Departures / Arrivals: Tzadok and Keren Make Jewels With Ancient Jewish Secrets

L.A. was cosmic experience for Lotem, but nothing tops home.

Liat Elkayam
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Tzadok Yehuda, 50, and Keren Yehuda, 41, from Ein Karem, Jerusalem; Tzadok is flying to Chicago (with God’s help)

Hello, can I ask where you’re going?

Yes, to an exhibition in Chicago and then on to Denver. I am a jewelry designer and I travel to exhibitions two or three times a year. There’s a community of 600 families in Chicago, all of whom are active in this and help each other. Every two years there’s an art fair where Jews show their work.

How would you describe your jewelry?

It embodies a certain language that I’ve developed over time. It’s got a primeval touch, a primitive look. I let the material speak ... Gold is soft and granular, and steel along with metal brushes are used to change its character. I use ancient techniques of processing the metals. I imitate what was done in the past.

Where does the ancient knowledge come from?

I go to exhibitions of ancient jewelry to get a visual impression. I never learned the craft, it’s all trial and error. Besides, it’s in my genes, too. Two years after I became a goldsmith I found out, by chance, that my maternal grandfather, for whom I am named, was also a goldsmith. He and his brother were goldsmiths in northern Iraq. I call that a “crafty coincidence.”

How did you get into it?

Also by chance. Twenty-five years ago, I was traveling in India and Nepal, a period when there were no Israelis there. In six months I met three Israelis. I had to organize the finances for my trip ... I had no background in design, but I decided to create clothes. I designed as I went along, it was practical, my money was about to run out.

After designing the clothes I arrived by chance in a city called Jaipur. I was into photography, and I met a Sri Lankan fellow who lived in the United States and had been an assistant of the photographer Ansel Adams. He told me he was also a gemologist and made his living from that. He showed me the stones he’d bought, and the next day I went with him to the market and watched him buy and bargain. He also explained about the stones. A week later, he left, and then people began to offer me stones, too. So I bought some for my pleasure. I sent some of the clothes to Australia and continued hiking in Nepal. In Katmandu, completely by chance, I met a local goldsmith and another gemologist. That’s how I started to find my path. I created my first collection there.

A lot of coincidences.

It’s all coincidences. It still comes back to me. There are things I do and I know I’ve already been there.

When does that happen?

During work. With fire. With soldering. In the encounter with gold. In thinking about an idea. I have no tools, I don’t know how to draw. I am primitive and intuitive. Also, from the moment I assumed the burden of the [Jewish religious] precepts, I have been more modest. It’s not me. I am only the conduit.

When did that moment happen?

It was a long process. For years I sold wedding and engagement rings on Dizengoff [Street, in Tel Aviv]. In 2002, I moved from Ein Karem in Jerusalem to Ein Hod [an artists colony outside Haifa]. I was driving from Ein Hod and looking for a radio station. I heard someone using his voice as an instrument. After a few minutes, I started to cry. He was singing Psalms, and that brought me back to my grandfather, who used to read Psalms. That’s where it started, the return home.

Another coincidence. Let’s check it out some more. How did you meet?

Keren: We met a year and a half ago in Ein Karem. I am a flamenco dancer, and he came to see his daughter, who was dancing in my studio, though she wasn’t my student, and that’s how we met.

Tzadok: Being a goldsmith is a “soldering of circumstances.” A recent Torah portion dealt with the building of the Tabernacle. God chooses Bezalel, son of Uri, who has the wisdom of binding spirit and matter together, and also people who possess wisdom of the heart.

What is wisdom of the heart?

When you connect thought to emotion, mind and heart. The vessels of the Tabernacle have to be even more precise than what’s in a spaceship – if one screw is put in imprecisely, it won’t work. A person who is in his place emotionally and mindfully can build precise things.

Lotem Avitbol, 22, from Nes Tziona; arriving from New York

Lotem Avitbol. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Excuse me, can I ask where you’ve just flown in from?

I was in New York and L.A. for four months.

Would you be willing to be interviewed for our column?

People probably don’t go with the flow with you.

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

I just love Israelis like you. I’d love to. Is he taking a picture? How’s my lipstick? Is it on okay?

The lipstick is fine. Just a minute. I forgot my notebook. Good thing I always have a small pad. So, what did you do there?

I have an aunt in L.A., and my brother lives and works in New York. We hung around, went out, did some sightseeing.

Was it your first visit to the States?

Second time. Last time I was there for a year. I really like the States, but there’s no place like Israel.

What do you like about the United States?

There’s a cosmic atmosphere in the whole experience, seeing all the things you see in movies. I was disappointed with New York, because it’s really not like in the movies, but L.A. is amazing.

What did you see there?

I was at the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame, and there’s the atmosphere, the sea, Santa Monica, nightlife. I saw celebs.

Who?

Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, David Grohl – the Nirvana drummer – and Oz Zehavi.

And how was it in New York?

Generally, it’s very cold there. There was Macy’s, Michael Kors. I feel I know now what American life is. What it is to live there, to understand the American mind.

How does that mind work?

It’s a mentality in and of itself, a way in which people speak to you.

I don’t follow.

Americans are very generous and very indifferent, they have an inner tranquility. They are very law-abiding. I realized that it’s best to go along with them, not to be confrontational. To be patient. For example, one of my girlfriends came to visit me and wanted to park her car. But you had to make an advance reservation! You have to plan everything there. You mustn’t get uptight with the Americans on the phone. You have to do the right thing ... and sometimes that means being hypocritical. On the other hand, everything is very clear and organized there.

In L.A., too?

There’s a huge difference between New York and L.A. Each state in the U.S. is like a country with its own special personality and character. It’s warmer in L.A. – both the people and the weather. People in New York work hard. In L.A., people are doing their fun thing, strolling around on the beach, talking to you about their life. There are a lot of rich women and girls with sugar daddies. And I walk around and say, “Where is my sugar daddy?”

You’re funny. Are you an actor?

I was in the theater track in high school, and I also studied at Nissan Nativ [drama school] before the army. Now I’ve come back straight to my parents’ place in order to start my studies. We did a pre-college trip. I don’t know where I’ll go to study yet, but that’s what I want, that’s the direction and that’s the reason I came back. And also my love for Israel. Nothing can top our folks, nothing.

Didn’t you try to do some acting there?

It’s very hard to progress there in terms of acting, and studying costs a lot of money. Besides, in L.A., every waiter is an actor or singer. The competition is tough. Everyone is gorgeous and talented, so I didn’t really get into it.

What genre of acting would you like to do?

Comedy. There were auditions just now for [the TV reality show] “Big Brother,” but I didn’t try out, because it has nothing to do with acting. It could be a springboard, but why should I be a reality “refugee”?

What have you acted in already?

Shakespeare.

Who would you want to be like?

Beyonce, period. She’s acting out her life.

Good luck with that.

Thanks!

An elderly blonde woman approaches: Uhh, excuse me, maybe you need a notebook? My luggage is overweight and I really don’t need it.

Hey, absolutely. Thanks.

Tzadok Yehuda and Keren Yehuda.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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