(Kosher) Sex and the (Holy) City

Next door to a florist and a chocolatier on trendy Emek Refaim Street is this shop selling 'special gifts for lovers.'

Candlesticks and honey dust, massage creams and sexy undies, and even super-kosher spreadable, lickable Belgian chocolate fill the shop.

Under the wedding canopy, a [Jewish] groom promises his bride that he will provide her with comfortable standards of food, shelter, and sexual gratification.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Heavenly Sex

Until 2004, there was nowhere in Israel a woman could buy edible fruit-flavored undies. Nor could couples buy spreadable, lickable Belgian chocolate certified kosher under the strictest rabbinical supervision.

It was then that Idit Ben-Haim opened Lo.Ve.La on Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim Street.

“I was looking for something that didn’t yet exist in Israel,” said Ben-Haim, 39. “Either there was nothing or there were sex shops. So I decided to open a love shop, with a playful touch of sex.”

The shop’s name written in English letters indeed hints at love; in Hebrew, the name means “for him and for her.”

This straight-oriented store, owned and staffed exclusively by women, focuses on romance and intimacy. Candles of all types, even candles made of massage butter, and candlesticks that burn colored paraffin (and that can double as Sabbath lights); Victoria’s Secret creams and lotions; his-and-her ceramic cats and birds; and lacy nighties are among the items that fill the shelves.

But there are also erotic card games for couples, undergarments for role playing, “honey dust” to be applied with a feather and licked off, and a pair of dice that glow in the dark, one of which shows what to do and the other of which indicates which room of the house to do it in.

Ben-Haim’s clientele is very varied. Only a few clients are ultra-Orthodox, but many are Orthodox.

“A couple’s intimate relations are sanctified in the Orthodox community,” Ben-Haim explained. “Some women come here before going to the mikveh [ritual bath] and buy underwear and massage products.”A popular wedding gift among her Orthodox clients is a basket filled with the shop’s products, and a similar basket is also a favorite gift for brides going to the mikveh for the first time.

A tiny back room separated by a curtain from the main part of the shop has a variety of sex toys and a small selection of erotic films. Not everyone is allowed to enter.

“We advise couples who want to buy the sex products,” Ben-Haim said. “This is not a sex shop.”

Lo.Ve.La, which bills itself as selling “special gifts for lovers,” also offers two types of workshops for women, one in which new products are explained, and another, often on the occasion of a birthday, that starts off with games and ends with information about products. Now Ben-Haim plans to expand her business through franchises around the country, using the Emek Refaim shop as the model.

Lo.Ve.La is set back slightly from the street, next door to a florist and a chocolatier. The recessed entrance was not what Ben-Haim wanted originally, but now she sees it as an advantage, because it helps create an atmosphere of intimacy, she said, “and you don’t have to sneak in through a dark, sleazy stairwell.”

Lo.Ve.La, 52 Emek Refaim; 02-563-8090. Open Sunday through Thursday 10 to 9, Friday 10 to 2:30.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

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