Meet the winner of the women's division of the CHYE-COLlive Elevator Pitch Challenge: Sarah Esther Varnai who founded a publishing company to bring the beauty of Israel to children.
Following the inaugural Elevator Pitch Competition, which saw a wide display of local Chabad entrepreneurship and talent, CHYE spoke with women's winner Sarah Esther Varnai of "Kids Discover Israel."
Sarah Esther Varnai is the founder of Kids Discover Israel, a publishing company which helps children learn about and appreciate the land of Israel.
CHYE: Mrs. Varnai, would you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
Mrs. Varnai: My name is Sarah Esther Varnai. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. As a young child of seven or eight I discovered that the Jewish people have a land of their own, and I dreamed to one day move to Israel. It took me another 40 years until I fulfilled that dream, but in 2000 I moved together with my 11 children to Israel.
It didn’t take me long to realize—there is no place in the world like Israel!
CHYE: What inspired you to start your business?
Mrs. Varnai: When we moved to Israel I took a tour-guide course at Hebrew University. I wanted to know my new country like only a tour-guide knows it. I travelled to places I never knew existed. Can you imagine? A little bubby like me, climbing up mountains and crawling through tunnels.
It was amazing and it was magical. And I wanted to share that magic with Jewish children all around the world who had never been to Israel.
So that’s how my two characters, Dovid and Estie, were born. Together they make Aliyah and travel through Israel discovering their land. They travel back in time and see what the site looked like back in ancient history, and they learn about the importance the site has to the Jewish people.
CHYE: What exactly is your business?
Mrs. Varnai: I started out with the goal of creating a series of books; each book focusing on a different important archeological site. I call it the “Armchair birthright for the younger generation”. Each book contains a story of two travelers, Dovid and Estie, who journey through Israel’s ancient sites and explore their historical significance. At the end of each book I have archeological pictures and drawings, and interesting historical information regarding each of the sites.
My problem was that I couldn’t find a publisher who believed in my vision as I did. I was faced with a dilemma: Do I give up on my dream, or do I take it all on myself? I chose the latter. I quit my teaching job, and I devoted myself fulltime to writing and publishing my own books. I opened my own publishing company, KDI—Kids Discover Israel. I hired designers, illustrators, printers, marketers and distributors, and I began work on getting the word out about my series.
Something interesting I did to create awareness about the project was to run a contest in Jewish schools around the world. Students were invited to submit a poetry or art piece describing Masada, and the winning entries were published in the introduction to my Masada book. I am now running the same contest for Ir David, and the winners will be published in my next book.
CHYE: What is your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Mrs. Varnai: Don’t give up on your dreams. After 40 years of hoping I made it to Israel. And my characters Dovid and Estie finally made it into print. If you only keep dreaming you can do it too.