The Journey of a Siberian Family to Israel and a Business Owner

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It’s quite a journey – nearly 6,400 kilometers – from Tomsk, Russia, one of the oldest cities in freezing Siberia, to sunny Netanya, and the cultural distance is just as vast.

But in 2015, Arkady Mayofis, founder and owner of TV2, a local television station from Tomsk, one of Russia’s last independent regional media, is fed up with life in his homeland. After the shutdown of his TV channel by the Russian government, Mayofis feared the authorities would jail him. The day after TV2 closed, Mayofis and his whole family moved to Israel.

“The business that I had been building for 25 years was closed by the authorities,” says Arkady.

It was not the first time that a Mayofis family business had been shut down by the government. In 1940, the Bolsheviks resumed his grandfather’s fur trade in Latvia and the family was exiled to Siberia.

“History repeated itself,” says Arkady, “and our family decided to leave Russia forever.”

THE MAYOFIS Family in Riga (Credit: Courtesy)

Recalling the family’s move to Israel, which included three generations of the Mayofis family and 10 people, Arkady said: “It was difficult to start a business in a new country, with completely different traditions, a lack of language skills and a misunderstanding of the Israeli mentality. In addition, before that, all my life I was engaged in television. I couldn’t do anything else. Everything had to be learned again. I was 53 when I moved to Israel and started my new life and business here.

Arkady had been a successful entrepreneur in Russia and quickly had a successful idea. Before settling in Israel, he and his family had traveled the world and had seen the wide array of gourmet souvenirs available in countries like Italy and France.

“Israel is a very tasty country,” he notes, “but there were few nicely decorated European-level gourmet memorabilia – and we decided to fill that niche. Yoffi – which means “beauty” in English – Arkady Mayofis’ new business was born.

The company – whose name plays on the family name Mayofis (linked to the Bible verse in the Song of Songs “Mah Yafit”, “how beautiful you are”) – produces and markets fine Israeli gourmet gifts. Yoffi transforms the essence of Israeli flavors – like tehina, honey, dates, nuts, halvah, herbal teas and olive oil – into exquisite gifts from the Holy Land.

The company’s office is in Netanya and its warehouse is in Modi’in, and Yoffi works with Israeli manufacturers, farms and kibbutzim across the country.

Yoffi was established as a family business soon after Arkady and his family arrived in Israel.

“When you find yourself alone in a new country and you don’t know anyone, family is the only thing you can count on,” says Arkady.

Yoffi remains a family business and Arkady works with family members to keep the business running smoothly.

Yoffi first marketed Israeli products abroad, and his food products, colorfully presented and packaged, showed a positive face of Israel around the world.

explains Arkady, “We believe that gastronomic gifts are the best diplomacy. When people eat, they don’t fight. And showing Israel through food is the best way to introduce this country to the world. “

With the effects of travel restrictions and social distancing, Yoffi gifts have also become popular at home in Israel.

Among the company’s best-selling products in duty-free shops at Ben-Gurion Airport, Arkady says, are tin cans, featuring various views of Israel, with nut bars inside. Infusions of Israeli herbs from Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee, as well as sets of honey and date spreads are also among the company’s best sellers.

While its products became known for their distinct packaging and aesthetic appeal, the company also stood out with a strong social conscience. The specially designed gift boxes by Yoffi are packaged in a factory that employs visually impaired people, and the toys and souvenirs that are added to the boxes help provide for new olim and people with special needs.

“We are olim ourselves,” says Arkady, “and we know from our own experiences how difficult it is to get used to a new country and start a business from scratch. Therefore, we strive to help people like us. In addition, in Russia we have participated in many different charitable projects.

OVER the past few years, Yoffi has expanded its product line and now produces and sells colorful postcards from Israel.

Over the past 50 years, says Arkady, several thousand artists have made their aliya from the former Soviet Union. Yoffi commissioned leading artists to produce various sets, and today the company sells five different sets, each containing 12 colorful postcards that combine ancient and modern scenes from the Land of Israel, including designs by Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. All postcards were created by FSU olim, and they are signed in English and Russian.

“We want to revive the beautiful tradition of sending hand-signed postcards. In our computerized age, a personal message is particularly valuable, ”says Arkady. The postcard series quickly became one of Yoffi’s most popular products.

Arkady and his family decided to share Israel’s colorful postcards with the general public. The company organized an exhibition showcasing the talents of Israeli artists of Soviet origin. Thirty-six artists were invited to draw their vision of Israel through their eyes. Their art reflects their own perspectives on local figures, historical monuments and breathtaking landscapes, alongside the marvels of advancing high technology. Illustrators combine both their view of the country with an outside perspective, as foreigners and travelers see Israel.

The original images and sketches from the exhibition will be printed as colorful postcards and sold individually, as well as enclosed in Yoffi gift wrap.

From October 20 to November 15, the Skizza Gallery, opposite the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, at Hebron Road 12, will present the works of these talented illustrators in an exhibition titled “Yoffi shel Israel”, the beauty of Israel.

The Skizza Gallery, founded 15 years ago, is an important center of cultural life for Russian-speaking Israel. The gallery exhibits artists who have made their alyah from the countries of the former USSR who unite Jewish and universal values ​​in their creative work.

The exhibition, which is supported by Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich, is a joint venture of Yoffi in collaboration with The Jerusalem Post.

IN ONLY five years, Arkady Mayofis has come full circle, from Russian media executive to supplier of elegant culinary gifts to the world that reflect the beauty of Israel. Could his ancestors have imagined that their descendants would settle in Israel?

“My ancestors couldn’t even dream of it,” he says.

Arkady reports that he found his family’s file of their exile in Siberia in the KGB archives. In the records, his grandfather said he regretted not leaving for Palestine sooner and expressed remorse that he would never live to see it.

“He really didn’t have the chance to see Eretz Israel,” says Arkady. “Now we live here for all of our ancestors. “

“Make tasty things beautiful” is Yoffi’s motto. Arkady Mayofis and his family have not only succeeded in making Israel’s food attractive, but also made the Land of Israel more attractive, with their series of Israeli postcards and the “Yoffi shel Israel” exhibition, which opens the October 20 at the Skizza. Gallery in Jerusalem.

This article was written in collaboration with Yoffi.


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