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(photo credit: Courtesy of Golan Gold)
Nestled in the mountains of the Golan Heights lies an artists' village, Moshav Aniam, filled with one-of-a-kind cottages each displaying its unique wares, ranging from jewelry to pottery to Judaica. The fourth cottage on the left bears the name "Golan Gold" and inside you'll find not only rings, earrings and necklaces but also three generations of history.
Joel Friedman, the owner of Golan Gold, learned the craft from his father in New York City. His father learned it from his own father, who had studied jewelry-making in Eastern Europe just after the turn of the century.
The story of Golan Gold actually begins in Transylvania in 1888, when Friedman's grandfather David was born. David moved to Budapest, where he started studying the art of gold and silversmithing in 1903 at age 15, finishing his studies in 1906 and earning his certificate in 1907. In 1912, diploma in hand, the eldest Friedmann (the second "n" was later dropped) immigrated to the United States and joined many of his family members already in New York. David joined forces with another Hungarian Jew to create the company DF & Kemeny at 105 Fulton Street. DF & Kemeny established a respectable reputation making handmade platinum and diamond chains. After Kemeny died David expanded the operation.
DURING THIS time David also met and married Molly Holstein and started a family in Brooklyn. Jack was born in 1920, Henry in 1922 and Sampson Lester in 1923. All three Friedman sons fought in World War II: Jack as a Master Sergeant in the Medical Corps stationed on Okinawa, Henry as a Corporal and Instruments Specialist in the Army Air Corps stationed in Cuba and Lester as a 2nd Lieutenant in US Air Force stationed on Tinian Island. After flying in 25 missions, including in the "Flying Super Fortress" B29 over Japan, Lester was bestowed the Air Force's Distinguished Flying Cross for outstanding bravery. All three sons returned physically unharmed and Lester and Henry joined their father in the workshop, creating what was to become the successful business David Friedman and Sons. The initials "DFS" became their trademark and were stamped onto each piece of jewelry they made. After David died in 1956, Lester and Henry continued the family tradition.
Lester and his wife, Lila, also had three children, two sons and a daughter, and still live in the same house in Queens that they purchased in 1948. Matthew was born in 1949, Joel in 1951 and Amy in 1955. Joel fondly recalls the times that he and Matthew would ride the subway from Queens into Manhattan to hang out in their father's workshop. Whether they saw it as their birthright or not, the brothers had the passion in their blood and both learned the trade. Matthew is in sales and expanded the business to top retail stores throughout the US. Joel went into craftsmanship with only on-the-job-training.
JOEL'S HISTORY with Israel began in 1964 when Joel and his family made the trip for his bar mitzva. He says he "fell in love with the place" and returned in 1971 after his first year of college to volunteer on Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan, where he was assigned to work in the banana fields. Joel's connection to Israel's North, and the Jordan Valley in particular, was born. He spent the next 10 years traveling between Israel and New York, eventually making aliya in 1981 and settling back on Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan. He married Shoshana, the daughter of Iraqi immigrants, on the kibbutz in 1987 and then moved to Maoz Zion to be near his new bride's family. The couple has three children, and the family moved to Moshav Aniam in the Golan Heights in 1997, and four years ago Joel opened Golan Gold, his gallery, workshop and studio.
When Joel's not dealing with customers he works to perfect the "seamless" braiding technique taught to him by his father, who perfected the art using gold wire 40 years ago. Joel would practice on copper wire, thinking he would never get it right, but now says that after decades of practice sometimes even he can't find the seam. The braided rings are then laid over a single band of gold, following Halacha for wedding bands. His rings can be made in any size, from silver or gold, and can be inlaid with precious gems. Joel also designs and creates bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pins and makes custom jewelry.
LIVING AND working in the Golan Heights make both Joel's home and business susceptible to political instability. He tries not to think about what would happen if the Golan were returned to Syria, but says he "would be very sad if his family has to leave."
Meanwhile, he continues to appreciate the land he lives and works on by attracting locals and tourists alike to the Aniam Artists' Village. When Lester, now 86, visits Israel he ends up spending most of his time doing what he loves - making jewelry in the studio. Joel feels it is an "honor to continue to learn from him."
Joel's younger son, Daniel, has joined his father in the shop, and might possibly become the fourth generation of Friedman jewelry makers. Joel says it would give him great satisfaction, but doesn't pressure any of his children to do so. He does admit he would love to tack another "S" on to the family logo, which currently reads DFSS, David Friedman and Sons and Sons, and is discreetly stamped on every piece of his jewelry, inlaying each piece with 96 years of history.
Golan Gold - Joel Friedman
Studio (04) 699-9345, Moshav Aniam