Aromatherapy makes scents

A world traveler with a nose for adventure develops his sensory talents into a unique business and lifestyle.

(photo credit: ELISHA SAND)
Avraham Sand is a master aromatherapist whose organic essential oils and guidance are sought by natural healthcare practitioners across the globe. His 2012 book, Mystical Aromatherapy: The Divine Gift of Fragrance , results from 25 years of researching Jewish insights into fragrance. The American-Israeli citizen is a resident of Moshav Me’or (Mevo) Modi’im, the central Israeli community founded by followers of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
“Before coming to Israel, I became exposed to different spiritual pathways that have positively impacted my life. But from my Jewish background, it just never dawned on me before I came to Israel that Judaism could be a spiritual path,” he explains. “I associated Judaism with musty synagogues and their moldy books. It seems that my sense of smell has always guided me.”
Although he was an honors math major at Northeastern University in Boston, Sand was encouraged by his calculus professor to enhance his education by leaving school and seeing the world.
So in his second year he took off, traveling mostly by hitchhiking throughout North America, Europe and Asia over the next 20 years. Having visited and/or lived in 49 of the 50 states, he considers himself an expat of the United States at large.
“One summer I hitchhiked from Texas to Alaska. After touring North America for a few years, I flew from Newfoundland to London and made my way to North Africa. I hitchhiked overland from Morocco to India, including some very special time touring throughout Iran and Afghanistan. Some days I walked for many miles through desert or wilderness,” Sand relates.
“During one three-year period, I spent a total of only about $800, living very comfortably. I carried all of my survival gear in my backpack so I could set up for the night in the middle of nowhere, anywhere. I found that the less money I spent, the more I would be forced to interact with people and really get to know the country I was visiting on a much deeper level. I avoided tourist areas.”
To fund his travels, he purchased unique items available in one country – everything from turquoise in Iran to sitars in India – and sold them in another country where the items were less common and much more valuable.
The year 1975 found Sand entering Israel over the Allenby Bridge after journeys through Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. He caught a bus at the bridge and ascended the hills to Jerusalem at sunset, a scene he recalls as a “really glorious” way to arrive in the Holy Land, especially compared to flying into Ben-Gurion Airport.
He worked at several secular kibbutzim until his three-month tourist visa was about to expire. He was eager to continue on to India and Nepal.
“On my last day in Israel, I strolled into a Jerusalem pizza shop. A tall man called out, ‘Welcome home, brother!’ as he flipped pizza dough in the air without taking his eyes off me. Later he took me home and turned his living room into my bedroom.”
Over the next several months, the man from the pizza shop connected Sand to Judaism and introduced him to Carlebach’s hevra of about 300 people, who soon became like close family.
“I ended up staying in Israel for a while before hitchhiking east as I had planned. Whenever Reb Shlomo came to Israel and we would all get together, it was like an experience from after the Messiah arrives. Totally out of this world.”
Sand joined his new friends when they established the moshav in 1976, and partnered in a health-foods business to help support the community. They introduced new foods to Israel such as granola, tempeh, bulgur and tofu.
Meanwhile, he studied at the London School of Aromatherapy and with many fragrance specialists over the course of years. In his extensive travels, he has visited most of his oil producers from Morocco to Nepal. Sand’s AvAroma website offers 350 unique aromatherapy products he has developed, and he runs an online school that has trained more than 400 aromatherapy students throughout the world.
A proprietary testing technique he teaches practitioners enables them to zero in on which oils and formulations to use with every client in each treatment – an approach confirmed in the Book of Genesis, he says.
“Along the way to becoming an aromatherapist, in my Torah studies I kept finding references to aromatics,” Sand relates. “I compiled a list of about 50 questions, for instance, ‘As the Ten Commandments were proclaimed, the Midrash says that a certain fragrance came into the world. What fragrance was that?’
“I went to the biggest rabbis I could find including top kabbalists, and the best ones could only partly answer maybe two or three of my questions. I discovered that the topic of fragrance is a huge blind spot today in Torah knowledge.”
Sand paid researchers to comb through the Torah and midrashic literature in order to answer his questions and assemble an understanding of what the Jewish tradition says about fragrance.
The answers are compiled in his book, which includes both mystical insights and practical information on using essential oils in massage, bath and inhalation treatments, and as natural perfumes.
Sand met his future wife, Leah Rivka, at a Purim party in Jerusalem in 1986, and proposed not long afterward at a Carlebach concert. They were married by Reb Shlomo in Jerusalem and then together established an aromatherapy business in Oregon, producing products ultimately sold in more than 300 American stores.
After returning to Israel in the mid-1990s, they operated an aromatherapy shop, Arugot HaBosem, in downtown Jerusalem for three years and continued building the practice. One of their children is a professional aromatherapist and herbalist who makes lotions and creams from her father’s organic essential oils.
Sand returns to Oregon almost every summer to teach aromatherapy, but isn’t tempted to move back.
“It would be easier to live in Oregon, but God has really blessed us being here in Israel. Our community on the moshav is truly fantastic. Reb Shlomo always told each person, ‘You are the best!’ and by now everyone really is the best at whatever they do. We have friends here who we have been very close to for decades. We are all family.”