Saba Yossi's Carpentry Shop is a fantasy world for that little man inside us all.
By AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN
Ya'ir, eyes bulging incredulously, could hardly believe he was actually being handed a real power tool and being asked to drill holes. It is every almost-five-year-old boy's dream, and for him it was coming true at Saba Yossi's Carpentry Shop at Kibbutz Ein Gev's boardwalk on the banks of the Kinneret.
He and his three-year-old twin siblings were assembling a collection of wooden toy kits under the direction of husband-and-wife team Yossi and Yochi Zidkony, long-time members of the kibbutz. Although rapidly approaching retirement as teachers, the couple recently turned their hobby into a profession. With patience learned through decades in the sabra school system, the pair took the three kids through each stage of construction.
While the twins donned handy plastic smocks, rolled up their sleeves and painted their toy dogs under Yochi's watchful eyes - Kinneret with pinks and purples and Yaron with manly blues and browns - Ya'ir began construction of his catamaran with Yossi at the nearby workstation. Slight and bearded with twinkling jolly eyes and a ready smile, Yossi serves as the archetypical laid-back grandfather while Yochi, punkish yet matronly, fusses about the kids and worries about messes - a typical Jewish grandmother.
Hands washed and parts set to dry, the twins traded places with Ya'ir, who went to brighten up his boat. Yaron, a bit of a wild boy, delighted in hammering in his nails (occasionally hitting an uncomplaining Yossi as well) and Kinneret affixed hers with a dainty tap-tap-tap. Ya'ir concentrated on applying his bright acrylic paints (like the grandson of an artist should), and soon all three had completed their kits.
But that's just the beginning of a visit to Saba Yossi. Only half the space is utilized by the workshop and retail sections. (Visitors can purchase from the wide selection of toys on display or take toy kits home to work on there.)
The other half is a playland, complete with a huge pirate ship and long, steep slide. "Often on the weekends or holidays," explains Yossi, "there will be too many children to teach at one time, so we send them to play in shifts."
Though the workshop is a real treat, it's hard to imagine any child refusing to play in Yossi's hand-crafted wooden wonderland.
Parental guidance is suggested for kids under four, but the room is so well thought-out that few kids would get lessons there in the the school of hard knocks. My gangsters made it out in high spirits without hurting anything or being hurt.
In one corner is an ingenious merry-go-round, half enclosed by a delightfully painted wooden panel and illuminated by a lamp above which shines through the cut-outs in the roof. As the child turns he can play "Now you see me, now you don't" with his parents and chase the dancing rays of light. In the opposite corner are several rocking horses and a large piece of driftwood with a steering wheel (while it doesn't look like much, my kids really dug it).
It is the full wall, floor-to-ceiling pirate ship that really makes you want to be a kid again. The belly of the ship is a dolls' corner where Kinneret played before joining her brothers on the deck. Up above there is a platform where the trio repeatedly jumped ship onto the thick mattress below. Even higher is another deck with appropriate nautical decor.
I asked Yossi if he had designed such enchanting playgrounds elsewhere, thinking if there were something like this in Jerusalem: We're there. He modestly pooh-poohed my exuberance and said he preferred to stick with toys and the occasional playhouse he does on order.
Prices on the handmade toys run from about NIS 30 for a small toy to NIS 800 for a deluxe rocking horse. I purchased a good-sized toy truck and blocks for NIS 120, two-thirds what I would have paid for something comparable in Jerusalem. Kits cost upwards of NIS 35 and the playland is NIS 20 per child.
Originally the couple had a shop in the old chicken coops where today they still keep their large power saws and do the major prep work on their toys. But about a year ago, Ein Gev, whose 150-odd members recently voted to privatize, decided to capitalize on Yossi's toyland and gave the couple a prime spot on its modest boardwalk, which also houses a few eateries and remnants of the fishing industry.
We passed a pleasant Friday afternoon at the kibbutz, first stopping at the Ein Gev fish restaurant. Over the past 60 years of operation, the restaurant hasn't ceased to expand. We enjoyed the spacious outdoor seating, not even feeling the other 500 customers served lunch that day. The waitress mentioned that the next day it was gearing up for some 1,000 reservations! Most of them Christian pilgrims, they would be enjoying the same sort of St. Peter's fish my family happily devoured.
After our meal we took a tour on the kibbutz "train" and thought, "For the kids, things can't get much better than this."
But incredibly they can - and did - in Saba Yossi's Carpentry shop, where even five-year-old boys can be little men and play with power tools.
Open weekends and holidays and during the week by appointment. Saba Yossi can be reached at (04) 665-8195, 054-565-8821 or 054-565-8829. More information on the Ein Gev area is available in English at www.eingev.com or by calling
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