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From tempeh to yoga, pandemic downtime fuels cottage industry boom

Furloughs and other work cuts push entrepreneurial types to follow their dreams, turning hobbies into businesses

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Yoga practice with Yoga Synagogue Ah!, a new community founded by Laura Gilinski (center, mauve shirt) during the coronavirus pandemic (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Yoga practice with Yoga Synagogue Ah!, a new community founded by Laura Gilinski (center, mauve shirt) during the coronavirus pandemic (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Some people got through the long lockdown days by fermenting wild yeast and making sourdough. Ze’ev Fuchs and Shelley Griffel took their leavening in an entirely different direction, with fermented soybean cakes, otherwise known as tempeh.

What started out as a desire to learn something new quickly became a new business making the traditional Javanese soy product for Fuchs, who usually works in Israeli-Taiwanese tourism; and Griffel, a marketing executive; who found themselves with careers on hold and time on their hands.

With jobs furloughed or slowed, and with more hours to fill due to coronavirus lockdowns, people have had had time to think about what they really want to do with their lives. For some, it’s created the chance to try something new, the opportunity to pivot to an entirely new game plan.

“We didn’t think about a business at first,” said Griffel, who began taking video courses to learn how to make tempeh before posting her efforts on Instagram. “Now we prepare it all day long.”

“We have a waiting list,” of customers, added Fuchs.

Ze’ev Fuchs and Shelley Griffel working on making tempeh, their new home-based business since the start of the pandemic (Courtesy Tempeh.il)

They were familiar with the soybean cakes from the decade Fuchs had spent in the Far East. Then tempeh was reintroduced to them by their daughter who returned from a post-army trip just weeks prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

The couple first prepared tempeh by hand in their Emek Hefer kitchen, a lengthy process that includes soaking and hulling the bean by hand, and then cooking, drying and mixing the few ingredients before incubating the tempeh for up to 48 hours.

Fuchs and Griffel tried out their tempeh on friends and built up a clientele by word of mouth. Now they’re seeking an industrial kitchen space, having formalized Tempeh.il as a business, adding kosher certification and a website with recipes and links to cooking classes, as well as some 20 locations selling their tempeh countrywide and delivering around Israel.

(Griffel, the marketing expert, worked on the branding and website while learning how to make the fermented soybean cakes by hand.)

This couple wants tempeh in every Israeli household, whether vegan or not, and neither one expects to return to their previous profession.

Tempeh made by Shelly Griffel and Ze’ev Fuchs, who pivoted to this cottage-based business during the coronavirus pandemic (Courtesy Tempeh.il)

“I kind of smirk at the very idea,” said Fuchs. “It’ll be 2022 or 2023 before Asia opens up again. This is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it.”

Laura Gilinski, vice president for philanthropic partnerships at Start-Up Nation, a non-profit that builds partnerships to Israeli innovation, and formerly at the Israel Museum beforehand, said she’s never had quite so much time to herself, or with her husband and five kids. Gilinski was still working, but from home, leaving extra time to consider other hobbies.

“The whole COVID thing made things happen faster, because I had the time,” said Gilinski, who turned the downtime into downward dog time, training as a yoga instructor and creating a yoga community.

A longtime runner, she was practicing more yoga and took the leap to a month-long yoga training course over the summer. Once certified, Gilinski and fellow yogi Lilach Rubin established Yoga Synagogue-Ah!, a weekly yoga class held outdoors on Tuesday mornings around Jerusalem. The Vinyasa yoga class meets socially distanced in the open air, and like synagogue gatherings, offers the opportunity to gather and give thanks, meditate and move.

They’re also hosting Yoga Synagogue-Ah! classes online, on Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom, and trying to figure out whether to add more weekly classes, to add slots outside of Jerusalem and how to bring in yoga practitioners outside of Israel.

פתיחות לב בפיל ביית

Another sensational, heart-opening ❤ Yoga Synagogue Ah! morning at Feel Beit. Thanks to Karen Brunwasser and the team for their help in making it beautiful. Looking forward to seeing you next week.

Posted by Laura Gilinski on Monday, February 15, 2021

The dream, however, is to do it full time, and Gilinski has received a grant from the Jerusalem Foundation with local dance center Studio 6, and is working on a possible collaboration with the municipality. She’s not sure if it will be a not-for-profit or for-profit venture.

“I have to build it to be big enough for me, as I’m used to being in big organizations,” said Gilinski. “Creating community is something I’ve learned and used in the not-for-profit world; it’s something I could bring to this practice.”

Nathalie Borenstein’s macrame yoga strap, one of the products she created for her new business, Kali Na, developed during the pandemic (Courtesy Kali Na)

Gilinski is already merchandising her nascent community, and one of her first products is a macrame crocheted yoga strap, made by her friend and yoga student Nathalie Bettan Bronstein, who also pivoted during the pandemic.

A former kitchen designer who began working in event planning at Jerusalem’s Mamilla Hotel in October prior to the pandemic, Bettan Bronstein was furloughed in March, two months after going through a divorce.

“I was so stressed,” said Bettan Bronstein, who doesn’t expect to get her job back anytime soon. “So I started taking walks in nature and weaving flowers.”

The nature projects took a turn toward upcycling with a woven rope table made from a wheel and from there to macrame, which is where Bettan Bronstein has found her niche.

Nathalie Borenstein’s macrame mobiles, part of her product line in her new coronavirus-era venture (Courtesy Nathalie Borenstein)

For the last six months, she’s been developing Kali Na, her line of macrame and crocheted items, including delicate handbags, mobiles with pom-poms for babies, plant hangers and chunky key rings.

“I’ve got a good eye and sense of style,” said Bettan Bronstein, who pores over new concepts every day with her morning coffee, posting regularly on Instagram and Facebook. “You can’t be fearful of anything, and I have to deal with my lack of confidence. But I’ve got the time to really focus on this and I really want to do it.”

Major pivots during a pandemic require a carpe diem kind of attitude, and the guts to go with what you want, said Keren Brown, a food writer who was laid off from her job at the start of the pandemic and decided she would aim to reach 10,000 followers with her engaging feed @kerenbrown3 on social media platform TikTok.

Brown brings her American upbringing, Tel Aviv life and innate knowledge of young Israelis to her engaging TikTok videos, with “hacks” of how to eat Oreos (place a marshmallow in the middle), cutting a pint of Ben and Jerry’s down the middle to create two bowls or creating Hasselback potatoes (one of her most popular videos) using chopsticks.

@kerenbrown3

איזה טעם אתם הכי אוהבים? אני אוהבת בצק עוגיות #גלידה  #אוכל #foodhacks

♬ original sound – KerenBrown

Along the way, she’s learned that she enjoys having an impact on followers, helping them learn how to enjoy food and discover the wider options of the culinary world.

@kerenbrown3

מה אתם אומרים מגניב או מסובך!?? #אוכל #אוכלבריא #אוכלטעים

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod

The ultimate goal, however, is to become an influencer and get hired by major food corporations. For now, she’s still churning out daily TikTok videos and celebrating her growing number of followers.

“I just said, ‘that’s it, I’m all in and I’m going to do what I love,'” said Brown.

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