By Allyson Freedman
From the cobblestone steps of the Old City to Jewish community centers across the East Coast, Doron Cohen, owner of Doron Gallery and highly acclaimed filigree jeweler, transports the spirit of Safed, Israel to America this summer.
Born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, Cohen followed in the footsteps of his parents, Yemenite jewelers.
“I was inspired by a dream,” said Cohen. “I woke up that night and told my parents I wanted to learn their art. Within two weeks, I was handcrafting my own jewelry. It was in my blood.”
He launched his jewelry career at the age of 23 and made fast strides in the art of filigree — a delicate metalwork process. He then opened his own studio in Safed’s famed artist colony 13 years ago.
One of Safed’s premier jewelers, Cohen is currently in the midst of a U.S. tour that he hopes will boost sales to make up for this year’s decline in business due to Operation Protective Edge. Leaving his wife and 10 children in Safed, Cohen is venturing up and down the East Coast for three-and-a-half weeks with assistance from 17-year-old Baltimore native Eliezer Vogel, his manager and coordinator for the sales. Vogel and Cohen met last year in Safed, when Vogel took a summer job at an art gallery, working to save up money for a second year at Yeshiva.
“The idea of the sale is to bring the jeweler from Northern Israel to you,” Cohen said. “With tourism dropping in Israel this year, I came to the tourists instead of waiting for the tourists to come to me.”
Since the onset of Operation Protective Edge, tourism has plummeted significantly in Israel. Small cities such as Safed rely primarily on tourist traffic to support their economy. According to recent reports, Israel is forecast to lose roughly $500 million in income for the third quarter due to a sharp decline in tourism during the peak summer season. As a favorite stop among Taglit Birthright and other organized groups, Cohen personally experienced an 80 percent drop in income due to the dwindling number of tourists visiting Israel this summer.
“Due to Operation Protective Edge, we went from having packed stores to one or two customers a day,” said Cohen. “This is not normal for Israel in the height of tourist season. Israel lost over one million tourists this year due to canceled trips.”
As one of Safed’s most popular jewelers, Cohen hopes his unique artwork will attract customers on the road in the U.S. While some stops have been successful, others have been sparse.
“We have relied mostly on social media, websites and word of mouth,” said Vogel. “We’ve grown our Facebook page tremendously and publicize our events as much as possible there.”
Vogel handles the business side of the tour, and Cohen focuses on the products.
Cohen combines technique, talent and Torah in his handcrafted art and intertwines spiritual Kabbalah values with innovative filigree ideas. Jewish mysticism influences many of his designs.
“My jewelry comes with good energy,” said Cohen. “I find beauty in the Torah and Kabbalah content. Safed is the birthplace of Kabbalah, so my art should reflect it.” Cohen added that when pop icon Madonna visited Safed, the mayor called upon him to create a gift, and he chose a necklace that combined a Star of David and Tree of Life. “Out of all the artists in Safed, I was honored he picked me.”
Other works are inspired by biblical stories, and some pieces represent popular Jewish symbols. For example, his popular Chamsa (Jewish protection symbol) and Shema rings are some of his bestsellers.
Selling both his own handiwork and selections from other Safed artists, Cohen’s traveling jewelry store features necklaces, bracelets, rings, pendants, Kiddush cups, mezuzot, candlesticks and other Judaic pieces. Setting up one-day sales throughout the East Coast, Cohen’s stops include Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Rockville, among others.
“We call the sale, ‘East Coast Straight from Israel,’” said Vogel.
“He doesn’t just sell you his jewelry, he sells you his blessing,” said Yisroel Vogel, Eliezer’s father and supporter of Cohen. “His jewelry radiates positivity and spirituality.”
Cohen stopped at the Owings Mills JCC and Park Heights JCC last week and will be back in Maryland on Aug. 28 from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. for a one-day event at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (6125 Montrose Road, Rockville). For more information, visit dorongallery.com.
Allie Freedman is a local freelance writer.