Good friends from Toronto just moved to Israel. Nearly two years exactly to the date of our own move. As you can imagine, we haven’t had a lot of friends visiting in the last couple of years, so just seeing them and spending time together brought a little piece of Toronto home.
We took them for a walking tour around the neighborhood. They moved just a couple of minutes from us. We stopped in all the hotspots, from the expensive makolet (mini market) to the cheaper one, to the bakery that I practically lived in the first couple months here, to the new “coffee shop” (i.e just a store that sells coffee), the wine shop and whatever else we could point out. To be honest, there isn’t much to see in our neighborhood. It’s mostly rows and rows of low-rise buildings made of Jerusalem stone with balconies poking out, and one too many hair salons. We technically live in a city, but it’s the most suburban city you’ll ever come across. I will say, however, that there’s a big mall and a train to Tel Aviv, which is great.
As we walked around, I saw our cute little suburban-city for the first time again. The uphill that makes you sweat, especially in the summer heat, and the downhill that makes you dread the uphill. We pointed out “These friends live here, those friends live there, other friends live in that building” etc etc. It’s what we love about it here. The friends we made, and the ones we reunited with. When Zvi and I first moved, we came to this area for a ‘soft landing.’ We agreed that as soon as we’d get comfortable in Israel, we’d peace out to Tel Aviv. But now I can’t imagine going anywhere else.
After the mini tour, they came over for coffee and the conversation ensued, why did you move? Why now? We were met with the exact same reasons we had for coming. Better weather, lifestyle, Jewish life and culture. It’s funny because when Israelis hear that you’ve moved, they’ll always ask: Why? But not in the I’m interested to hear why, more like wtf were you thinking? To them America (which Canada falls under) is the true land of milk and
Before Zvi and I moved, we owned our house, which we renovated from top to bottom. I had a good job with a solid career path and Zvi had a growing business. A Ram 1500 sat in our driveway, which even I drove, and during our pastime we headed to malls around the city for an endless array of brand choices. We weren’t rich by any means, but we were, as we like to say in the diaspora – comfortable.
In reality, we weren’t really that comfortable. We were freezing our butts off for eight months of the year. Zvi, having probably been a fish in his previous life, kept saying he was born in the wrong place, he wanted to be near the ocean. I kept saying I wanted a simple life, as I filled my closet with more and more stuff. We were also very stressed, getting home minutes before Shabbat on Fridays. I’d be walking out of meetings politely and then running to the train like a lunatic. Otherwise, our lives were about booking the next ticket out to an exotic destination. We spent most Sundays browsing Indigo looking through Lonely Planet books. We travelled a lot and I’m glad that we did, but it’s funny to me that since landing in Israel we haven’t gotten on a single plane, and yet our travel bug, while it isn’t gone, it isn’t itching either. Now when we feel like getting away, we drive 25 minutes to the beach and hold hands along the water. Sometimes I’ll watch Zvi surf while relaxing with a book, and sometimes the little guy comes along to splash around and make snow angels in sand.
As we spoke to our friends, we saw the familiar nervous-excited hesitation anyone completely starting their life over at the age of 30 would have, as we did. The truth is, I think one of the greatest misconceptions about Israel is that you’re limited in possibilities. From our experience, Israel is anything but limiting. In fact, I’ve seen more people change careers here than I ever did in Toronto, for better, more exciting opportunities. Israelis like to give people chances.
Many of you know by now that Zvi is becoming a chef. I’m literally smiling as I write this because this was so far from our radar before we moved. He works in a smokehouse that puts on a show every single night, serving dish after dish of fall off the bone meat. Zvi, the only North American to work there, stands at the front with the Pitmaster of the night in front of 100 people, slicing and plating the smoked heavenly goodness under the watch of intense paparazzi – diners approaching the counter to ooh and ahh with their iPhones. He’s completely immersed in Israeli culture (some of the guys he works with show up in their army uniforms donning falafels, and I don’t mean the food) and his Hebrew (and slang) is better than mine at this point. He comes home with stories and does cool things like when he recently went to an army base to serve soldiers food from the restaurant. This makes me smile even more because I know that in another lifetime he would’ve gone to the army (I may or may not have prevented this when we were 18) and this career change unexpectedly brought him to the closest proximity to this world that he could get. As the weeks of culinary school pass, I am genuinely in awe of how his life has changed. And the fact that I no longer have to cook.
When I look at where I am today in my career, I really can’t believe it either. I went from being a policy advisor in government to a marketing writer in high-tech. Oddly, we probably both owe our new careers to pandemic lockdowns. While Zvi started cooking during the first lockdown, I started writing more and some companies in Israel were experiencing massive growth, so I applied.
I landed a job in one of the biggest high-tech companies in the country. About a month ago, on the one-year anniversary of my job, I participated in a marketing competition. This meant two days of intense brainstorming – where the best ideas win. On the morning of the first day, a radical idea came to me and I told my team that the judges will either love it or hate it. Most of my team, being Israeli, unanimously said let’s go for it. Israelis aren’t exactly risk averse (#startupnation). I instantly regretted sharing my idea as we began to unpack it and form a brief. The next day, we pitched it to a panel of judges and made it to the finals, surpassing 40 teams. That same night, I got up on stage with my team as a giant projector displayed our slide deck and pitched our idea in front of a couple hundred people, all the marketing heads of the company and the CEO. Yes, I did pinch myself. And pee myself, well almost. And, I killed it. Not because we won (which we didn’t) or because the opening line of the pitch is probably the best piece of content I’ve ever written, but because I came to Israel with such a deep sense of loss from the career I had hoped to build in Toronto and now found myself on stage in a new path that strangely felt like home. After the pitches, the company threw a concert for us all and I got home late. Our good friend picked me up from the train station and dropped me and my sleeping little guy off, who they had picked up from daycare, bathed, fed and put to sleep next to his best friend. Not long after, Zvi walked in the door, in his black chef uniform. I told him all about my night, he told me about his, and the two of us fell asleep wondering how we were both living dreams we didn’t even know we had.
The only comparable career moment I have from Toronto was one time when I was asked to brief the deputy minister, by myself. If you’re familiar with government work, you’ll know that a policy advisor at my level would never brief a DM on their own. But it was a peculiar case in which, I, the token Jew in the office, was working over Christmas week. The Deputy, who was preparing for an office move came in to clear out his space and found my file at the bottom of a pile of briefing notes, dusted it off, read it and had some questions. I got a call from his assistant asking me to come and shed some light on my policy area. Obviously, I nervously called my manager who was on vacation asking if she was okay with it, and of course she said yes. When the Deputy summons you – you go. A senior policy advisor on my team who had just started a couple days before (the only reason she didn’t take time off) came along with me for support, and in attempt to close the hierarchy gap, an assistant deputy minister from an unrelated area joined. I walked into a large and intimidating boardroom and sat across the Deputy (this was pre covid days and we were way more than six feet apart). He asked me his questions and I tried to answer in the best way I was trained to as a policy advisor. I stammered between “Yes, we will certainly explore this further” and “Of course, we will liaise with the relevant stakeholders on this issue.” The meeting ended as abruptly as it was called and I wondered if I botched the entire thing.
The irony for me is this – by the time I sat in that boardroom, I had spent a combined seven years of studying and working in government policy. When I stood on stage here in Israel, I only had a year of marketing under my belt, and my confidence level couldn’t even be compared. If Zvi was born in the wrong place, I may have been building the wrong career.
It’s funny to look back now, what two years can do. Or rather, what a single moment can lead to. We had talked about this move for years, but it really came down to the anticlimactic moment when I stopped Zvi in the hallway of our newly tiled home in Toronto and said – okay, I think I’m ready to go now. Seeing our friends took me back in time to when we first landed – the unfamiliarity of it all, the getting lost in the streets, the endless “firsts” and the incessant pondering of – did we just make the biggest mistake? But like most things in life that warrant that kind of question, the apprehension we felt was always followed by the excitement of starting a new life in a new place, with new possibilities.
Happy New Year! Here’s to new beginnings.
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Rosh Hanikra June 2021 (we wanted to fly our drone here and then realized we were on the border with Lebanon)