Weaver and fiber-arts teacher Ja’el Batyah Hatch lives with her husband, three daughters, two sons and four chickens in Yavne’el, Lower Galilee. In her home business, Studio Tiferet HaYetsirah (http://jaelbatyah.wix.com/studiotiferet), she creates textiles, using the SAORI method of freestyle hand weaving.
It’s a rural existence in Yavne’el. Since arriving in Israel in August 2008, the family has also tended goats, ducks, dogs, cats and a host of other creatures.
Hatch, now 38, grew up in London, Ontario and worked at Camp Ramah in Canada in the summers of her last two years of geography and urban studies at York University in Toronto. Meeting the Israeli emissaries at Ramah got her interested in Israel, and a Birthright trip convinced her to plan on aliya after graduating in May 2013.
“In July 2003 I met my husband, Pinhas, in Toronto,” she relates.
“We dated for 10 days, got engaged and married three weeks later because, as I said when he proposed, ‘Well, I am making aliya on September 2 so we will need to make the wedding on August 31!’ Nothing was going to stop my moving to Israel,” says Hatch, who describes herself as determined, stubborn, sensitive, outgoing and friendly.
Staying temporarily in Kiryat Sefer (Modi’in Illit), the newlyweds went to Safed for Rosh Hashana and moved there before Yom Kippur. However, their experience was fraught with frustration as many government agencies were on an extended strike. Six months later, with their first baby on the way, they moved back to Canada.
“The draw of returning to familiar grounds, having supportive family close by, the expectation of a new baby, the marriage of close friends of ours as well as our parents’ offer to help pay for our flights back home, all helped hasten our yerida,” says Hatch.
Four and a half years later, they decided to try again.
A friend loaned them the money for the plane tickets and the Hatches arrived in September with their two little girls.
“The biggest challenge was finding a place to call home,” she recalls. “Our initial plan was to settle in Bat Ayin so my husband could learn in the yeshiva for smicha [rabbinical ordination]. After three days we were informed that the yeshiva was closing and we would have to leave. We then traveled to Sharsheret near Netivot, where we stayed for almost three weeks with a gracious Israeli friend who was previously an extended house-guest of ours in Toronto. From there we made our way north to settle in Yavne’el. This is where we have planted our deep roots.”
She first laid eyes on Yavne’el on the drive to Safed in 2003. “We came cresting over the ridge by Ma’ayan Sharona [a natural spring], and I saw this most idyllic village in a huge valley,” she recalled.
Over the last few years, they have successfully encouraged additional Anglos to move to Yavne’el – six families (a total of 40 individuals) in the past year alone.
During their second month in Israel, Hatch’s two-year-old daughter developed kidney failure from E. coli poisoning and went on dialysis at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Miraculously, she recovered. The grateful mother says, “We were greatly helped by Hashem [God], friends and family who davened [prayed] for her as well as the amazing team of Drs. Daniella Magen and Shirley Pollack in the Pediatric Nephrology Institute.”Dream weaver
Hatch’s business grew out of a lifelong enjoyment of using her hands and imagination to create things of use and beauty.
“I learned to knit and sew from my grandmother and mother. I developed an interest in felting wool just before the birth of my oldest daughter. When she was joined by her sister, I proceeded to teach myself to spin raw wool into yarn.
“As our family continued to expand over the years, so did my interests. I learned about dyeing with natural dyes, the myriad of fibers that could be spun into threads and yarn as well as weaving.
“I built my own triangle looms and inkle looms and wove on a small two-shaft table loom. Although it was rewarding, I felt something was missing. My first love had always been spinning but I never found I could adequately express the beauty of my hand-spun yarns.
“In 2012 I discovered SAORI weaving while searching online for Japanese dress patterns. My SAORI journey began in May 2012 with the book Self Innovation through Free Weaving. I studied and learned from that book for over a year before my SAORI loom arrived from Japan.”
In July 2013, she took a three-day workshop at Serendipity SAORI Studio in New York and now is weaving her way toward becoming the first authorized SAORI studio and instructor in Israel.
She hopes to open a drop-in workshop/ studio with space for many artists to create side by side.
In addition, though she never used her college major professionally, she dreams of planning and building an ecological and sustainable “pocket neighborhood” in Yavne’el based on the model developed by US architect Ross Chapin.
“I have learned a lot through permaculture [self-sufficient agriculture] and I have many friends here in Yavne’el who are living the permaculture ethos. I am also interested in sustainable building techniques including straw bale construction, cob and rammed earth,” she says.
Hatch also finds time to be active in Yavne’el’s community affairs and to play on a local women’s volleyball team. She is studying Bikram yoga with a teacher in Haifa, and volunteers with the burial society (hevra kadisha) in the Tiberias region.
Hebrew was difficult for Hatch to learn because she has hearing loss and relies on body language and lip-reading to fill in the gaps.
“I finally attended ulpan five years ago, when my fourth child was five months old. It made such a difference in how I can interact with people. I still struggle with language but I am not worried about grammatical perfection – only with connecting to others,” she says.
She shares a humorous story to illustrate the point.
On an early bus to Jerusalem, the driver pulled into a rest stop and Hatch ran into the minimarket to buy some breakfast.
While waiting to pay, she looked outside and saw the bus starting to back out of its parking spot. Running out, she managed to flag down the driver.
“Didn’t you hear me say ‘two minutes’?” he scolded her in Hebrew.
“Two minutes!?” she replied in Hebrew.
“I heard 10 minutes! What can I possibly do in two minutes?” “Now I always double check with the driver exactly how long the break is: smoke, bathroom or food? Pick one.”
Hatch believes kindness can go a long way in calming stressed-out Israelis.
“Shabbat is a day of rest but so many people are still mentally occupied. A smile, a thoughtful gesture, a caring action – all these are simple ways to start to crack the facade of the quintessential Israeli,” she says.
And yet, she notes, “I love the willingness of Israelis to help, even if the initial encounter is somewhat abrasive.”