability and that was coupled with the fact that I also wanted to make more money than the minimum-wage jobs that I was seeing at that age,” Asher explains. “I was working at a bakery and waking up at 5 a.m. to serve bagels and lox. It was not fulfilling. I knew there must be something better. A deeper reason that I was drawn to massage is that I wanted to learn how to give therapeutic touch after growing up in a house where touch was fairly frowned upon. I wasn’t taught how to touch in a healthy way. Learning massage was learning how to connect to people in a therapeutic way. When I studied massage, I didn’t necessarily look at it as a career. I also didn’t think I would open up my own spa someday. I just thought it was a good skill to have.”
ASHER SUBSEQUENTLY worked as a massage therapist in the US for the next few years at a franchise clinic called Massage Envy, where he managed to build up a nice clientele. He also spent time working for a physical therapist and for a chiropractor. Gaining that medical experience was important, as Asher learned how to work with people who needed massage for more than just relaxation.
He then came back to Israel and stopped doing massage for a number of years. He went to the army, where he served as a medic in a combat unit for 18 months, and then attended the Ma’aleh Film School in Jerusalem.
“That has been a dream of mine to study film since I was 15,” Asher says. “It’s on the back-burner right now, but it’s still very much a passion of mine. In my third year of school, I met Ruthie and we decided to get married. We started thinking about how we were going to support ourselves, and film was not a realistic choice. The first time Ruthie and I met, we joked that it would be cool if we put our talents together, and of course we ended up doing that. It’s funny how both our fields go hand in hand.”
Once they were married, they bought the essential equipment and opened up a small clinic. It was slow going in the beginning, but as both are highly skilled and motivated, they began to garner more and more returning clients.
“We realized that we needed a name,” Asher recalls. “Spark was created out of two words: Spa and ARK (the acronym of Asher and Ruthie Kaplan). It’s a subliminal message. A lot of our clients don’t even know. Ark also has the connotation of escaping the storm; of safety and healing. That’s something that for us is really inspiring. We help people feel sheltered. That’s what an urban escape is, which at the spa is literally a combination treatment where a client receives a facial and a massage, but on another level, it means an escape from the craziness of urban Jerusalem. We added ‘Body and Soul’ to the name because what we do is very physical, but it’s also inclusive of the soul. There is a spiritual intention that we give over in every treatment; to help the person heal physically and spiritually. If it’s just physical, I think there’s a missing element. These are spiritual practices.”
After a year of offering massages and facials in their small clinic, it was time for Spark to relocate so the business could grow. The original location by the Mahaneh Yehuda market had its advantages, but the noise pollution was outweighing the benefits of being centrally located. So they moved Spark to Rehavia in 2016, and it has been growing steadily ever since. There is now a full massage therapist staff, including two women, as well as another female esthetician.
“THERE IS something called face mapping,” Ruthie explains. “The chin for example, correlates to reproductive health. If young people are getting a lot of wrinkles on their foreheads, that can be a symptom of dehydration. Of course sometimes it’s really soul pain that needs to be dealt with on a spiritual level. We give what we can in the way that we would want to receive it, remembering that it’s all connected, body and soul.”
The Kaplans call Spark an “eco-green” spa and wellness center. In addition to the range of treatments offered, it also hosts workshops and wellness events, including a weekly guided “Mystical Musical Meditation” led by Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz. Spark incorporates the unique personality of Jerusalem’s residents and the Kaplans’ own community by displaying artwork from local artists. Another integral aspect of Spark’s ethos is that all products used during treatments have no harmful chemicals.
“In the beginning, I didn’t make my own products,” Ruthie explains. “But nothing met my ethical standards, and so the dream of creating my own product line was born after we moved to Rehavia. Our product line is something I can stand by and believe in. There was a lot of trial and error and fine-tuning, along with fun experimenting in the creation of it. There’s a lot of science. I learned about oils on a molecular level, which has been really interesting for me. Before coming to Israel, I was on the path to study bioengineering for product development and to attend medical school for healing and advancing my skin therapy knowledge. I love science, art and beauty, and the combination of all three.”
The Spark products, which are all natural and made entirely from edible ingredients, currently consist of three facial cleansers, two facial moisturizers, two facial exfoliants, and a body moisturizer. “I’m really into simplicity,” Ruthie continues. “We have quality stuff, it doesn’t need to be a hundred steps. I want to brush my teeth and wash my face; I don’t want to be in the bathroom for an hour every morning.”
Spark offers massages including deep tissue, Swedish, remedial sport, reflexology, hot stone, and pre- and post-natal. Asher also studied modalities such as myofascial release, craniosacral and acupressure, which he incorporates into treatments. “Whether it’s a returning client or someone seeing me for the first time, I always analyze where the person is mentally and how their body is physically at that time,” Asher adds. “I love doing treatments that really get to the root of an issue by focusing the entire or majority of the time on one specific problem area.”
AS FOR facials, every treatment starts with a skin analysis. After the initial assessment, there is a cleansing, using one of their original formulas, then a steam to exfoliate, followed by a dust exfoliating powder. After the face is fully prepped and cleansed, the client can choose to have extractions and the use of a high frequency (HF), ozone therapy machine. That might sound futuristic and unique but, ironically, it was developed in the 1800s. The HF machine produces ozone, which kills bacteria, balances oil production, and is overall therapeutic and cleansing for the skin, as well as being anti-inflammatory.
“I believe that facial massage is the most important and effective part of a facial treatment,” Ruthie says. “Using a customized blend of oils, I typically focus on lymphatic drainage, circulation, deep tissue and facial sculpting.”
Ruthie created Spark’s massage protocol after being diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a facial paralysis that typically affects one half of the face. She learned about what Bell’s palsy is and learned even more about the facial muscles and the carefully crafted design of the face. She would do facial exercises and practice self-massage daily, feeling her face and wherever it was numb and seeing slight changes every day. Ruthie is now completely healed, but from that painful period, her signature facial massage was born. She now considers Bell’s palsy to be one of the greatest gifts she was ever given.
“The fact that we are a married couple who live and work together was a big challenge that we have grown from gradually,” Asher states. “We find time in our schedules to do our own things, which is very healthy. The other side of that is when you put two people together and this synergy gets created, that’s what we’ve been able to tap into. That’s what’s special about Spark, people feel that when they come in. God willing, we’ll be able to help heal many more people.”
As this writer was privileged to receive both a massage and a facial at Spark, I can confidently say that every step along the way during a treatment is done with skill, care, and the highest attention to details. But most important, you walk away from Spark feeling loved.
“Since Israel is still such a young country, now is the time for building a foundation,” Ruthie states. “Now is the time that the history of this young nation is being crafted. Israel is a land rich with opportunity, a place where hard work and perseverance will pay off and dreams truly do come true. We feel Spark is laying down a small piece of our own personal groundwork in that foundation of the building of a modern-day Israel; of being part of the change we want to see here in this land. Specifically, Spark represents good customer service, respect, responsibility, kindness and contributing our talents in an effort to increase natural healing, peace and acceptance in this beautiful country we are blessed to call home.”
For more information: sparkbodysoul.com
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