Everyone in business has challenges. Some we can see coming from a distance, others appear quite unexpectantly. Our Faith Friday guest is the owner of an art studio in a unique location: The Old City of Jerusalem.
Udi (Ooo-dee) Merioz (Merry Oz-is) has led a dynamic life (bio below), and through his experiences has developed many insights about his business and personal priorities, lessons we also can learn from and apply to our lives and businesses.
First, some background. After Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967, Udi’s family was the first to re-settle in the Old City of Jerusalem. He was the first boy to live in the city once the war was over. As a 9-year-old boy, he recalls seeing only women in the city for a time, as all the men had been engaged in fighting the war.
Udi couldn’t breathe well as a child, which limited his ability to participate in activities like soccer. This physical challenge helped him learn to love reading and art. His Dad had been an artist but suffered a debilitating injury to his right hand during the war, which effectively ended his artistic pursuits. Udi had entered school to pursue engineering but eventually, chose to embrace the world of art as his father had.
Udi’s store is called Blue and White and sits in a unique location in Jerusalem’s Old City. It’s under a covered storefront located on the Cardo (which was the name of the main north-south road in ancient Roman cities). This one was built in Jerusalem when the Romans ruled there).
The store is full of colorful and creative pieces of art; some whimsical, many inspirational, and some that compels you to stop for a longer look to drink in their meaning.
When I asked Udi how covid impacted his business, he told me that on March 15, 2020, business owners were given just half a day to close shop as Israel went into lockdown. It was their attempt to stop the spread of covid-19. During the first 24 hours, Udi asked a question many of us have asked ourselves when faced with the unknown: “What should I do?”
Udi is married and the father of five children and felt the weight of that responsibility. He quickly concluded that “God will provide.” He believed it to be true, but like you and I, he had no idea how things would play out.
Not long after the lockdown began, Udi received an e-mail from a pastor in the United States asking him to create a personalized piece of art for his anniversary. Not long after the piece had been created and delivered, an additional 150 individual orders came in through email from others, requesting one-of-a-kind pieces for their own celebrations. These orders, along with other special requests, sustained Udi, and his family for more than three months.
The lockdown was a very difficult time for small businesses in Jerusalem. Udi says a full 50 percent did not make it. The biggest lesson for him and his family wasn’t just about business, but a personal one: “Trust in the Lord.” He said, “The secret to a good life is to always look up to the Lord and to trust that after the storm, he will provide a rainbow.”
Udi took time to listen to podcasts during the lockdown and found himself moved and encouraged by one specific podcast, hosted by Stanley McCrystal, a retired United States Army general who is best known for his command of Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008. Udi said McCrystal’s leadership was instrumental in how the forces under his command understood their roles and shaped how they functioned as a unit.
Udi found application to his own life and family.
During a visit to his shop during the lockdown, the Old City was deserted to the point where the only sign of life was birds. They had pretty much taken over the entire area. Things looked bleak and desolate. But the Lord provided.
What about marketing plans for Udi and his unique gift of art? At one point, he tried to follow the advice of others and employ some outside marketing resources. However, it didn’t take him long to decide that W-O-D, (Word of Mouth) was, and continues to be, his best marketing tool. He’s not a tech guy, but loves sitting at a small table just outside the front door of his shop, doodling, creating, and interacting with those who stroll by.
As far as his artistic creativity? When I asked where his ideas came from, he said he was trained to use his brain to approach things in a methodical step-by-step process. That process has changed quite a bit over the years. Now, many of his new ideas come from the people he meets and the situations they face in life.
“Some things just evoke an image in me,” he said. “I know somehow, I’m like a pipe of water, for those who need a drink. For me, artwork and painting is a language. The Lord puts different seeds in each of us.”
Udi’s talent used to have him traveling the world. These days he is content to be at his shop.
“One should always check his priorities,” he said. “They might change. In school, they teach your kids to count. Parents need to teach their kids what to count: Values!”
I couldn’t end our conversation with Udi without asking how he would encourage someone to consider a visit to Israel.
“If you’re ready to clean yourself, take all off, including your ego and trust, and trust that you will not stay empty,” he answered. “A new water will come to you, fresher, and taking even some of the stains, make it (your life) more clear, then it’s worth your visit.”
When you visit Jerusalem’s Old City, it’s likely you’ll see Udi sitting out in front of his shop, creating, visiting, interacting, and encouraging those who stop to talk with him. He said, “I feel like I serve the Lord by being here and welcoming people.”
I’ll conclude with a question Udi shared. It is a Hebrew story that says “Who is a rich man? The one who is content with what he’s got.” Good words for you and me to live by.