The Workshop Gush Etzion 1st Anniversary– An Interview with Mandy and Jeremy

July 2, 2017
By: Joanna Shebson

The Workshop Gush Etzion, owned by Mandy and Jeremy Broder, is a Judaica workshop in Gush Etzion where everyone in the family can learn how to design a piece, use specialized wood working tools and create their own beautiful piece of Judaic art. The Workshop has been open for just under a year and we have sent many happy tourists and locals there to enjoy their great hands-on wood workshop.

I sat down with Mandy and Jeremy to hear their thoughts on their first year in tourism.
(This blog post is based on a Jerusalem Post article I wrote about my interview with Mandy & Jeremy)

When did you run your first workshop?
We ran our first workshop in August 2016. We invited a few friends to come with their kids to see what we were doing, and when we put the photos on facebook, the bookings started to come in. We actually weren’t prepared for how quickly things took off and ended up having to take a few days here and there to prepare new stock in order to keep up with the demand. Looking back it was as overwhelming as it was exciting!

What was the hardest part of starting a new tourism business?
The hardest part has been gauging when the busy times are and learning how to fill the quieter times in between. We create our own Judaic art as well as running the group sessions, so when we’re busy with groups, it’s sometimes tricky to juggle them with our own artwork. It is exciting to see how many people make a point of spending time visiting Gush Etzion, and we’re proud to be a new stop on the map!

How would you describe Israeli tourism and its potential?
Baruch Hashem there are many people who choose to visit Israel with their families. Some people come pretty regularly and have seen all the usual tourist attractions. What we have created here is something new and exciting and our sessions have proven to be a different experience to anything most people have done before.

Some families visit Israel only once in a while, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion like a Bar or Bat Mitzva, and are looking to make the trip as memorable as possible. The chance to have an opportunity to enjoy an activity that works for all ages is pretty rare. People who are visiting with multiple generations get to enjoy a bonding experience where everyone has a chance to participate and show how creative they can be – whether they knew it beforehand or not!

We are constantly developing new ideas for projects, so that each participant will find something that appeals to them.

How do you feel that you have affected the Gush?
Tourism in the Gush has its ups and downs. During difficult times, when there are terror attacks in the area, people who don’t live here tend to stay away and many businesses are affected by that and suffer economic losses.

On the other hand, we have had the opportunity to meet people who make a point of visiting during those times for the sole purpose of showing support to the inhabitants of Gush Etzion. Meeting people who refuse to be terrorized by what goes on around us is a privilege and gives us strength to keep on doing what we are doing.

Is The Workshop what you thought it would be one year in?
We really didn’t know what to expect when we opened The Workshop. Few people use their hands anymore to create things. Many people seem anxious when they use some of the machines for the first time, but it’s amazing to watch the transition as they begin to relax and enjoy what they’re doing after a very short time.

We have been blown away by people’s reactions to what we’ve created here. Reading the reviews on our facebook page excites us every time people choose to write about their visit. We are trying our best to get a feel for which aspects of our sessions most appeal to our participants and we use that feedback to develop new ideas and keep moving forward.

Nearly a year on, we are gearing up for what we hope will be a busy summer season. We are expanding our work space to enable larger groups to participate in our sessions and have acquired more machinery to ensure that no time is wasted waiting in line to use a machine.

What makes your activity unique to Israel?
Not only is our activity unique to Israel, after doing some research, it seems there are no places doing what we do anywhere else in the world. We are a husband and wife team and we create Judaic art. All the projects created in The Workshop Gush Etzion are Judaica related. It’s not another wood shop where you can make furniture and other objects. Each item made during our sessions has a connection to our religion, whether it be a salt container for the Shabbat table, a honey container for Rosh Hashana or a candle holder for the Shabbat or Chanuka candles, each piece can be used to enhance the beauty of our religion in our homes.

Where have your customers come from? What countries? What ages?
We are grateful to have had visitors from all over the world. When we opened The Workshop, we didn’t consider that locals would be as interested in joining us as tourists. It’s been a special surprise to us seeing Israeli families enjoying time out together to get creative.

We often have families visiting with grandparents from abroad, who are looking to enjoy a memorable experience with their grandchildren. Unlike most activities where the grandparents get a thrill out of watching their grandchildren have fun doing whatever it is they like to do, at The Workshop, each person (from the age of 6) gets a chance to use their hands and make a piece of Judaica which will be a reminder of their visit every time they look at it or use it.

We specifically created our “family projects” to enable families to work on a piece of art together. Each individual works on his/her own part of the project and then they’re connected together to make a “joint-effort” piece that can hang in your home and each family member knows they had an active part in creating it. The family projects involve a lot of working together to make decisions that everyone can agree on in creating a piece that each person will be proud of.

So far, our oldest participant was a 90 year old lady who came with some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and believe us when we tell you that she had just as much fun as everyone else in the room!

Describe your most interesting group.
We had a group of cousins join us in the winter. There were 8 cousins, male and female, ranging in age from 6 to 21, who came to The Workshop to make a birthday gift for their grandmother. The older kids helped the younger ones when needed, and it was so special watching them all interact with each other. I was told at a later date, that their grandmother was thrilled with her gift. It’s a piece that hangs in her home with the knowledge that all her grandchildren had an active part in making it especially for her. That sticks in my mind as one of our most meaningful sessions.

What are you doing to encourage people to come back for a repeat visit?
We love the idea of people coming back to The Workshop for repeat visits, and have already had a number of families who have done so. We keep introducing new projects to our sessions in order to encourage people to come back for more. We have had a few participants tell us how working with their hands is so therapeutic for them.

We begin each session with the rules of The Workshop. One of our rules is no cell-phones (unless you’re using it to take photos). We don’t want people to be distracted while they’re here with us. Our sessions run for about 2.5 hours, but our participants are busy from the minute they walk in till the minute they leave (apart from the snack break we offer in the middle). We want people to focus on what they’re here for – to relax and enjoy what they’re doing without any external interruptions.

The beauty of coming back for a second or third time is that you already have an understanding of what’s involved. We are therefore able to offer the chance to make custom-made projects for returning groups/families. If people enjoyed the idea of our “family project” and they have a specific Bracha or Pasuk they’d like incorporated in a new piece, we can prepare it for when they join us. Many children have asked whether they can make something with their name on it, which is not possible unless we have prior knowledge of their names so that we can prepare the letters. If a family is coming back for a second time, they will understand their options and can put in special requests before coming.

What can we look forward to at the Workshop?
We are both artists and are not happy unless we are creating new things. The idea of being able to show people how to work with their hands is always exciting to us and we will keep on introducing new ideas for people to work on.

We already incorporate a number of different materials in our projects besides the wood, including fabrics, beading and mosaics. We have plans to start working with metals and glass too, so stay tuned…

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About Joanna Shebson

Joanna is the Founder and FUN Expert at Fun In Jerusalem. What started out as a mommy blog has grown into a successful tourism website. Joanna is married with three kids and lives in Katamon, Jerusalem. She loves to inspire family fun in Jerusalem.
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