When Devorah and David Katz made Aliyah many years ago, they never dreamed that someday they would own a bakery offering everything from crackers to bagels to pastries. Devorah had spent her professional life as an informal Jewish educator and curriculum editor, while David was a rabbi and teacher.
On Passover, David would bake matza in his home, and neighbors and friends would come to learn how to make it. He started running matza making workshops in his home.
“He said to himself, “If I understand matza, let me understand chametz,” Devora said describing how their business started. “He found a world-class baker in Israel and started learning from him.”
In 2012 the Katzes went on sabbatical to Ohio, and David started baking bread and challah for Shabbat. They would leave a cart outside their house and friends and neighbors would pick up the loaves and leave some money. When they returned to Israel, she says, her husband built a wood burning oven in their backyard and would spend all night Thursday night baking for Shabbat. That is how Pat B’Melach was born.
Today the bakery has just moved to new premises in Efrat, and houses a factory, a restaurant, a space for workshops, and has 25 employees. Their spelt crackers are in 200 shops around the country.
Those crackers were also in the “gift backpacks” that Nefesh B’Nefesh gave new Olim who made Aliyah to northern or southern Israel, or Jerusalem, over the past 18 months.
Until the pandemic began, Nefesh B’Nefesh would bring hundreds of veteran olim to the airport to welcome new Olim with balloons and singing and dancing. Once the immigrants moved to their new homes throughout Israel, there would be events where they could get to know their new neighbors.
Corona, of course, changed all that, although things are beginning to get back to normal. Nefesh B’Nefesh, the non-profit organization that facilitates Aliyah from North America works in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and JNF-USA gifted these new Olim hiking backpacks filled with goodies made by olim. It was also a way of supporting olim businesses during the pandemic.
“Through its Go Beyond initiative, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and Nefesh B’Nefesh, have been partnering for over a decade to assist new immigrants to move to northern and southern Israel as well as Jerusalem,” said Ronnie Vinnikov, the CDO of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. “Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael is celebrating its 120th anniversary and has been working for decades to promote immigration. We see the importance of the new immigrants who empower the State of Israel and contribute greatly to the strengthening of the Galilee, the Negev and Jerusalem.”
For Devora Katz, being part of this project for Nefesh B’Nefesh was a chance to give something to new olim.
“In so many ways we were humbled by and overwhelmed by being olim who followed a passion project,” she said. “We felt that there are people here who encouraged us and supported us. That is the ultimate in Aliyah.”
Another popular item in the backpack was chocolate from Holy Cacao, a bean to bar business run by Jo Zander, who lives in Maalei Chever with his wife and six children. Zander grew up in a family of several generations of bakers, and his grandfather owned a baker in New York. In high school, when his grandfather fell ill, Jo used to help out in the bakery in college and loved it. In college he studied electrical engineering but soon decided that was not where his passion lay. So, despite his parents’ objections, he enrolled in the Johnson and Wales culinary school where he met his future wife.
“It was a precondition for her that we would move to Israel once I finished school,” he said. “As part of my studies I had to apprentice. I had always liked chocolate and in school I was inspired by a woman chocolatier, so I decided to apprentice in Germany.”
Just before Passover 2004, Jo and his wife arrived in Israel. He started working in restaurants in Efrat and making chocolate on the side. They started a family and moved to Maalei Chever.
“At one point we had to decide whether to buy an apartment or invest in a company,” he said. “My wife said, “let’s make a company,” and that’s how it started.”
He has invested in top-of-the-line machinery and sources beans from various producers around the world.
“We are privileged to work with some of the best cacao made by amazing farmers,” he said.
Today he makes between 36 and 40 tons of chocolate a year, and his chocolate, including one made with 100 percent cacao has won eight different awards. He was happy to participate in the latest Nefesh B’Nefesh program.
“I am a Nefesh B’Nefesh Oleh although I was in Israel when I made aliya,” he said. “It’s always nice to give back to a group that cares so much about helping Americans have an easy landing. I also took a business course offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh and it helped me navigate tax issues.”
He also has a message for anyone making Aliya now.
“Baruch Haba (Welcome) and glad that you made it,” he said. “Just by moving here you are making a tremendous addition to the Jewish people.”
There was not only food in the backpacks but lip balm from a company called Neshikha, founded by two women Olim. Miri Newcome and Chaya Ben Baruch, close friends, started the company partly to provide employment to young people with special needs.
Miri’s aliya story included a pilot trip to Israel in 2012 when she signed a lease on a completely empty apartment in Tzfat. Before she came, one of her sons decided to make Aliyah on his own.
“I said to him, “here’s a list of all the people I met and who will probably feed you or let you do laundry, but not both,” she said laughing. “And here are the keys to the completely bare apartment I rented.”
Her son came and furnished the apartment and stayed, eventually getting married and having children of his own in Tzfat.
Miri said she has always been drawn to bees.
“I had always wanted to be a beekeeper, but I had moved around so much that I was never settled enough to pursue it,” she said. “But once I got here, I took a year-long course with a master beekeeper in Israel. It was all in Hebrew, but I survived, although I did kill a few bees in the process.”
She said she met her friend and partner at the English library in Tzfat which she described as “the social hub of the city.”
The two women became close friends and traveled together, hiked the Israel Trail together and shared their “bucket lists.”
It turned out that Miri had always wanted to be a beekeeper and Chaya had always wanted to start a business selling lip balm. She also has two children with Down syndrome and was looking for a place for them to work.
“We believe in total inclusivity for the workers with special needs,” Miri said. “They help in every aspect including the creative aspect like choosing the colors for the wrapping and helping with every aspect.”
As they started selling their lip balm, she said, many of their customers started asking for honey, so they began making organic raw honey, and they are selling it as fast as they can make it. Miri said that urban beekeeping is illegal in Israel, so she moved to a nearby moshav, Kfar Hanania.
She said they sell about 5000 lip balms a year, and 750 kilos of honey. She said she was thrilled to be part of the Nefesh B’Nefesh initiative.
“If I could, I would meet every Nefesh B’Nefesh flight with balloons and sing and dance to welcome the new olim,” she said.
And she had some advice for new immigrants coming to Israel.
“If you have dreams, this is the place you can stretch your wings and make your dreams come true,” she said. “Israel has the resources to help you. If you have a dream, don’t keep it to yourself. Share your dream and you can make it a reality. We’re all in this together.”