Shaping success

A school of jewelry and art, Yvel doubles as an absorption program, sending its students out into the workforce as trained professionals

Yvel absorption program jewellry making 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yvel absorption program jewellry making 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nestled within the Judean hills just outside Motza, along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, is the internationally eminent Yvel (pronounced E-vel) company’s jewelry design center and production factory.
This 4,645-square-meter state-of-the-art complex houses Yvel’s international luxury jewelry brand whose award-winning pearl and precious gemstone collections are sold across five continents in more than 650 exclusive retail stores.
Since its establishment in 1986 by Argentinean immigrant and entrepreneur Isaac Levy and his wife, Orna, who started their business by stringing pearls for jewelry in their bedroom, the family-owned company’s designs have won some of the most prestigious awards in the international jewelry industry, including the “Oscar” of jewelry – the Town and Country Couture Design Award – three years in a row, from 2005 to 2007.
However, according to Isaac Levy, his most precious jewel isn’t any of his expensive or award-winning showpieces, but rather a school of jewelry and art that opened its doors on the Yvel campus in 2010, offering professional training and advancement for Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, thereby facilitating their social and professional integration into society.
Known as the Megemeria School of Jewelry and Art (“megemeria” means “genesis” in Amharic), the school offers an opportunity for Ethiopian students to receive professional training in the arts of jewelry design, setting and manufacture, as well as enrichment classes in Hebrew and math, a monthly stipend and employment opportunities after completion of the one-year course.
According to Sari Revkin, the executive director of Yedid – the Association for Community Empowerment, whose organization is tasked with serving as Megemeria’s operating agency, “the graduates of the program receive a certificate in goldsmithery accredited by Israel’s Ministry of Industry of Trade. In other words, they leave the program as craftsmen/women and are ready to go out into the workforce as trained professionals.”
“This isn’t just a school to learn the art of making jewelry,” Revkin clarifies.
“This is a comprehensive absorption program into Israeli society. Our students arrive in Israel with many barriers – a language barrier, lack of education, very little training, etc. But what they do have is real drive for success. They have an artistic sense, dexterity and the patience to learn. That comes from the heart. And when they leave the program, not only have many doors opened for their employment, but they become truly integrated into Israeli society.”
This year’s Megemeria class consists of 21 young men and women and, according to Revkin, nearly half of the students will become full-time employees of Yvel’s design team when they graduate.
The other half will continue to design and manufacture a special collection of jewelry under the Megemeria brand. All profits generated by sales of the Megemeria collection are put into a separate company, run by the graduates themselves, which will help fund the salaries and running costs of the school.
Revkin says that the contemporary Megemeria collection “represents the students’ heritage and culture.” The designs are inspired by the immigrants’ personal and collective journey to Israel and features pendants, earrings, bracelets and rings made of 24-karat gold-plated brass. Many designs incorporate inscriptions in the students’ native Amharic with personalized messages.
The collection is sold through Yvel distribution channels and at the central Yvel design center.
Meir Yosipov has been the head teacher at the Megemeria School for the past two years. He is confident that “Megemeria’s methodology of providing an education and employment opportunities for new immigrants will serve as the model for many other fields and industries.”
On an exclusive tour of the Yvel complex, focusing on the Megemeria School facilities, most of the students are submerged in their designs, using a variety of intricate tools to shape, mold and solder their jewelry together as part of the process of creating finished products for display.
While most students are busy at work and seem naturally shy and hesitant to talk to a stranger in their midst, one student, Hiyot Falaca, who immigrated seven years ago, is willing to share her thoughts on the school.
“I grew up learning how to sew, so I decided to give jewelry a try, hoping that I would be able to apply those skills here,” she says. Falaca, a resident of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Menahem neighborhood, adds that she is grateful to the Levys for the opportunity to attend the school. “It really feels like one big family here,” she says. Upon graduation, Falaca will be working as a fulltime designer at Yvel.
A guided tour of the rest of building reveals the importance the Levy family emphasizes on giving immigrants a chance to thrive in their new lives in Israel. The factory itself houses over 100 employees. Ninety percent of them are immigrants from 22 countries.
Also on the campus is a 929-squaremeter factory showroom, where customers arrive to explore some of the latest jewelry fashions. One female shopper is busy trying on a pair of Megemeria earrings, hoping to go home with something special from this unique line.
The Yvel complex houses a visitors’ center with a 3D movie theater, where short films showing the company’s history and mission are aired for jewelry shoppers, guests and visiting tour groups.
There is also a wine cellar on site, featuring boutique wines from the surrounding Judean Hills. The wine cellar was built within a restored 19th-century stone building that once served as an inn for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and previously housed the Efrat winery.
For Levy, the establishment of a successful business – Yvel, with his prized Megemeria School in its Judean hills headquarters – has extra special meaning, which he says has brought his life full circle.
“When my parents made aliya to Jerusalem in 1963,” he says in his plush second- floor office, “they had a very difficult immigration. They didn’t have any money, they didn’t know the language and didn’t understand the culture. As a result, I also had a difficult childhood.”
He continues, “My father, who brought us on aliya because of his passion for Zionism, went into business as a partial owner of a sausage factory, where this very building sits today. However, after several months, his partners stole the company’s funds and fled, leaving my father totally broke. I was only about five years old at the time, but I made a vow to one day buy back the land where that sausage factory stood and turn the ‘bad soil’ into ‘good soil.’ It took 47 years, but I accomplished that goal and changed the karma of this place.”
Levy says that it was his experience growing up as a disadvantaged immigrant that shapes his philosophies today, whether in business or in his dedication toward contributing to and improving Israeli society – especially for immigrants.
“Jewish immigrants deserve a fair chance,” he says. “The establishment of Megemeria is the next stage in tikun olam [repairing the world]. The school turns the Ethiopian immigrants into proud citizens in a country where unfortunately they [Ethiopians] are the most vulnerable community.”
He adds, “I believe that since I made it in Israel as an immigrant, there is no reason the Ethiopian community can’t succeed as well. We just needed to reach out and give them a helping hand.”
Levy explains that in the jewelry business “the worst thing that can happen is for a competitor to steal and copy your design. However, when we started this school, my greatest hope and the greatest honor would be if someone copied our model and concepts to help other populations at risk.” ■