Handmade in the Holy Land

Knitted hat by Chava Meira Ben-Zion of Royal Crowns Headwear (photo credit: SACHA GORELIK/THE SABRA PATCH)
Knitted hat by Chava Meira Ben-Zion of Royal Crowns Headwear
Sacha Gorelik is turning her early struggles in Israel into an opportunity to help Israeli artists and craftspeople.
Gorelik made aliya at a difficult age. Just 14 when her family moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh from London in 2005, she spent the first three years of high school in three different schools.
Unable to find her place, she took her educational future into her own hands, eventually completing high school with an external matriculation diploma, a necessary prerequisite for admission to college in Israel.
Completing an external matriculation program required Gorelik to learn her way around the official educational bureaucracy in Israel.
Since her parents were new immigrants and she wasn’t enrolled in any high school, she had to figure everything out herself. It was her own fierce determination that got her through.
Despite the challenges of her teenage aliya journey, Gorelik never really considered leaving Israel.
“Once I got through the whole high-school stage, there was nothing for me to go back to England for,” she told In Jerusalem.
Her five siblings, parents, grandfather and cousins are all living in Israel. Today, she has a college degree in social sciences and is married and the mother of two young sons. She is also a newly minted entrepreneur.
The story of her entrepreneurship began when she searched online, as a consumer, for artistic gifts from Israel. Despite the existence of thousands of artists and craftspeople in Israel, she noticed the same small handful of artists dominating the online Judaica market.
The opportunity became clear.
“There are so many amazing and creative people in Israel who needed a platform to reach an international audience,” said Gorelik. So she created one.
That’s how The Sabra Patch, an online marketplace for Israeli artists to sell their handmade products, was born.
“I want to help. I saw a need to create something to help Israeli sellers get out there and sell their products. I learned from my own high school experience that you have to push yourself and take the initiative, because no one is going to do it for you.”
Launched in January 2016, The Sabra Patch features arts and crafts from dozens of Israeli artists. Gorelik estimates that half of the current inventory is Jewish ritual items like mezuza cases, dreidels and halla covers. The other half of the items listed are jewelry, home goods, baby products, school supplies, paintings, clothing and more.
She chose her tagline Handmade in the Holy Land to appeal to Jewish and Christian communities who want to support Israel. The Sabra Patch is similar in concept to the e-commerce website Etsy, which has over a million active merchants selling their handmade items.
“Lots of Israeli artists sell on Etsy,” said Gorelik, but customers on Etsy are not specifically looking for Israeli sellers.
Part of her focus on Israeli artists is motivated by her desire for her customers to “really get to know the artists and learn about life in Israel. I love the people behind the products. There are so many people from different cultures, countries and backgrounds in Israel. I interview the artists for the site and try to find out what inspires them.”
Social media are a crucial part of the business plan for The Sabra Patch. It’s where Gorelik finds both customers and artists to feature.
“On Facebook, I discovered a Holocaust survivor in her 80s. She paints in order to supplement her government stipends.”
As a result of learning the back story of Zeni Rosenstein through a blog post on The Sabra Patch, several of Gorelik’s customers traveled to meet the Ukrainian survivor in person.
Working with a tight budget, Gorelik has lots of ideas to grow the business and add features to the website.
At this stage, she’s starting off small, working from home, and plans to build it from there.
“I’m putting my whole heart and soul and my own money into this venture. I really want to help the Israeli artists and sellers get exposure and make online sales.”
To that end, she’s created a Facebook group for her sellers, where she shares weekly tips about selling online, helping them learn sales skills such as product photography, packaging and shipping.
She’d like the site to expand to represent hundreds of sellers.
“My lofty goal is to have thousands of artists on The Sabra Patch,” she admitted. Her market research revealed that there is a huge community of artists and crafters, mostly women, in Israel. One Israeli arts-andcrafts Facebook group she found has more than 16,000 members. Although it’s been easier to get Anglo sellers to join because the site is in English, Gorelik welcomes anyone in Israel who sells handmade goods. She helps Hebrew-speaking sellers polish their listings. Eventually, she hopes to expand so that The Sabra Patch becomes “a place for people to discover anything that Israelis make by hand, including food and furniture.”
Another of her goals is to help haredi women who make crafts and have no idea how to get their items to market.
“I struggled when I first came to Israel, and now I help artists who are struggling to reach an international market.”
In Gorelik’s view, The Sabra Patch complements Israel’s hi-tech reputation.
“Everybody knows Israel as the start-up nation. I want to show people another side of Israel, which is the creative, colorful side. I think of each artist as an individual start-up.
“The Sabra Patch is about people discovering really beautiful, high-quality, handmade products that are meaningful to give as gifts to people. I encourage everyone to visit sabrapatch.com and sign up for our mailing list.”