Post 87: Meet a very talented Jewelry designer and teacher, Yossi Kopievkar with roots in Harbin, China: mind over matter, mandel bread: not really bread just almonds





Meandering Jerusalem’s alleys is a way to become acquainted with talented artisans. Museum visits gave me the impression that Yemenite and North African jewelers, Jews of Muslim countries, were the sole springs of fine Jewish jewelry design. My familiarity with jewelers in the area near the shuk, has been with Jews from Muslim countries. Hence my impression appeared rock solid.

I just happened to find Yossi, whose origins are Russian, when my repair man’s shop was closed and I strolled down the block and saw a crowded shop that turned out to be Yossi’s.

Yossi is the second generation of jewelers in his family. He related to me a small slice of his father David’s story. Yossi’s work table was originally his father’s. So many hands each week work at that table. At Yossie’s studio they forge replacement parts and findings to silver candelabras, such as you see in the photo and silver  and gold jewelry and design and execute new pieces. Yossi brought my silver candelabra, or “lachter” in Yiddish, back to life after it suffered dents from a fall. Now is the time to see Yossie if your dream is to create fine jewelry. He starts his students in silver work and then they graduate to working in gold.


The majority of the lines in Yossi’s shop however are to repair eyeglass frames. After the repair he touches up the metal with his specially developed lacquer rendering the repair “seamless. The shop is on Rechove Yehudis about 30 meters off of Rechove Yaffo.







The shops sign, introduces silversmith teacher, Yossi Kopiefsky.

Yossi’s father David found refuge in Harbin, fleeing Russia in 1919.   “In history more than 20,000 Jews settled in Harbin in order to escape prosecution and prejudice.” This quote, attributed to Henry Kissinger, rests on a perspex plaque in the foyer of the city’s former main synagogue, now housing the permanent Harbin Jewish History and Cultural Exhibition.

“The fact that the Harbin people treated the Jews kindly, as a result of the broad mind of the nation, is a glorious record of world humanitarianism.”

If David Kupievkar arrived wintertime at the sub-provincial city of Harbin, capital of the Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China, temperature would range from 3 to 17 degrees below zero.This city near the Russian border, with today’s population of 9.7 million, is not far from other populated areas. It is  located an hour and a half’s flight away from the lively capital Beijing.

Even in the snow and ice, Harbin seems like a little island of calm in the bloody history of the Jewish nation.

The Harbin Jewish community, which came as part of a large migration of Russians to the region, existed for a total of 65 years. During this period the Jews turned the small fishing village (Harbin is originally a Manchu word meaning “a place for drying fishing nets”) into a large, industrialized, modern city.

Harbin was a political and economic haven for Jews. The first Jews arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe in 1898, with the beginning of the construction of the trans-Siberian railway linking Moscow and Beijing, probably David Kupievkar’s route. They fled the daily pogroms, army service and anti-Semitic incidents and found a political and economic haven in Harbin.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, increasing numbers of Jews migrated to Harbin, David Kupievkar one of them. At its peak the community, which usually numbered 10,000 inhabitants, reached 25,000 people. It experienced its golden age between 1917 and 1930. Olmert’s grandparents lived there and his parents were born there. So were the parents of MK Effie Eitam, the father of poet Daliah Ravikovitch, Israel’s former UN ambassador Yosef Tekoa and many others.

Harbin’s Jews lived under four central political regimes – Tzarist Russia (1898-1917), the Chinese government (1917-1931), the Japanese (1931-1945) and then the Red Army.

The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 forced many Jews, who suffered under Japanese fascism, to flee the city. Various Zionist movements, such as Betar, flourished in Harbin and many Jews moved to Israel, which David Kupievkar did in 1948 to fight for the Jewish State.

For a while it was a toss-up. In Harbin, many young people were members of the Zionist youth organization Betar.  It was a very interesting and merry place. After the victory in Germany, later in Japan, the prestige of the Soviet Union grew, especially among the Russian-speaking population of China. In 1948, the Soviet Government said all interested Russian-speaking people could depart for the USSR. No doubt many Russians returned,  deciding to go to this remarkable country, which defeated fascism, where all people had equal rights and all people were heroes.

Sometimes a rosy picture and promises of a glorious future can be blinding. Hinting of years to come was the most difficult period for the Jews – at the end of World War II, under the nine-month rule by the Russian government. Zionist activity in the city was stopped, many were exiled to Russian forced labor camps and many Jews left Harbin.

Gradually the Jews of Harbin scattered to Shanghai, Israel and other countries. In 1963 the Jewish institutions in the city were officially closed down. In 1985 the last Jew in Harbin died.

However, the Jewish presence in Harbin left shops; businesses; flour, candle and beverage plants; coal mines; hotels; restaurants; a hospital; schools; youth movements; a soup kitchen; daily newspapers; book publishers; orchestras and a theater.

The old synagogue, built in 1907, has become a family activity center; the Jewish high school has become a Korean girls school.  Recently, the synagogue, built in 1917, became a museum, exhibiting the history of Harbin’s Jewry. A film on the Holocaust, with Chinese subtitles, is screened on a large television screen at the foyer.

The building’s two floors are filled with large black and white pictures documenting Jewish life in the city: the soup kitchen, the Beitar youth movement, the women’s welfare organization, shops and plants, the library, the orchestra, Jewish singers, Jewish athletes, ski and horse races and Cafe Miniature of 1926, which doubled as an art gallery of Russian miniatures.

An entire wall is devoted to photographs of the Olmert family. His parents, Bella and Mordechai, immigrated to Israel in 1930. Mordechai was active in the city’s revisionist movement. He studied in a Chinese high school and spoke Chinese. An adjacent wall displays pictures of Yosef Trumpeldor. After being wounded in the Russia-Japan war in 1905, Trumpeldor was brought to Harbin’s hospital for treatment. From there he was sent to a Japanese prison and after his release, he returned to Harbin to found a farming cooperative.

The Jewish cemetery, with 583 tombstones engraved in Russian and Yiddish, was built in 1903 in the city center and was transferred outside the city in 1958. In 1992, after the establishment of relations between Israel and China, it was renovated.

From Ha’Aretz, Harbin’s Jews: Isle of calm for an embattled nation

Adapted from   | Feb. 9, 2007 Haaretz

Several of David Kupievkar’s students have gone on to teach jewelry making. One such student is Stacy Givon who studied two years traditional technique with David Kopiefker, Yossi’s father 35 years ago. She studied two years traditional techniques. She has earned international recognition and prizes for her designs and craftsmanship. Stacy has developed techniques for unique textured finishes that have become her passion and design trademark. With over 30 years of experience she skillfully handcrafts her jewelry in her studio in Jerusalem and signs each piece.

I am preparing a  subsequent post to contain photos of Yossi’s work.

Mandel bread: This is a great recipe to use up your staples. Can be out of your clean fridge for days.

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 cup white sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsps orange juice

1 cup chocolate chips



Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a baking sheet.


Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl; set aside. Beat the eggs and sugar or fruit together in a mixing bowl until smooth. Whisk in the vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and orange juice. Stir in the chocolate chips and the flour mixture until no dry lumps remain. Divide the cookie dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a roll about 3 inches wide and 12 inches long. Place the rolls, side by side, onto the prepared cookie sheet.


Bake in the preheated oven until the rolls have started to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven onto a rack. Let cool about 10 minutes until cool enough to handle; cut the mandel into 1/2-inch thick slices. Return the cookies to the baking sheet, cut-side down.


Return to the oven and bake until lightly-golden, about 15 minutes more. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: