My family has been in the land for more than 300 years. I grew up on the border of a refuge camp located in Anathoth (East Jerusalem); the same place where Jeremiah, the Prophet was born. I was the oldest child of four children. Because of the family situation, I had to find ways of contributing to the day to day expenses.
As a lad of 13 or 14 years old, on my own initiative, I sought out a carpenter with whom I could work after school. This carpenter was a wonderful Muslim whose business was located in the camp. He became an excellent role model for me.
I went to a local Catholic school. My favorite subject was science. I excelled in school. However I was not able to finish school because of the First Intifada. At this point, I decided to go out and work. My first real job was serving as a waiter in a hotel. During this time, I began taking two or three items from the family shop and selling them to tourists. When I was able to sell enough items to support my family and myself, I left my position as a waiter and began working full time in my family’s shop in which my uncles were silent partners. I was very active in the store and as I was able to do so, I began to buy my uncles’ share of the business.
I gave up religion at an early age and did not really believe in anything. In 1997, I asked God if He was there and in what religion. God responded in a dream and visions and surround me with godly people who discipled me. Because of my new found faith I began running my business in God’s way and not in my way. The store became a platform from which to witness.
Before I became a believer, the business was an ordinary souvenir shop , However, I began seeing the meaning of Biblical antiquities and the hand crafts that were sold in the store. An example of this is the story behind the carved olive wood that I sell in my store. The story began in the middle of the 1800’s when English missionaries came to the Holy Land. They saw the need to teach Arab Christian families a craft so that they might support their families. One of the crafts that were taught was carving sculptures made of olive wood. Today the money from the sales of these items in my store go to descendants of these original families. Another example is the meaning of widow’s mite. At the moment I am walking around with two such coins in my pocket.
In 1978, my uncle bought a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority (No. 7 of 49 such licenses issued in Israel). This license lay dormant until 1981. After my uncle died, my father took over the shop. During the First Intifada, because of circumstance beyond our control and my father’s failing health, the shop stayed closed until 1996. At the age of 17 I began to run the shop and committed myself to make the business succeed. In the morning I would work at the Holy Land Hotel, and in the afternoon I worked in the store. When the Second Intifada began, the business came to a stand still because there were no tourists. At this point, I started working as a field director for the Alliance Church in the West Bank. However, I could not give up on the the business. One of the reasons for this was my recognition of the need for Palestinian Christians to be able to earn an income. In addition, it was important that they had a business man who role modeled what it meant to be a good Christian business man. This included the need to demonstrate good business values and practices. Currently, we have achieved both these goals. I also realized the importance of living side by side with my Israeli neighbors. I now interface with Arab, Jewish and Gentile business men.
My clients fall into two categories. The first group includes academics and their students. Over the years, I have built relationships with leading academics in the field of antiquities and Biblical studies. This has been accomplished by them siting in my store in Jerusalem, drinking a cup of coffee. They come to recognize my expertise in the field of antique coins. I have loaned rare coins to them so that they could exhibit them to their students both in Israel and the U.S. For these academics, I have created a safe zone in the midst of the Old City where meaningful discussions are conducted. I have also built relationships with some of the students they brought into the store. Several have worked in my store for a period of time and acquired invaluable knowledge of antiquities that they would not have otherwise obtained. Some of these students will become professors. Such an example, is a PhD student who worked in my store to earn money for his studies in Israel. This student is now an assistant professor at a college in the US.
The second source of clients is derived from tour groups. I have built trust relationships with American tour leaders who, over the years, have repeatedly brought their groups to the store. They know when they bring their groups to Zak’s Antiquities that the prices are fair and they will not be cheated. For both groups, the fact that we have a common belief and my expertise and knowledge in Biblical antiquities have been important building blocks.
I am still involved in Christian ministry. I give seminars in churches abroad on the situation of Christians living in the Middle East and I am involved with the Palestinian Bible Society.
It is my goal that my business become more global and to develop a franchises model that can be duplicated in other countries. The first step to this goal is now being implemented and includes recruiting retailers in the U.S. who would acquire inventory from the head office in Jerusalem.
I am married, and have two daughters. My wife is a social worker for the Jerusalem Municipality