Matter & Spirit – The Blog

3 בDecember 2014

Made in Israel – Parshat Vayishlach

In the early years after the founding of the State of Israel, Ata was the name brand in Israeli fashion, and work clothes were the everyday attire. Who would have dreamed back in the days when Tel Aviv was just being built that internationally-acclaimed luxury boutiques would one day boast shopping bags emblazoned with the words Rome-Paris-New York-Tel Aviv?!


I still remember being a kid lucky enough to have American relatives. We were so excited to receive the occasional boxes filled with gifts – and my cousins’ hand-me-downs. – and I was always one of the best-dressed kids around!

From a fledgling, war-torn state, Israel has fast risen to become state-of-the-art!  Throughout the years, our country has taken significant strides, advancing from an era when its sole export product was Jaffa oranges to modern times when Israel numbers among #1 world exporters of items including food products, wines, fashion, design and industry.


In Parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov resettles the land of his fathers, and the temporary tent that was his grandfather Avraham’s becomes a real house. Yaakov was the first of our forefathers to build a house, as written, “And Yaakov traveled to Sukkot and built himself a house… Therefore, he called the place Sukkot.”  (It’s intriguing to note that Yaakov actually referred to his permanent home by the name Sukkot, which alludes to a temporary structure; but apparently the concept of the Wandering Jew is embedded deep inside our DNA) Later in the parsha, Yaakov purifies his home from the idolatry that was so popular at the time, and the Name of Hashem gains prominence in the world. Immediately thereafter, Yaakov Avinu’s name is changed…

And his name shall be called in Yisrael…

God Himself bequeaths Yaakov with the new name Yisrael. “No longer will your name be called Yaakov, but rather Yisrael will be your name.” Rashi offers an incisive explanation to this verse: “The name Yaakov [alludes] to one who comes in ambush and circuitously. Yisrael [derives from] the root word prince and minister.” No longer is he the wandering, fleeing Yaakov, but Yisrael—a master.

The longer the Israeli flag waves, the more Israeli companies are satisfied to feature authentic Hebrew names. No longer do Israelis bow their heads in shame and hide behind foreign-sounding names like Super Stock! Today, world-famous Israeli brands proudly boast Hebrew names that identify their country of origin and suit the image of Israeli national products.


Products of the land…

Come and let me introduce you to a sweet little place in the heart of Jerusalem called Niche. Niche’s name perfectly describes its essence – a little corner overflowing with authentic Israeli designs. Everything featured in the store – from gifts to decorative household items – are products of Israeli toil, design, laughter and humor. Whenever I enter the store, I give myself extra time, knowing how difficult I find it to pull myself away from admiring and enjoying Niche’s collection of rare, beautiful items.


Another store serving as a symbol of Israeli design is Assufa, a shop located in the center of the country that attracts folks who enjoy rummaging through Jaffa’s famous flea market and the sort. Assufa’s name likewise corresponds to its image. Osef in Hebrew means ‘collection,’ and indeed, Assufa features a stunning, memorable collection of decorative items fashioned by some of Israel’s top designers.


A peek into both of these stores opens a window into what authentic Israeli product design is all about…


All mixed up in one laffa – hummus, coconut, chocolate, and a spoonful of hot, piquant charif…

Is Israeli design just a fusion of foreign designs and cultures, or is there a clear, independent, authentic Israeli image? How can one define – and design – an Israeli home?

It’s a good question, with many a fascinating school of thoughts. I sometimes think that the conflicting perspectives tend to shy away from the question of design and rather focus on the deeper question of whether Israel society at large comprises an ingathering of exiles into one melting pot, or if its essence is constant but colorful…

What’s clear to me is that Israeli style is not set in stone like Scandinavian style, Tuscan style or Moroccan style. Even classic American style can be better and clearer defined. Israeli style is eclectic, affected and influenced by the many exiles we’ve endured throughout three millennia, by the wandering Jews that have inhabited every corner of the earth, and by fast-paced globalization.

It can be said that Israeli design is something like the Sabra himself – simple, blunt and direct (sometimes, a bit too much..) and very natural. That’s one reason it usually comes along with straight lines, as opposed to curvatures or frills. It’s bright, airy, clean, and the materials are pleasantly natural—Jerusalem stone, gravel, basalt, metal and wood.

The Israeli consumer tends to be a skeptic, reluctant to adhere to one particular mode or style. He wants a window to the outside, a taste of something different and dynamic. The modern Israeli home differs from the American one which usually features one particular motif  – wallpaper, moldings, etc. from the bedrooms to the bathrooms to the kitchen… The Israeli home, in contrast, offers tastes of everything – Eastern or European heirlooms that complement Ottoman-style arches, rugs and carpeting, but all at the bare minimum that only hint to the impact that all these cultures have upon the final design.

 Straight, clean lines. All-natural materials, and most important, bright and airy. Arc&design: Limor Hekmat-Shchory.  Photo: Shai Epstein


 White, clean, Israeli with a taste of the east. Arch: Ron Fleisher.  Photo: Shai Epstein



 Combination of natural materials with a tinge of modern. Arch: Hilla Havkin. Photo: Shai Epstein



Clean lines complemented by a splash of color and old time nostalgia. Arch: Orit Milboar-Eyal. Photo: Shai Epstein


In the same breath as changing Yaakov’s name to Yisrael, Hashem blesses him with abundance and proliferation, “A congregation of nations will surface from you, and kings will emerge from you” (Bereishit 31:11), and with the land, “This land that I gave to Avraham and to Yitzchak, to you I will give it, and to your children after you (35:12).

Indeed, his descendants were thereafter known as Bnei Yisrael—the Children of Israel—and from them sprouted a glorious Jewish nation. The land upon which Yaakov built his home was likewise called Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel. It is the same as our present-day beloved Israel, which has been built and developed at an astonishing rate, with real estate prices skyrocketing every day, gorgeous buildings and dynamic designs the likes of which Yaakov Avinu surely never dreamed…

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