• Ya’ara Kalmanovitch, with her chocolate.

    Nathan Roi, The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • Courtesy: The Cocoa Forest
Jewish Social Action

Growing a Chocolate Forest

For Jerusalem-based entrepreneur Ya’ara Kalmanovitch, chocolate has a deep and philosophical meaning. It is almost a way of life.

“Chocolate is always inviting, sweetening, embracing, comforting,” she says, “and beyond that, it is one of the products that leads you to those moments—fragile moments—physical happiness, and beyond.”
Ya’ara’s chocolate factory and store, The Cocoa Forest, was built with the help of The UJA Federation of New York Entrepreneurial Fund for Jerusalem, one of The Jewish Agency’s Loan Funds, which are grassroots economic development engines for entrepreneurs and small business owners in Israel. From Oct. 22-24 in Tel Aviv, The Jewish Agency will serve her chocolate to thousands of visitors at its booth during the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly.

“Chocolate is a kind of escapism, a combination of emotional worlds,” says Ya’ara. “I am a very emotional person, and maybe that’s why I believe chocolate takes a lot of emotion and love to produce. It’s very colorful and rich in expression, yet there’s a lot of simplicity in it, nothing more than cocoa. Many different products are added to it, but the base is always cocoa.”
Jewish Agency 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 last year the Loan Funds have assisted 1,790 businesses and led to the creation of about 9,000 jobs. Last year, The Jewish Agency approved 207 businesses for assistance, who received loans totaling nearly $12.1 million.

Until a few years ago, Ya’ara was a criminal lawyer and the director of an association for at-risk youth. She was looking for a way to merge her creative side with her giving nature, and found that through chocolate.

“I am a chocolatier, a mother, a lover of nature, and a lover of people, who loves to create and be in a constant state of giving to everyone around me,” she says. “My factory employs new Olim (immigrants), young men, and at-risk women, and hosts families for seminars in producing pralines.”

Ya’ara recalls that she “grew up in nature, among the honeysuckle, the fig tree, the grape vineyard, and the cherry grove.” Her father took her on walks at any spare moment, and they cooked meals from the mountain plants and the desert—salad with thyme leaves, raspberries, and pomegranate leaves; apples and dates for Rosh Hashanah; citron creams for Sukkot.
She studied under one of the world’s leading French chocolatiers at the Danon School in Tel Aviv, and ultimately founded The Cocoa Forest, her boutique chocolate company at the First Station compound in Jerusalem.

“Dreams involve a lot of bureaucracy and funding that I did not have,” she says. “The Jewish Agency, through its Loan Funds, approved a loan of NIS 300,000 ($82,000) with a guarantee from the UJA-Federation of New York. In addition, I raised NIS 400,000 ($110,000) and started production at full steam in 2016. This is the third year that we have produced chocolate at our factory on Poalei Tzedek Street in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, and our product is sold to stores, high-tech companies, and organizations, all at the highest level possible.”
The Cocoa Forest sells a wide variety of chocolate, including outside-the-box flavors like tahini and olive oil. American Jews believe Ya’ara’s salted caramel chocolate is “to die for,” she says.
But for this small business owner, it is the meaning behind the flavor that counts.

“Chocolate gives us a sense of momentary happiness and a very emotional feeling of pleasure,” Ya’ara says. “I feel that it is one of the products that produce material pleasure in this life, even if it is just for a moment.” 

Learn more about Jewish Agency Loan Funds >

This story was originally reported by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel

15 Oct 2018 / 6 Heshvan 5779 0
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