One of the most common stops on a first tour of Israel is the Dead Sea, in Hebrew Yam HaMelach. It’s the place where visitors can change into their bathing suits, saunter to the water’s edge and float — literally unable to sink in the water due to its high concentration of salt.
After the traditional photograph is taken — mom or dad holding a newspaper (perfectly dry) while floating on top of the water— family members lather themselves top to bottom with the deep black and strikingly curative mud from the Dead Sea. The mineral-rich mud body mask has high cleansing properties that improve skin texture and tone — and through companies like the popular Ahava, people worldwide have experienced the Dead Sea’s wonder.
Now, it is time for Dead Sea foods … well, salts.
Meet Ari Fruchter, 42, a self-proclaimed Dead Sea evangelist, and his new product Naked Sea Salt, a line of gourmet Dead Sea salt in all sorts of bold and exotic flavors, such as sweet orange and chili, green seaweed, mint, sun-dried tomato and aromatic rosemary. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign in late July to raise funds to manufacture and produce its product; in just two days it reached it first-level goal of $10,000. Now, with less than two weeks to go (the campaign ends the day before Rosh Hashanah), Naked Sea Salt is on its way to hitting the $50,000, $100,000 or $250,000 marks. Hitting stretch goals will enable it to roll out up to five new “secret uber premium” flavors, said Fruchter, pull together leading chefs to create a Naked Sea Salt cookbook and roll out a line in commemorative containers.
Said Fruchter: “We’re not just hoping to put together a product line, but a community.”
The story behind the salt
How did a Gen-X corporate high-tech guy turn into an environmental activist? Fruchter said it all started two years ago when he brought his friend, American photographer Spencer Tunick, to Israel to do one of the large-scale nude shoots that have gained international acclaim. The event brought 1,200 Israelis to the Dead Sea, to bare it all for the photographs. Fruchter used the hype — the project reached more than 500 million people — to raise awareness about the environmental plight of the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea is disappearing, dying because the waters that used to feed the Dead Sea — the Jordan River — are no longer flowing. The Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of five feet a year; one third has already dried up. This happened because Israel, Jordan and Syria have all been diverting it for water to drink and to irrigate desert crops. This has left a widening landscape of sinkholes and mudflats.
Fruchter and Tunick’s project, said Fruchter, became known as one of the leading efforts done for the Dead Sea from an environmental perspective.
“I wanted to continue that in a way that would be meaningful,” said Fruchter.
While working on the photo shoot, Fruchter came across a mom-and-pop Palestinian company, West Bank Salt Works, run by Hussam Hallak, which has been harvesting Dead Sea salt since 1964 — when the area was still under Jordanian rule. Fruchter tasted the salt, using harvesting methods that have been around for centuries, and was blown away by its taste. He then brought in an NGO to do an environmental assessment of the salt company. The NGO reported the company “environmentally green, not doing any damage [to the Dead Sea],” Fruchter said, noting that Naked Sea Salt will have no significant impact on the Dead Sea’s water levels or the surrounding environment.
So a shidduch was made — and then another one with Alon Lior, a Haifa-based foodie. West Bank Salt Works supplies Lior with the salt, and he then blends it with other spices and herbs to create the multicolored and multiflavored seasonings of Naked Sea Salt.
“The best way to be good neighbors is to break bread — to be in business together,” said Fruchter.
“[Hassan and his family] have been doing all of this work by hand,” said Ari Gottesmann, founder and CEO of Nomadigo, who is handling Naked Sea Salt’s marketing. “For the first time, someone is appreciating the quality of the work he is doing and putting it on the shelf.”
Well, on the virtual shelf.
Fruchter is likewise partnering with Abe’s Market, an e-commerce company with more than 12,000 natural, organic, health and wellness products.
“A mutual friend introduced me to Ari,” said Abe’s Market co-owner and founder Jon Polin, who is originally from Chicago (where the company’s American branch is located) but lives in Jerusalem. “Ari told me, ‘We are building this from scratch, and we want to do it direct to consumer, not through brick-and-mortar [businesses].’ ”
Abe’s Market offers Naked Sea Salt a unique platform, because of its more sophisticated consumer. It vets all of its companies and products and selects to sell items that tell a story — that better the world and people’s lives, explained Polin.
“We are largely hoping to create the platform and give a voice to the Naked Sea Salt guys. … The product has many compelling angles,” Polin said, who noted that the salt is kosher certified, too.
And he’s right. There’s the Middle East peace side (a successful Israeli-Palestinian collaboration); the environmental component (Naked Sea Salt has committed to donate a portion of its profits to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies to fund Dead Sea environmental protection programs, such as the efforts to promote the rehabilitation of the Jordan River and Dead Sea in its Center for Tran-boundary Water ;), and there’s the health angle (salt from the Dead Sea contains 32 different minerals, 21 of which are concentrated in higher levels than in any other).
“People love it,” said Fruchter. “It’s very unique — very special.”
Maayan Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Washington Jewish Week’s sister publication, the Baltimore Jewish Times.