• Shades of Sweet empowers at-risk youth, training them as chocolatiers and helping them enter the job market. Image: Courtesy, Shades of Sweet

  • Chocolate from Shades of Sweet. Image: Courtesy, Shades of Sweet


Saving Lives with Chocolate

Transforming the lives of at-risk youth in Israel with a sweet twist

In the weeks leading up to Hanukkah, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and First Lady Nechama Rivlin held a special ceremony to recognize the accomplishments of a young woman who describes her personal journey as a miracle: going from a disadvantaged background to the latest graduate of the “Shades of Sweet” initiative, which trains at-risk youth as chocolatiers.

“At the beginning of the road, I dealt with difficulties,” recalls Hodaya Levy, the recipient of the honor from Israel’s presidential couple. “I arrived with a lot of anxieties at the Neve Michael boarding school, but then I was opened up to a wide range of new interests. One of the best experiences was Shades of Sweet. I received not just a certificate that will allow me to work as a professional chocolatier in the future. The program also helped me gain important skills like public speaking and marketing the products that we prepared with our own hands.”

Shades of Sweet was launched by Doron Abdi with the assistance of financial support from The Jewish Agency’s Loan Funds: Support for Israeli Entrepreneurs, which are grassroots economic development engines for entrepreneurs and small business owners in Jerusalem, the Negev, and the Galilee.

In most cases, Diaspora Jewish communities support Jewish Agency Loan Funds to encourage economic development in Partnership2Gether regions. The Loan Funds also support Israeli entrepreneurs from target populations such as new immigrants, the Arab population, the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population, and the Ethiopian community. Loan Funds provide technical assistance and guarantees to applicants to help them qualify for bank loans, which are granted at special terms, and enjoy exceptional pay-back rates. From the time they were founded in 2002, through the year 2017, the Loan Funds have assisted 1,790 businesses and led to the creation of about 9,000 jobs. In 2017, The Jewish Agency approved 207 businesses for assistance, who received loans totaling nearly $12.1 million.

In 2012, Doron participated in a Jewish Agency conference on socially conscious business initiatives, particularly for the younger generation. At the time, he was looking to promote the activities of Pardes Hanna, the Torah study group he directed.

“When I returned to my community after the conference, I decided to start helping at-risk youth through Pardes Hanna’s activities,” says Doron. “At first, we wanted to start a business that prepared food for Shabbat. Then, we chose instead to make chocolate. We held a pilot program in which at-risk girls created chocolate, and from there the project kept growing.”

Pardes Hanna set up its first chocolate shop in 2015, and by April 2017, it was operating two chocolate factories: one in the Neve Michael children’s village for at-risk youth and the other at Meitar Nirim in Hadera.

“At both plants, we help at-risk youth enter a creative and productive framework,” Doron says.

“Chocolate is a therapeutic tool for these children, and it produces something that healers call ‘occupational competence,’” he explains. “The State of Israel realizes that one of the greatest gifts you can give these children is the ability to perform a job function which is safe and teaches them new skills that will help them gain future employment. We pay the young people who work with us, mostly girls. They are salaried employees. Then we sell the chocolate to hotels and other businesses.”

The “miracle” of chocolate has changed the lives of these children, some of whom had been engaged in drug trafficking or other illicit activities.

“We build their self-confidence and their ability to work as a team,” Doron says. “Chocolate production enabling them to be part of a normative framework is nothing short of miraculous.”

Learn more about Jewish Agency Loan Funds >

This story was originally reported in Hebrew by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel
03 Dec 2018 / 25 Kislev 5779 0
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