Jake Herriotts: celebrating the pickle and his survival

Herriotts started bringing the pickles he was making as a hobby into the office, to share with his colleagues. “They were inhaling them on sight, shaking me [demanding] more, more, more!”

JAKE HERRIOTTS (photo credit: HARRY ERLICH)
JAKE HERRIOTTS
(photo credit: HARRY ERLICH)
At 31, Jake Herriotts is much too young to be a Holocaust survivor. Rather, he survived a near-fatal car accident when a car going 100 mph (161 kph) crashed into him. At age 19, he sustained massive injuries.
“I should be dead. On paper, I should have died. I had an out-of-body experience,” Herriotts noted.
Treated at the University of Maryland Medical System’s Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, which Herriotts called “the best place you could nearly die anywhere in the world,” it took nearly eight months before he was able to walk.
Three years later, he still walked with the help of a cane and a brace.
“It took four years before I looked like a human again. I was just so messed up and was put back together like Humpty Dumpty,” he explained.
Herriotts was born to a working-class family in Maryland. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was a tradesman, running a commercial boiler repair business. Herriotts’s mother, with whom he is exceedingly close, was born Jewish but had no Jewish identity to speak of. His father, whom Herriotts described as “a legend of a man,” was not Jewish.
Growing up “not rich” in what Herriotts called “Yuppieville” might have contributed to his self-declared identity as a teenage rebel. By his own account he “did not fit in, smoked weed, drove a 1969 Camaro and listened to rock music.”
Besides the multiyear recovery from Jake’s accident, the Herriotts family was dealt another massive trauma. Immediately before the car crash, Jake’s father was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a life-threatening lung disease, to which he succumbed six years ago.
Herriotts called his mother, who was simultaneously caring for a husband diagnosed with a fatal lung disease and a son who almost died, “crazy strong.” Fighting to keep Jake out of an outpatient facility, his mother turned their living room into a hospital room, renting whatever equipment he needed for his rehabilitation.
Jake spent the insurance settlement money collecting pricey artistic bongs made from art glass. He became fairly well known in the niche world of art glass bongs.
“I used them as healing objects,” Herriotts reported.
That phase ended when Jake was 25 and his father, whom Jake described as “a gladiator of a man,” died. Living on disability, Herriotts was uncomfortable and bored with his unproductive life. “I was living independently, thinking independently, but not doing anything with myself.”
So when a Jewish relative suggested that he visit go to Israel with Birthright, it wasn’t hard to convince him. At 26, he had two reactions to the suggestion. His first reaction was “Free trip anywhere? Hell yeah!” and his second was “Tell me what Israel is.”
He came to Israel with Birthright and took an 11-day extension.
“I was on a super eat-pray-love vibe, just loving Israel,” he laughingly reported. When the time came for his return flight, he didn’t want to leave.
In the end, he boarded that plane, returned to the US, broke the news to his family and friends, sold off everything he could, and returned to Israel with two backpacks and zero plans.
June 2016 was his first month back. He volunteered at a hostel, cooking and baking. The next month he enrolled in a short-term program at Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, “for people who found out they were Jewish yesterday.” Given Herriotts’s complete lack of Jewish education and identity, the program was a perfect match.
It was a craving for pickles that led to his current role as a pickle seller. “My buddy back home would bring pickles around. He’s like a green thumb, and so every time he had cucumbers in the garden, we would be blessed, once a year, with a jar of pickles. They were insane! We would inhale them in front of him and just shake him [demanding] more, more, more!”
When Herriotts’s “hankering for pickles” hit, he called his old friend for the recipe. A few months later, working his first permanent job as a customer support agent for a ride-share program in New York City, Herriotts started bringing the pickles he was making as a hobby into the office, to share with his colleagues. “They were inhaling them on sight, shaking me [demanding] more, more, more!”
It didn’t take long for him to decide that he’d rather make pickles that people loved than get yelled at by disgruntled commuters.
Being forced on short notice to leave a rented apartment in the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv when his landlord sold turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Needing to find accommodations quickly, Herriotts moved into an empty storefront on the ground floor in Jaffa. “It wasn’t a store when I moved in. There was nothing in here. It was a concrete slab with plumbing hookups and wiring coming out of the ceiling. No lights. No countertops. No furniture. No anything. It was just like a big closet with a glass front.”
For approximately 18 months, he worked the customer support job and gradually rehabbed the property into an apartment with a pickle store in front. And he did it all without borrowing any money.
Five months ago, The Pickle Jar opened for business at 16 Elazar ben Azariya in Jaffa. Since the store’s opening, he’s been doing small batch experimentation with 30 different pickle recipes, ranging from New York half-sours to falafel and shwarma-flavored pickles. He’s narrowed those down to the nine recipes he plans to produce regularly.
The Pickle Jar’s concept “is very cucumber pickle-centric. I have cucumber pickles in different flavors. I have them in vinegar and in salt. This is a place where pickle lovers can get the pickles they know and love and a place where pickle lovers can get pickles they might not ever have heard or thought of. It’s a place that celebrates the pickle.”
Herriotts calls the humble cucumber “a canvas for flavor,” and has no plans to turn his attention to pickling other foodstuffs. “In Israel, you don’t have that whole idea of fun flavors that excite you, centered around a cucumber-based pickle. That’s what’s new that I’m bringing. There are pickles in Israel, but there’s no other store that’s celebrating just pickles.”
“My mom always says to point all your arrows at one target. This is just me, making pickles, and being grateful for the people around me. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done with my life. People are genuinely excited, laughing, happy. I’m the neighborhood pickle guy. I give kids pickles on a stick. I get tons of joy from my customers.”
After years of physical and emotional trauma, since he got to Israel, Herriotts said, “My happiness has just been through the roof.”
“A Jewish soul grows better in Jewish soil. This place is healthy for me. All my barriers in life were broken down with what I had to go through. Israel changed me. Back home, I felt like a rebel, and here I feel like a normal person. It’s a much healthier environment here for me.
“I learned how to be a survivor through my accident. In Israel, I found a whole nation full of survivors. I’m Jewish. I’m a survivor. This is my place,” he concluded. 

For more about the magic Herriotts creates with the humble cucumber, look for picklejaryafo on Facebook and Instagram or his temporary website :
sites.google.com/view/picklejaryafo.