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Draft Choice

Shlomi Gil

They were best friends growing up, but when one became a rock musician and the other a baal teshuvah, who would have thought they’d turn an old beer-making hobby into a modern boutique product line?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

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TASTE OF FRIENDSHIP “The brewing process fascinated me,” says Moscowitz. When he invited his long-lost friend over for a taste, it was an instant click. Lev affirms, “If you’d asked me when I was a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said that I wanted to make beer with Yaron” (Photos: Yaakov Lederman)

L ooking at Yaron Moscowitz and Amir Lev, two beer-making aficionados who’ve taken their craft to an appreciative public, you might wonder what these friends and partners have in common — Yaron with his long hair and jeans, and Amir, with his long beard and tzitzis.

In fact, the 41-year-old owners of Mosco Brewery and creators of their Mosco “boutique” beer brand were best friends growing up on the same street in Rishon L’Tzion, went to school together, and even served in the same army unit — and as teenagers, they shared an affinity for alcohol, especially beer.

Moscowitz is a grandson of Zev Moscowitz, an immigrant from New York who created Goldstar beer in the 1950s, although Yaron says that by the time he was born, his grandfather was already out of the beer business. Still, a good ale was his family’s favorite beverage.

“When we were kids,” says Moscowitz, “Amir and I had this dream that one day we’d open a pub together, maybe create our own brand of brew.”

Yaron Moscowitz couldn’t have known how prophetic that fantasy would be, especially as the two friends eventually parted ways and didn’t even have contact for several years. Yaron became a professional rock and blues musician (he’d been playing serious guitar since he was 12), and his friend Amir became… a baal teshuvah.

Tropical Storm

“If you’d asked me when I was a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said that I wanted to make beer with Yaron. But if you asked me ten years ago, beer was probably the furthest thing from my mind,” says Amir Lev, an agronomist by profession.

The two men’s paths separated after their army service, when Lev decided to travel the world with his new wife Iris, whom he’d met when they were both 20. At the time, the Levs’ philosophy was the more exotic the country, and the farther away, the better. They’d never imagined that one of those journeys would become the catalyst for a turning point in their lives.

Guatemala. The Land of Eternal Spring welcomed Amir and Iris Lev with a warm caress. The seemingly endless mountains, the native population, and unpredictable subtropical storms were a perfect mix. The Levs had already crossed the Far East with backpacks slung over their shoulders, and now it was time to conquer Central America as well.

“One day we were on a bus in Guatemala City, and as I put down our packs, a young guy behind me dropped a handful of change and asked me to help him pick up the coins. I bent down to help, and when I picked up my head, I saw that he’d disappeared — and so did our packs. The whole thing was a setup,” Amir remembers. “Everything we had was inside — our passports, our clothes, our money. We didn’t even have one quetzal.”

They hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take them to the Israeli embassy, promising that he would receive payment when they arrived. But when they got to the embassy, they found the gates locked.

“It was a Sunday, and the embassy was closed,” Amir related. “So there we were, standing there helplessly with this indignant driver waiting for his money. I don’t think I ever felt so lost or powerless.”

Right there, with no way to help themselves and despairing of anyone helping them, they had no choice but to pray, although they were as far from religion as Guatemala is from Bnei Brak. And then, just like in the stories, a miracle came out of nowhere — pedaling toward them on an old bicycle, in the form of a person whose long beard and tzitzis were flying in the wind.

“To us he looked like a heavenly angel, and in fact he happened to be the Chabad rav of Guatemala City,” says Amir. “We explained our predicament, and without flinching, he paid the driver and invited us to stay with him as guests in his home.”

The couple also discovered that the rabbi passed by the embassy by chance. “He told us that his car was at the mechanic, and he had to use his bicycle to run his errands, leading him onto streets he’d never pass in a car. He wasn’t supposed to be on the embassy’s street at all.

“You have to understand where we were coming from,” Amir continues. “When you grow up in a totally secular environment, there’s this automatic ‘anti’ reflex when it comes to religion. You think they’re out to brainwash you and coerce you. But here we were, a couple of helpless, disheveled stragglers, and they embraced us unconditionally.

“Only once did the rabbi ask me to come to shul with him, and that was when he was short a minyan, but one day he did ask me if I wanted to put on tefillin. ‘Why not?’ I thought. I hadn’t put on tefillin since my bar mitzvah, and although I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, I figured it would be a nice gesture, considering how well he was treating us.

Although their lifestyles are quite different, on a personal level each one respects the other — and on the production line, it’s strictly kosher l’mehadrin

After parting from their hosts, the couple continued on their travels, returning to Israel a month later. But something of that encounter stayed with them, and Iris decided she wanted to learn more about Judaism and spirituality. She discovered the workshops of Breslover teacher and singer Gidi Dabush, and encouraged her husband to come along.

“Truthfully, my life was very tranquil at the time and I didn’t feel anything was missing. But Iris wanted us to go to a rabbi to discuss the meaning of life, and like a good husband, I agreed.”

Dabush suggested they begin to study with body-soul instructor Rabbi Gil Damari, “and for me, that was an instant click. “He encouraged me not to be afraid to peel off the layers that had been blocking me from my essence,” Amir says. “But it wasn’t like we did an instant teshuvah. We gradually took things upon ourselves, like no more driving or watching TV on Shabbat.”

At that point, says Amir, it was only natural that he drifted away from Yaron and his other friends in that circle. He was no longer willing to party with them on Friday nights, and his priorities shifted. “I began putting my energy into learning Torah. That’s what pulled me most, but it didn’t exactly speak to them.”

The Levs had been living in a small moshav near Nes Tziyona called Beit Chanan, while Amir studied to become an agronomist. But as they became committed to a Torah life, they knew they needed a religious environment. And so they moved to Beit Shemesh, where they still live with their four children.

Beginner’s Blend

Yaron, meanwhile, was busy with his music and also honing his beer-making hobby.

“The process fascinated me,” he says, “and I began to study, seek out expert advice, and experiment. There were a lot of bumps along the road, but one day I hit upon a perfect taste. And who was a better person to share my joy with than my old friend Amir, who I knew would still appreciate the magic taste of a good home brew.” They hadn’t been in touch in five years, but Moscowitz picked up the phone and invited Amir Lev to come over and taste the fruits of his labor. It was a click. (excerpted)

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