A woman’s passion

Much more than just a place to display creations and grab a bite, Almog’s Gallery near Kfar Saba is a charming labor of love.

Almog’s Gallery (photo credit: NOREEN SADIK)
Almog’s Gallery
(photo credit: NOREEN SADIK)
'My gallery is not a genius idea that I sat and planned,” explains Almog Rukach.
“It is all my loves, and that is what my story is about.”
As she spoke of her loves, my list of questions fell to the wayside. I did not expect Rukach’s story to be anything out of the ordinary; however, I should have predicted that a woman who has the ability to turn a building that was once a fish farm into a modern- day fairytale is anything but ordinary.
Almog’s Gallery is in a very inconspicuous area in Neveh Yamin, a moshav near Kfar Saba. Rather drab on the outside (as any building that housed fish most likely would be), upon opening its door, one is treated to a beautifully unique gallery/restaurant, a Victorian escape in a way.
Rukach and I sit at a small table with rose-pink decorated plates set on a lace tablecloth. A tall glass of red fruit juice, the house special made of pomegranate, hibiscus flowers, apples and berries, sits in front of me.
Surrounded by the wonders of Rukach’s imagination – découpage glass chandeliers and an array of colorful flowers hanging from the ceiling, antiques, porcelain dolls, lace tablecloths, mismatched furniture on mismatched rugs and her perfumes, carrying the names Marie Antoinette, Victorian and Passion – with soft music in the background, she explained the humble beginnings of the gallery 13 years ago.
Almog’s Gallery began with two clothing stores in Ra’anana and Kfar Saba, both owned by her fashion-designer mother – or rather, it began with the closing of the stores. After 15 years in the business, at the age of 60, her mother decided she had worked enough and was ready to turn the stores over to her daughter, so that she could contribute her time to benefit people in other ways.
Rukach wanted to keep the stores, but her husband suggested she close them and instead, study something.
“After a few minutes, I told him he was so right,” she recounts.
“I gave all the clothes from both stores to a charity in Netanya.”
Two years later, in 2004, Rukach began taking lessons in art, oil painting and painting on wood. Wanting her own studio, a place where she could work on her art and also spend time with friends, her husband, owner of a fish farm, gave her part of one of their buildings, close to their house. She decorated it with things she loved, as if it was her own home.
She would paint with the door open, and curious passersby would stop and express their interest, some even offering to buy her work. As the number of people hearing about her studio grew, so too did the number of visitors.
She soon started filling the gallery with other things that she loved – imported furniture, some antiques and replicas, and dolls and other knickknacks from England and Belgium.
People started spending more time in her studio, and Rukach decided she should at least offer them something to drink – thus the red fruit juice was created. Then she realized that since some people were staying for hours, they must be hungry – so she started offering food.
It was not long before people expressed their desire for the clothing they remembered. “So many people wanted our clothes because after age 40, one can’t just wear a pair of jeans and a shirt and look good,” she explains.
Although she had never taken sewing lessons, she had learned by watching her mother. She began sewing again, and created her own collection for plus-size women.
Rukach realized that this was going to be her life’s work, and within a couple of years, turned it into a fullfledged business.
“My customers built it with me,” she says appreciatively.
“I wanted to offer the people what they wanted, and so what they asked for, they got! And that’s how it started.”
Now the 500-sq.m. gallery is also a restaurant where a vegan and vegetarian buffet is served.
Rukach’s day is full. “I get up early every morning, go to the gallery and start working on the salads. I hated to bake when I was a child, but now I love it.” Though she never took a cooking class, she has a knack for knowing what to put together to make a good dish. “I try all types of vegetables in my recipes, and I use the whole vegetable.
I don’t throw anything out.”
The open buffet features 10 to 12 different types of salads in addition to a variety of soups, breads, homemade cheeses, quiches and desserts. “My customers love the soups and the salads, but a favorite is the brown rice. It’s made with lots of turmeric and brown sugar so it’s dark and sweet,” she adds.
All of the dishes are her creation; a healthful, unique combination of foods.
“I change the menu almost every day,” she details. “I don’t like to plan. And the people who work with me understand me, as if they are in my mind. They know exactly what to do. I don’t like to tell them what to do or to act like a boss. We are like family.”
It comes as a compliment when customers ask for her recipes, and she is always eager to share them.
Rukach grew up surrounded by her parents’ creativity, and believes it is in her blood. “Because I saw, I knew exactly what to do,” she recalls. Also inspired and encouraged by her art lessons, her creativity has taken many directions.
Not only is the gallery packed with Rukach’s European purchases, it is also full of items she designed herself. The sets of plates and cups are her design, as are the pillows, and she even puts her special touch on some of the chandeliers.
Rukach often changes the looks or colors of the furniture. “I love to try new things, and I am not afraid to use color.”
And everything in the gallery is for sale.
Rukach loves change and “wanted to see the sky,” so two months ago she added a garden off the main restaurant.
“I knew exactly how I wanted it to look,” she reveals with enthusiasm. It was in Belgium that she found the exact statues she had envisioned in the garden. “The family I bought them from has been making them for three generations.”
“The garden is for my soul,” she smiles. “I love to see people going out there with their cups of coffee. It makes me happy!” But Rukach’s success did not come easy. When her daughter Or (now the gallery manager) was born, she suffered from postpartum depression. “I passed a few very tough years. I could have chosen to do nothing with my life, but I chose the opposite.
“When one is down, he can either stay there or grow.
When you are in the middle, you can go up or down, and I decided to go up,” she says with determination. “I promised myself that I needed no one, that I will do things that make me happy, and that I will succeed. We have a short life, I want to try everything.”
She wants to help others who suffer from depression.
“I want to show the good side of depression. People can grow from it.”
Asked if she has more plans for the future, “Of course,” she laughs. She plans to expand the space of the gallery, and to add a section for items for men.
Rukach is happy. “I love the people who come here.
People need to work, but very few people can turn a hobby into work and enjoy the profit. When you love something, you don’t feel the time; it passes so quickly. This is a business, but every morning I thank God for giving me something that I love to do.”
Her advice: “Don’t let your fears control you. Don’t be afraid. Go with your dreams.”
Visit the gallery on Facebook: www.facebook.com/almog.gallery