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One family’s journey from Siberia to Israel and owning a business

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It’s quite a journey – almost 6,400 kilometers – from Tomsk, Russia, one of the oldest cities in frigid Siberia, to sunny Netanya, and the cultural distance is equally vast.
But in 2015, Arkady Mayofis, founder and owner of TV2, a local television station in Tomsk, one of the last independent regional media outlets in Russia, had enough of life in his homeland. After his TV station was shuttered by the Russian government, Mayofis feared that the authorities would imprison him. The day after TV2 went off the air, Mayofis and his entire 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 was closed by the government. In 1940, the Bolsheviks took over his grandfather’s fur business 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) THE MAYOFIS Family in Riga (credit: Courtesy)

Recalling the family’s move to Israel, which included three generations of the Mayofis family and 10 individuals, Arkady says, “It was difficult to build a business in a new country, with completely different traditions, a lack of language skills, and a misunderstanding of the Israeli mentality. Plus, before that, all my life, I was engaged in television. I could do nothing else. Everything had to be learned again. I was 53 years old when I moved to Israel and started my new life and business here.”
Arkady had been a prosperous entrepreneur in Russia and soon hit upon a successful idea. Before moving to Israel, he and his family had traveled throughout the world and had seen the wide array of gastronomic souvenirs available in countries such as Italy and France.
“Israel is a very tasty country,” he notes, “but there were few beautifully decorated, European-level gastronomic souvenirs – and we decided to fill this niche.” Yoffi – which means “beauty” in English – Arkady Mayofis’s new venture, was born.
The company – whose name plays on the Mayofis family name (related to the biblical verse from the Song of Songs “Mah Yafit,” “how beautiful you are”) – produces and markets beautiful Israeli gastronomic gifts. Yoffi turns the essence of Israeli flavors – such as tehina, honey, dates, nuts, halva, 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 in collaboration with Israeli manufacturers, farms and kibbutzim throughout the country.
Yoffi was formed as a family business soon after Arkady and his family arrived in Israel.
“When you find yourself alone in a new country and don’t know anyone, the family is the only thing you can rely on,” says Arkady.
Yoffi remains a family business, and Arkady works together with members of the family to keep the company running smoothly.
Yoffi initially marketed Israeli products overseas, and its food products, colorfully presented and packaged, have shown a positive face of Israel throughout 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 make this country known to the world.”
With the effects of travel restrictions and social distancing, Yoffi gifts have become equally appreciated at home in Israel, too.
Among the company’s best-selling products in the duty-free shops at Ben-Gurion Airport, says Arkady, are tin boxes, featuring various views of Israel, with nut bars inside. Israeli herbal infusions from Jerusalem, the Negev and Galilee, and sets of honey and date spread are also among the company’s top sellers.
While its products have become known for their distinct packaging and aesthetic appeal, the company has also stood out with a strong social conscience. Yoffi’s specially designed gift boxes are packed in a factory that employs people with impaired vision, 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,” explains Arkady, “and we know from our own experiences how difficult it is to get used to a new country and build a business from scratch. Therefore, we strive to help people like us. Plus, in Russia, we were involved in many different charitable projects.”
IN THE past several years, Yoffi has expanded its line of products and now produces and sells colorfully painted postcards of Israel.
Over the past 50 years, says Arkady, several thousand artists have made aliyah 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 of the Land of Israel, including drawings of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. All the postcards were created by olim from the FSU, and they are signed in English and Russian.
“We want to revive the beautiful tradition of sending hand-signed postcards. In our computerized era, a personal message is especially valuable,” Arkady points out. The postcard series has quickly become one of Yoffi’s most popular products.
Arkady and his family have decided to share the colorful postcards of Israel with the public at large. The company has organized an exhibition showcasing the talents of Soviet-born Israeli artists. Thirty-six artists were invited to draw their vision of Israel through their eyes. Their art reflects their own perspectives on local personalities, historical monuments and breathtaking landscapes, alongside the wonders of hi-tech progress. The illustrators combine both their view of the country with an external point of view, as outsiders and travelers see Israel.
The original pictures and sketches in the exhibition will be printed as colored postcards and sold individually, as well as inserted into Yoffi gift packages.
From October 20 through November 15, the Skizza Gallery, across from the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, at Hebron Road 12, will display the works of these talented illustrators in an exhibit 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 aliyah from the countries of the FSU 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 conjunction with The Jerusalem Post.
IN JUST five years, Arkady Mayofis has come full circle, from Russian media executive to supplier of stylish culinary gifts to the world that reflect Israel’s beauty. Could his ancestors have ever imagined that their descendants would move to Israel?
“My ancestors could not even dream about it,” he says.
Arkady reports that he found his family’s file of their exile to Siberia in the KGB archives. In the archival records, his grandfather stated that he regretted not having left for Palestine earlier 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.”
“Making tasty things beautiful” is the motto of Yoffi. Arkady Mayofis and his family have succeeded not only in making the food of Israel attractive but have also made the Land of Israel more eye-catching, with their Israeli postcard series and the “Yoffi shel Israel” exhibit, which opens October 20 at the Skizza Gallery in Jerusalem.
This article was written in cooperation with Yoffi.

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Co-Host for Coffee Mouth Scarecrow Show. Retired NAVY Chief/Flag Writer Psalms 118:24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

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