For 40 years Yaan Naveh was a social worker. She saw many handicapped people over the course of those years. But after she retired she decided to open a new business, a jewelry store called “Jewels from All My Heart”.
But if you’re not surprised by the sudden career change you should be surprised by who she employs. Her jewelry studio employs emotionally disturbed workers. “From the day I decided to make the studio I decided with my husband to employ workers with special needs” Yaan explains. This was very important to me since I came from the (mental health) profession and I know the great need for creating employment opportunities for the special needs community. All my workers are recognized and receive the government’s “rehabilitation basket” but inspite of the fact that this basket enables employers to them less than minimum wage since my workers are high functioning, I am careful to give them their full wage and throw in gifts for the holidays and other bonuses.
Why lock up workers with special needs?
When you see the jewelry on display that these workers produce, you become enchanted. They are very chic and they include many different elements that Yaan imports from all over the world. The selection of jewelry is large and Yaan also makes it possible for clients to create their own pieces according to the colors and design they need.
Where does your talent come from?
“I think it’s inborn. From when I was young I loved creating crafts and jewelry. I remember going to my grandfather’s leather and shoemaker shop and I would take the raw materials and create jewelry bags and belts. When I studied for my bachelor’s degree I also kept on working in crafts. But now I feel most fortunate that I have 6 workers making the creations I designed. I feel they are really part of my family- the family of “Jewelry from All My Heart”!
Yaan is not at all ashamed of her workers and that’s why the workshop where they work is right in the middle of the store. The customers come in, look at the beautiful jewelry and meet the workers. “Why not? Asks Yaan; “my workers really enjoy the compliments they get and they love to see the customers come in to the store. So why not let them be partners in the store’s ambience? On the other side, I’m certain that my customers only gain from the interaction with my workers, for this is an opportunity to meet such people and understand them better.”
“Just yesterday a customer who left us a piece of jewelry to repair came to pick it up. We had to wait a few days because the worker who was expert in that repair wasn’t around. When she came to get her repaired jewelry she thanked him so much. She told him “I looked for you, and I asked for you many times and was worried about you. Where were you this past week?” After that small thank you this worker was happy the whole day. Suddenly he feels needed and people are even waiting and longing for him to come. This gives them so much!”
But aren’t there any customers who get startled when they see who makes your jewelry?
Why should they? Nobody ever came in was shocked. Perhaps if you hear about it from afar it can sound threatening but anyone who comes in sees there’s nothing to be afraid of. My workers are all great each, one of them! I even think that there are many customers that come back not just because of our exclusive designs but also because it’s pleasant to meet us. There’s a family atmosphere here and we talk to the workers as equals and it’s truly pleasant to visit here. There are even customers who bring their dresses and bags here and we try to match up the right jewelry with them. We have all the time in the world for a customer.”
Yaan speaks with simplicity as if what she’s doing is nothing special employing special needs adults. On the contrary , she feels that she benefits from it.
But isn’t this costing you livelihood/ These workers must work slower they can’t possibly keep up with regular workers?
Yaan answers: “I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t open this studio for my livelihood. When I established it I seceded I won’t take home any money from profits if there are any. I even reinvest the profits into the studio to make it more efficient and develop it more. So financial considerations aren’t what guide me. I also try to help in other ways. For my 60th birthday the nicest gift I got was from friends that raised money and bought a series of (jewelry making) classes for sick women through Ezer Mitzion. This made me really happy.”
“People don’t realize that mental illness is the same as a physical illness”
Yaan painfully says that there’s not enough awareness in society about mental illness and she sees it almost every day. “I see how when someone has a physical ailment, handicap or even a broken hand or leg that everyone understands it because they can see what’s wrong. But the big challenge of emotionally disturbed people is that on the outside they look the same as everyone else so it’s hard to understand what they’re going through. But they are exactly the same as someone who is physically ill from a scratch or break to a chronic illness.”
Yaan also has a message for anyone who works with the emotionally disturbed: Organized employment for them can be truly lifesaving. But if you want to help someone like this, don’t send him to me or to a similar business. You’re best off sending him to the formal systems that exist for this, through the Ministry of Welfare or Ministry of Health depending on the specific ailment. The most important thing is that sometimes people try to avoid the official channels set up for this and they are just losing out. Because working privately is more difficult. But when you come through an organized system there’s someone keeping an eye on them every step of the way making sure they get what is rightfully theirs. And if they don’t get along in one place of employment they help him leave gracefully and find another place.”