Voices of Jerusalem: The nuts and bolts of life

Loren Minsky speaks to Anat Hurwitz, 47, the authentic woman behind Labayit – Hardware and Home on Jaffa Road in town.

Anat Hurwitz (photo credit: Courtesy)
Anat Hurwitz
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"I have one partner in work and life and that is G-d," says Anat Hurwitz, the woman behind Labayit, a female-run hardware and home store in Jerusalem. The one-stop shop promises a  large variety of home ware goods, including items you thought were not available in Israel, at the lowest prices and highest quality.
"I grew up religiously observant and have kept my faith through trying circumstances," says Anat. "I was married to a man, a victim of his genetics and upbringing, who was violent. Although our community tried to help in their own way, in those days the accepted norm as the woman was to keep everything under wraps."
"But everything changed the day my ex-husband punched the teeth out of my daughter's mouth. I said to myself that this was not going to happen again," says Anat. "I stood up against the entire community, including my parents and siblings, and walked out into a world I did not know. With my sheltered upbringing in Jerusalem as well as in Durban, South Africa where my parents were on shlihut, the world beyond my community felt like a different planet."
"I had no profession, no funds and no house," she explains. "I had to learn how to get around in a world of men and relied on electricians and plumbers when problems came up," says Anat. "One cold winter's night, it was snowing and I was at home with a friend and my kids. Suddenly, the electricity tripped and we couldn't get it working again. I called in an electrician who told me that the sockets had burnt out, that we'd die if we touch them, and that he could fix it the following day for NIS 20,000."
Anat says that she had a hunch he was fooling her but was obviously terrified and begged a friend of hers to come over in the snow and give his opinion. "Turns out that a snowflake had landed in a socket, and the problem was easily resolvable," she explains.
"I thought to myself that I don’t have the money to support con artists, and so I started figuring these things out more and more," says Anat. "I worked in the clothing industry, setting up and managing various clothing stores, before working for friends who were the previous owners of this business."
Those friends started the business when they got engaged, and the business grew with them and thrived for 16 years. However, they were looking to spend more time at home with their family, and wanted to sell to someone emotionally connected to it; someone who would continue the legacy and care for it in the way that they had. That someone was Anat.
Anat bought the business around two years ago. Since the textile industry was in crisis at the time, Anat made the decision to transform the shop into an all-in-one home and hardware shop. The store sells hand-made wooden and brass items, raincoats, windbreakers, kitchen patents from America, special European goods, textile protectors and much more.
"As a woman, I understand what one needs in the kitchen and bathroom, and what looks attractive," says Anat. "Many similar stores are run by old Israeli men, who bring in the same ten vinyl tablecloths, whereas I have hundreds of beautiful hand-picked designs."
"The business also keeps growing in response to requests of my clientele, and we're now offering linen and towels. We have thousands of items and I know everything about everything," declares Anat.
Anat's hours are long, and the store only closes when the last person leaves around 9 p.m.. "At the moment I can't not be at the shop," says Anat. "We have a huge clientele of foreigners and one of the store's unique offerings is that I speak English and get by in several other languages."
"I'd ideally like to find someone who can replace me so that I can get a life," smiles Anat. "It would be lovely to be able to sit and have coffee with a friend."
"I also want to spend more time at home with my children," she explains. "My youngest daughter, who is in her last year of school, in particular, misses having her mom at home. But this is the reality for now and reality is good. My kids do spend a lot of time with me at Labayit helping out."
"I love what I do. Helping people is a passion of mine and I get to do that in the store. My customers bring me challenges and I get to use my creativity to solve their problems," exclaims Anat. "The store is so blessed. I have the most amazing clients who walk into the store with a smile, give positive feedback and bring their friends. Shidduhim (matches) have been made and people have been re-united in the store."
Anat says that she loves Jerusalem and can't breathe elsewhere: "It's like taking a fish out water." She says she will always miss South Africa and fantasizes about living in a farm there, but stresses that she is Jewish and this [Israel] is her homeland. " Even when I was a kid living abroad, I knew I would return to Jerusalem one day."
"I am a big walker, and love to get lost in Jerusalem. When I wander around the city aimlessly is when I discover the most amazing things that speak to me – a little island of antiquity, a fountain, a garden. I am not afraid of exploring or of anything or anyone but God, who is always with me," says Anat.
"What makes me sad in Jerusalem is the destruction of old buildings and increasing number of modern replacements. It's taking what's special about the golden city, and trying to make it like any other place."
"After all the years of light rail construction, Jerusalemites and Israelis are slowly returning to the center of town as a place to stroll and shop," says Anat. "The atmosphere on Jaffa Road nowadays is so tranquil. The road is clean, pleasant and laid-back."
"I love the shuk in Jerusalem with its aliveness and fresh produce," says Anat. "But I also like the quiet life. I live on a moshav just outside of Jerusalem, am an earth person and grow things in my garden. I like simplicity."
"Life is not easy. I have been alone for all my life, and it's very tiring," shares Anat. "A few years ago I fell ill with depression, but I came out of it and I want to give strength to other people."
"The community that ostracized me later came out and apologized for how they handled the situation," Anat explains. "Times have changed, and I don't resent them or blame God for their weaknesses. Although I don't want to affiliate myself with any particular group and am not outwardly observant, I observe the laws of Kashrut, Shabbat, and basic modesty. The lesson I learned when I stood up all those years ago was that I need to live my truth and not anyone else's."
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