12 | The Jewish Press | October 13, 2017
How a Norwegian-American immigrant helps calm Israelis’ nerves
ReNee GHeRt-ZAND JERUSALEM | JTA ike many Israelis, David Ross starts his morning with a strong cup of Turkish coffee with cardamom. But then the rest of his day is all about tea. Though his company, ShalvaTea, is technically a startup, Ross isn’t your typical Israeli entrepreneur. He’s originally Norwegian, once spent two years living in a yurt and practices outdoor survivalism for fun. He’s also a Yale graduate. His life changed as soon as he moved to Jerusalem in the summer of 2014. The day he arrived, Ross, then 32, met the woman who has been his girlfriend ever since, enrolled in a six-month Hebrew course and set right to launching his business -- sourcing ingredients, printing packaging and securing permits. Each of the six tea blends Ross uses represents a different ecological region of Israel, and the tea contains dried herbs indigenous to the Israeli landscape. Because he uses only local suppliers, from herb growers to packaging printers, his tea carries official Made in Israel certification. Ross also employs people with disabilities to package some of the product. “Selling herbs grown here is a way to give a pure taste of Israel,” Ross said. “I started my herbal tea company at a stressful time, following a war with Gaza. It was my way of trying to calm things down a bit.” Ross came up with the idea of making Zionist-inspired herbal tea during two extended visits to Israel to research the aftermath of the devastating 2010 Carmel Forest wildfire. The blaze destroyed over 12,000 acres and was Israel’s deadliest fire on record, responsible for 44 deaths. On his first trip, in the summer of 2011 while pursuing a master's degree in forestry at Yale, Ross measured the density of Carmel areas that did not burn as a means of gauging the forest’s overall health. He wrote a report recommending thinning the forest and letting the land naturally regenerate. A year later he returned to Israel on a Fulbright Scholarship to research market-based solutions to overforestation in the Carmel region. Each ShalvaTea blend is associated with the ecology of a different area of Israel. What Ross did discover during his time in northern Israel was many of the indigenous plants that would inspire him to create his
herbal tea company. training, Ross experimented for his tea with an array of Israeli herbs and The son of a Norwegian father and a Jewish-American mother, Ross plants. ShalvaTea's blends include herbs not commonly found in teas, has always been interested in nature. He was born in Oslo and moved to such as zaatar (hyssop), zootah (White Micromeria), olive leaf, sumac, Helsinki, Finland, as an infant, and spent plenty of time outdoors. The carob pod and cactus flower. Each blend is meant to reflect the distinct family moved to Bethesda, Maryland, when he was 6. flavor of a geographical region in Israel. For instance, in his Arava Calm, “I was always a very outdoorsy person. I got that from my Dad. He Ross only uses plants that grow in the Arava Desert of southern Israel. would always take my brother, sister and The teas are all caffeine free and kosher certime out into nature. It was just the Norwefied, and now can be bought overseas online at gian way,” Ross said. ShalvaTea’s website. He lived in a yurt for two years in Santa “Shalva” is the Hebrew word for tranquility, Barbara, California, while working for the and ShalvaTea in Hebrew means “my serenity.” American Red Cross, where he helped comThe tea blend names are also cute: Carmel Immunities do natural disaster preparedness muniTea, Arava Calm, Jerusalem Harmony, Ein and cope with recovery. More recently, Gedi Digestif, Cleansing Galil and Soothing Elah Ross completed a yearlong survival and Valley. wilderness skills course in Israel. For the On a recent afternoon, Ross stops by Shekel, culminating exercise, participants had to the community services center in Jerusalem survive in the wild for three days with nothwhere individuals with disabilities are packaging ing but the clothes on their backs. some of his tea products. Ross was inspired to He decided to make the move to Israel partner with Shekel by a cousin who has Down from New Haven, Connecticut, after feeling syndrome and works in a similar facility. a real calling and connection to Israel while Ross takes his tea very seriously. He’s adamant spending a year in the Jewish state, includthat his blends be produced exclusively with local ing six months on an ecological kibbutz in After moving from Maryland to Israel three ingredients – meaning, for example, no ginger or years ago, David Ross launched his locally cinnamon. But his girlfriend has convinced him the southern Negev Desert. By all accounts, Ross has had a very suc- sourced herbal tea made of dried herbs indige- to bend the rules a little and include cardamom Credit: Ross in his Jerusalem Harmony blend. cessful aliyah. On the day he made aliyah nous to the Holy Land. through Nefesh B’Nefesh, he met his girlfriend, Sarke Alon, after wan“Cardamom isn’t indigenous to the Jerusalem hills, but it’s been traded dering by chance into the café she owned in the souk at Mahane Yehuda. in the Holy City for centuries, so I agreed to give it a pass,” Ross said. He was in search of somewhere to watch the World Cup on TV, and she This article was sponsored by and produced in partnership with Nefesh greeted him warmly. B’Nefesh, which in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah, The JewAfter settling in, Ross took a free online marketing course offered by ish Agency, KKL and JNF-USA is minimizing the professional, logistical Nefesh B’Nefesh, which in turn helped him secure a business loan from and social obstacles of aliyah, and has brought over 50,000 olim from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. North America and the United Kingdom over the last 15 years. This arAn amateur herbalist who learned about plants during his academic ticle was produced by JTA’s native content team.