When Sharon Chandally, 26, arrived in Tel Aviv from her home in New York City a few months ago, it was for a prolonged visit.
"After I graduated from university, I wanted to study Yemenite silversmithing with two of my grandfather's brothers, one in Jerusalem and one in Ramat Gan," says Chandally. "It seemed like the right time to come and study with them, and I was only planning on staying for five weeks and then returning to my studio in Brooklyn, but I soon realized that it wasn't enough time to even scratch the surface, so I decided to stay and become a returning citizen."
An independent, high-spirited and private person, Chandally was always attracted to art and music. She dabbled in sculpture and drawing as a child and later decided to create her own interdisciplinary university degree which combined art, music and physics.
Before starting, however, she completed one year of service in the IDF and then worked and traveled for two years.
"After the army, I went to New Zealand and Australia for a year. I got to see some of the Olympic events in Sydney in 2000 working as a hostess for the games," says Chandally.
She worked in a summer camp teaching metals and jewelry and taught pre-school for a while to pay for her periodic travels. In 2001, she enrolled at Cal State University in Long Beach, California - as far away from New York as possible. As part of the program she designed for herself, Chandally spent a semester abroad in Ghana learning how to play and build a traditional xylophone.
"Xylophones are a big part of the culture in Ghana," says Chandally. "I loved that experience, and even though I was one of the only white students, I never felt threatened."
Her courses at Cal State, which included wood carving and blacksmithing, led to a greater interest in jewelry-making.
After graduation in 2005, Chandally returned to New York, got a job working with some established jewelers in Manhattan and rented a studio for her own work in Brooklyn.
"I had always been fascinated by traditional Yemenite silversmithing, but I started making jewelry for my degree and then fell in love with it," she says.
The eldest of six girls, Chandally was born and raised in New York City. Both of her parents are Israelis of Yemenite descent and met through a mutual friend while they were abroad in New York.
Chandally's sister Leemor moved to Israel after traveling and completing her army service last year. Chandally's paternal grandmother, who now lives in Ramat Gan, and maternal grandmother, who resides in Herzliya, both came from Yemen as young girls.
"It took them around three months to travel from Yemen to Israel back in the 1940s, having had to leave all their precious and valuable belongings behind."
"I already have Israeli citizenship and know Israel well, so it was more a question of deciding where I want to be right now rather than deciding where I'll stay forever," says Chandally of the unexpected transition from New York to Tel Aviv.
With her sister Leemor and many other family members already here, the transition was relatively easy for Chandally.
"I decided to come to Israel in February so I could study with my grandfather's brothers because both of them are getting older and each one has a lot to teach about different veins of Yemenite traditions, having grown up in Yemen and practiced silversmithing since they were children."
"It's hard to find time for a routine when you depend upon other people's schedules," says Chandally, who studies with her grandfather's brothers as often as they feel well enough to teach. "I spend a lot of hours in my studio, and I go to the beach a lot. I'm never bored and always find myself wishing I had more time."
In a comfortable apartment near the beach, Chandally lives with Leemor in Tel Aviv.
"I love the beach and we often go for barefoot runs along the water. It's nice to have that option, living here in Tel Aviv. I would only dream about this in New York."
Chandally's best friend, whom she met while serving in the Israeli army, lives in Yaffo. But many of her friends are also bi-nationals and spend time between Israel and other countries.
"I'm friends with all different types of people from all over the place," Chandally says. "I have friends who are in and out of the country a lot like I used to be, but I also have Israeli friends."
A burgeoning jeweler, Chandally shared a studio with a Tunisian silversmith on Bograshov Street for several months when she arrived. A few weeks ago, she found a workplace of her own in Tel Aviv.
"It's in the Kerem Hatemanim neighborhood, a really amazing place only a block and a half away from the Shuk Hacarmel, two blocks from Allenby and just up the road from all the Yemenite restaurants," says Chandally. "It's a nice, small space perfect for working on my own line."
For Chandally, her work holds an even deeper meaning because of its connection to her family roots. Symbolically, she uses real tree roots in some of her castings and then solders delicate textures and patterns into the metal.
"I use my understanding of the Yemenite traditions to develop my own techniques. When I go to watch my grandfather's brothers, they tell a lot of stories as they work and try to teach me about life and the world we live in - that is also a big part of the lesson. It has been incredible."
Around her neck and in her ears are two of her most recent creations - a chain-link necklace and a pair of silver earrings.
"I love kinetic things, and I'm a total pyro[maniac] so working with fire is great fun for me," says Chandally.
Chandally's English sounds similar to any other American from New York, minus the nasal accent. Also a native speaker of Hebrew, English remains her stronger language.
"We spoke English in school and Hebrew at home," says Chandally of her American-Israeli upbringing. "I don't really have an accent, but Israelis sometimes ask me where I'm from. They sometimes hear small things in my Hebrew that differ from a native speaker."
Chandally grew up in a traditional home where she and her family always broke bread together on Friday nights.
"My Dad attends synagogue, where the Yemenite community in New York is very close-knit."
Chandally says she respects Jewish tradition and feels connected to it, but does not follow every rule. "I like to eat kosher and I maintain specific traditions. I have a lot of respect for Judaism."
"I'm from New York, but I don't feel American," says Chandally. "I grew up in New York so it's always going to be home to me, but I feel strongly connected to Israel. I've always felt like I had two homes."
Aside from her sisters and parents, the majority of Chandally's family live in Israel, and she has an undeniably strong connection to her Yemenite roots.
"I'm working on my own line of jewelry right now, but as for future plans in the larger scheme, I don't have a clue yet," says Chandally. "Things change all the time, but right now, I'm happy where I am."
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