Started with a Hair Straightener in San Franscisco
Meet Ewa and Yoni.
Ewa (pronounced “Eva”) Nassalska-Yemini was born in NYC to Polish parents, and returned back to her homeland at a young age. While attending university in Warsaw, she had to opportunity to study abroad in Belgium and explore Europe, but Ewa always dreamed of moving back to America. So after graduating, with just $450 in her pocket and a US passport, she packed her bags and headed to California.
On the other side of the world was Yoni Yemini, an Israeli with an American mother and an Israeli father. He grew up right outside Tel Aviv, and after finishing his mandatory army service moved to the city. Yoni studied sound engineering and business management, and ended up working in the events industry. The company he worked for provided sound and light services to 80% of the clubs in Tel Aviv. Yoni was doing well at his company, but he felt like he needed to make a change. Yoni decided to explore America and found several job opportunities. Looking for guidance he turn to his uncle who advised him: “listen, San Francisco is the place for you right now.” So Yoni packed his bags and headed to California.
Fast forward to January 2012. After five months, Ewa has finally landed her dream job working as a behavior therapist for kids on the autism spectrum. Yoni is working hard at a shopping mall kiosk selling hair straighteners. During peak holiday season, successful salespeople such as Yoni were taking to many people throughout the day. Ewa was completely broke, but went to the mall to shop for few necessities.
Yoni: Come, I will show you something for your hair.
Ewa: Thank you, but I am not buying anything.
Yoni: No worries, my manager will see that I am working, it’s fine.
Ewa: Sitting down in the chair. You don’t understand, I am really not buying anything.
Yoni: I can still do your hair.
Ewa did not buy anything, but Yoni did get her number.
A few days passed and Yoni called Ewa. Yoni was working both during the week and on the weekends at the kiosk, and Ewa was with her students most mornings and afternoons. They found the only time that worked for both of them: a midweek 10am coffee date. Ewa and Yoni met at a local coffee shop. But this was no ordinary day for the couple, new to each other and new to the country.
In the middle of Berkeley near San Francisco, a small coffee shop meet cute, the music of Israeli singer Idan Raichel began to play over the loudspeaker. Growing up in Poland, Idan Raichel was the only Israeli artist Ewa could recognize. From an Israeli music production background, Yoni also recognized the familiar melody immediately.
“It was really disorienting” Yoni recalls, “I just moved to America, my head was still not adjusted to where I was. And then this music we both knew comes on the speakers and Ewa is talking, and I just spaced out.” “Well, adjusting to languages can be really difficult” Ewa adds fondly as she remembers their first date.
Ewa and Yoni frequented that coffee shop, but they never heard any other Israeli music. It must have been a sign.
Five years later, Idan Raichel started to play at the same coffee shop. This time, they were meeting with their own DJ who would be working at their wedding.
Soon after meeting, Yoni and Ewa moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Yoni’s dream was to work in Hollywood and get back into the event industry and Ewa thought it was time for him to move on from the kiosks. While working an office day job, Yoni started freelancing at bars and pubs as a sound and light specialist, and now dabbling in event production. He wanted to make it as a sound and light engineer. However, making it in Hollywood is not easy. While at his day job, Yoni teamed up with an orthodox DJ and together they started producing events through new connections they made in the Jewish community. This felt like a step in the right direction. But, life was still hard. Ewa was driving all the time as a behavior therapist in Los Angeles. Yoni wanted more career opportunities. So Yoni called his old boss, and he said “Okay, go to New York.”
New York was actually New Jersey. Yoni got a call from his boss a few months later that the New Jersey office was closing, so they headed back to where it all “Started with a Straightener” in San Francisco. This time, truly determined, Yoni landed a great job in event production. Meanwhile, the first Chabad of San Francisco was starting to grow. Yoni began working closely with the organization, doing their holiday events, from Passover to Purim to Hannukah. These connections eventually led the team to work Jewish weddings.
The turning point was when the wedding coordinator Yoni and Ewa hired for their own wedding quit less than 24 hours before the event. It was December, so when they arrived at the venue, it was fully decorated with festive Christmas trimmings. Not the perfect backdrop of a Jewish wedding. Ewa’s eyes were opened to how little companies knew about Jewish weddings, and Jewish events in general.
This is how Yoni finally convinced Ewa to work with him. They dreamed of opening a division for Jewish events at Yoni’s company at the time, with no success. Between lack of freedom in their careers, the California prices, and the traffic, both Ewa and Yoni knew it was time to move again. Three days into a trip to Chicago, the couple knew that they had found their new home and the beginning of a new career.
Written by ChiTribe Writing Collaborator, Amanda Monto