Yvel graduates Yvel graduates Graduates of Megemeria admire their handiwork. (Photo: Yvel)

Jewelry company creates trade school to embrace new immigrants

Free training, language courses, stipend and more to help integrate Ethiopians into Israeli culture.

Jewelry company Yvel is known as much for creating beauty with gold and pearls as for its social mission.

Rather than a traditional work force, 90 percent of the company's employees are recent immigrants to Israel from nearly two dozen countries around the world. They were selected, trained and now employed by Orna and Isaac Levy, who founded Yvel Design Studio in 1986, and now export jewelry made in Israel to 650 retail stores, including Neiman Marcus.

Inspired by his own journey as an immigrant – he came to Israel from Argentina in 1963 – Isaac and his wife began reaching out to Ethiopian immigrants to work in his studio. They knew that cultural differences, language barriers and high illiteracy rates have hampered Ethiopians living in Israel.

In 2010, the Levys opened the Megemeria Jewelry School, a training program catered to these recent immigrants. Megemeria means “genesis” in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. It's meant to renew people’s lives and provide them with a sense of dignity and pride for themselves and their families.

The school's students learn all the ins and outs of the jewelry trade, including gem-setting, gold- and silversmithing, and design. And, since many of the students had little to no formal education in their homelands, the school also teaches more basic skills, including household budgeting, Hebrew, math and help them adjust to life in Israel.

Megemeria is housed in the Yvel Design Studio and run in conjunction with Yedid, another organization that empowers Israelis to become self-sufficient. In addition to the training, the school provides students with a stipend equivalent to minimum wage.

Jewelry samplesJewelry designed by Megemeria graduates. (Photo: Yvel)

“Our motto is to help students out of the circle of poverty," Sharon Ayalon, Megemeria's business developer, told From The Grapevine. "We do so by teaching them a profession which they can work at anywhere they choose, even in an independent business.” 

At Megemeria, students use only high-quality materials and impart their own culture on the work by inscribing each brass and gold-plated piece with a word in Amharic. The jewelry is sold through Yvel’s retailers, giving the Ethiopians the opportunity to share their culture with the world.

What was initially just a training school has evolved into a “business within a business,” Ayalon said. "The idea was to allow the students to succeed as a company, as jewelers, as salespeople and as designers."

Megemeria has pop-up kiosks planned in the coming months to showcase Megemeria jewelry and gain exposure for their pieces. Ayalon said the ultimate goal is for “the business to be completely independent and to be able to support more and more generations of students and employees.”


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