I love to celebrate anniversaries, especially when they are anniversaries of successful tourism businesses in Israel.
At the beginning of last summer, I got to know The Workshop Gush Etzion, owned by Mandy and Jeremy Broder of Efrat. It is a Judaica workshop in Rosh Tzurim where the whole family can learn how to design a piece, use specialized woodworking tools and create their own beautiful piece of Judaic art.
I was very excited about the idea that I had found an activity that families with children and adults of all ages could enjoy together.
Now as we approach the end of The Workshop’s first year, I sat down with Mandy and Jeremy to hear their thoughts on tourism, opening a business in the Gush and what they’re planning for the future.When did you run your first workshop?
We ran our first workshop in August 2016. We invited a few friends to come with their kids to see what we were doing. When we put the photos on Facebook, the bookings started to come in. We actually weren’t prepared for how quickly things took off and ended up having to take a few days here and there to prepare new stock in order to keep up with the demand. Looking back, it was as overwhelming as it was exciting.
What makes your activity unique to Israel?
Not only is our activity unique to Israel, but after doing some research, it seems there are no places doing what we do anywhere else in the world. We are a husband-and-wife team, and we create Judaic art.
All the projects created in The Workshop Gush Etzion are Judaica related. It’s not another wood shop where you can make furniture and other objects. Each item made during our sessions has a connection to our religion. Whether it be a salt container for the Shabbat table, a honey container for Rosh Hashana or a candle holder for Shabbat or Hanukka candles, each piece can be used to enhance the beauty of our religion in our homes.What was the hardest part of starting a new tourism business in Israel?
The hardest part has been gauging when the busy times are and learning how to fill the quieter times in between. Israeli tourism is very seasonal, and usually the high seasons happen during periods with holidays.
Jeremy and I create our own Judaic art that we sell across the world, as well as running the workshops; so when we’re busy with groups, it’s sometimes tricky to juggle them with our own artwork.
But being a business in Israel and especially in the Gush is very special. It is exciting to see how many people make a point of spending time visiting Gush Etzion, and we’re proud to be a new stop on the map.
How would you describe Israeli tourism and its potential?
Baruch Hashem, there are many people who choose to visit Israel with their families. Some people come pretty regularly and have seen all the usual tourist attractions. What we have created here is something new and exciting, and our sessions have proven to be a different experience to anything most people have done before.
Some families visit Israel only once in a while, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion like a bar or bat mitzva and are looking to make the trip as memorable as possible.
The chance to have an opportunity to enjoy an activity that works for all ages is pretty rare. People who are visiting with multiple generations get to enjoy a bonding experience where everyone has a chance to participate and show how creative they can be – whether they knew it beforehand or not.How do you feel that you have affected the Gush?
Tourism in the Gush has its ups and downs. During difficult times, when there are terror attacks in the area, people who don’t live here tend to stay away, and many businesses suffer economic losses.
On the other hand, we have had the opportunity to meet people who make a point of visiting during those times for the sole purpose of showing support to the inhabitants of Gush Etzion. Meeting people who refuse to be terrorized by what goes on around us is a privilege and gives us strength to keep on doing what we are doing.
Gush tourism continues to grow with new attractions, such as the Zomet Experience, Pat Bamelach, Deerland Adventure Park, Caliber 3 and some great new restaurants like Hachamama. Being 15 minutes outside Jerusalem, the Gush is a great place to spend half a day or a full day for locals and tourists.Is The Workshop Gush Etzion what you thought it would be one year in?
We really didn’t know what to expect when we opened The Workshop. Few people use their hands anymore to create things. Many people seem anxious when they use some of the machines for the first time, but it’s amazing to watch the transition as they begin to relax and enjoy what they’re doing after a very short time.
We have been blown away by people’s reactions to what we’ve created here. Reading the reviews on our Facebook page excites us every time.
Nearly a year on, we are gearing up for what we hope will be a busy summer season. We are expanding our work space to enable larger groups to participate in our sessions and have acquired more machinery to ensure that no time is wasted waiting in line to use a machine.What are you doing to encourage people to come back for a repeat visit?
We love the idea of people coming back to The Workshop for repeat vi sits, and have already had a number of families who have done so. We keep introducing new projects to our sessions in order to encourage people to come back for more. We have had a few participants tell us how working wit h their hands is so therapeutic for them.
We begin each session with the rules of The Workshop. One of our rules is no cellphones (unless you’re using it to take photos). We don’t want people to be distracted while they’re here with us. Our sessions run for about two and a half hours, but our participants are busy from the minute they walk in till the minute they leave (apart from the snack break we offer in the middle).What can we look forward to at The Workshop?
We are both artists and are not happy unless we are creating new things. The idea of being able to show people how to work with their hands is always exciting to us, and we will keep on introducing new ideas for people to work on.
We already incorporate a number of different materials in our projects besides the wood, such as fabrics, beading and mosaics. We have plans to start working with metals and glass too, so stay tuned…
The Workshop Gush Etzion
Rosh Tzurim, Gush Etzion
054-678-5813; email@example.com The writer is the founder of Fun In Jerusalem (www.funinjerusalem.com) and Party in Jerusalem (www.partyinjerusalem.com). She lives in Jerusalem with her husband and three kids and loves to inspire family fun. joanna@funinjerusalem.
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