Adir Cohen, Tamir Silam, Daniel Amar and Niv Polver, all aged 21, from Dimona. Daniel is flying to New York

Why is Daniel’s name inscribed on your T-shirts?

Tamir and Adir: It’s in honor of Daniel.

And who is Daniel?

Daniel Amar: That’s me. I am going to the United States to study, and my friends surprised me by having a T-shirt with my name on it made, in honor of the trip.

Why a sports shirt?

Because it also has the logo of the college team I am going to play for. I have been accepted to Virginia Tech on an athletic scholarship.

What sport?

I’m a soccer player, a midfielder.

How did that happen?

I heard about the possibility from a friend of my parents and I was bitten by the bug. I contacted Dudi Adler, an Israeli agent who represents athletes and deals with organizations abroad. He got in touch with American universities on my behalf. It’s a long, complicated process.

How does it work?

A few colleges were interested in me. Some of them contacted me personally: Hawaii, Alabama and New York. But Virginia Tech sent the head coach and the assistant coach to Israel to see me play, and offered the best terms.

What kind of scholarship did you get?

A full scholarship, including living expenses, for five years. Just the tuition fee is something like $50,000 a year. But I am not going just to play soccer. I will be a serious student.

I will risk voicing a note of cynicism. Are you sure you’re a soccer player?

Over and above the soccer, I also had to be accepted academically. That involved a lot of work, but as far as I am concerned it’s the best university I could have dreamed of. It allows me to combine two areas in which I have excelled since I was a boy and not have to forgo either in favor of the other.

Sports and studies?

Yes. My matriculation exam average is 90.

What will you take at Virginia Tech?

I want to study business management and marketing. The first two years is a general B.A., then you pick your major − but that’s my plan.

What about your sports career?

The Virginia Tech team, the Hokies, is in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], which is the top college league. Duke, North Carolina and Maryland are in the ACC, too.

Who did you play for in Israel?

I was with Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Maccabi Be’er Sheva and Hapoel Dimona. I moved around. And I also did army service. I just got out a week ago. The army classified me not as an outstanding athlete but as an active athlete.

Do you know what your life there will be like?

Not exactly. I know I will live outside the college in an apartment, that was arranged for me and a few more soccer players. And that there will be a lot of training. Twice a day.

I thought the Americans were more into football.

They are, but on the other hand soccer in America is still a lot more developed than it is in Israel and maybe even in Europe. Look what’s going on with Thierry Henry.

The photographer will have to fill me in.

He played pro soccer in Europe, with Arsenal and Barcelona, and was the goal king. Now he plays for the New York Red Bulls. He wanted to play in America, but it’s not so simple there. American soccer is a whole different thing and requires much more personal investment. I was told, for example, that in addition to two training sessions a day, I would have to go to the gym and do bodybuilding. They will add personal workouts to my schedule so I can close the gap. But there’s no two ways about it: I’m as pleased as punch. It’s very hard for me to part with my home and my friends, but this was my dream.

Tamir: Maybe you’ll let him go now? Interview or not, we want to say good-bye.

I just wanted to ask whether his parents aren’t worried that he won’t come back.

Daniel Amar: I think that if that happens because I have been successful, it will be all right with them. They are proud of me.

Zahava Amar ‏(the mother‏): He is a real Cinderella story, the way he did it all himself.

A successful kid.

Ami Amar ‏(the father, smiling‏): Like his father.

 

Bat El Oshria, 23, from Herev La'et, assistant in a special-ed school (holding Belle); Yael Oshri, 50, from Herev La'et; and Aliya Oshri, 21, assistant kindergarten teacher from Even Yehuda (holding Molly); Yael has just arrived from Zurich

Be careful, there’s a fine for smoking here, and you’re both blowing smoke rings. They’ll be onto you in a minute.

Bat El: It’s not a cigarette, and it’s permitted.

Aliya: It’s an electronic cigarette − only steam with an aroma. Do you see the light here?

Bat El: I bought them this week. Our mom has just landed and we brought her some, too. We’re all going to stop smoking together.

Let me have a puff. Oy! It’s really sweet.

Bat El: I took a cherry-flavored liquid, so it’s sweet. It’s a little like a narghile, no?

There’s a liquid inside? And does the liquid only contain an aroma or something else, too?

Bat El: There is nicotine in the liquid, but we will gradually reduce it. Here’s our mom. Mom, we want to introduce you to your new friend, the electronic cigarette. What do you say?

It might be a little hard to check out with the dogs licking her face. Are they hers?

Bat El: Yes, they are excited. She was away for a month.

Where were you?

Yael: I was in Switzerland, visiting my family. My mother is an elderly woman. She has lived for many years in a small village on the Swiss-French border. My two brothers also live there.

Are you Swiss by origin?

Yes, I immigrated to Israel.

Are you Jewish?

No. I came to Israel in 1988, when I was about 26. I came at first as a tourist and I fell in love with the country. Finally I decided to stay and I also converted.

What was the conversion process like?

I understand that it’s a lot stricter today and that you even have to live with a religious family for a time, but it was also far from easy in my time. I had to attend an intensive course every day with a group of women who were undergoing conversion, and I had lessons on the precepts, the holidays and halakha [religious law]. That went on for seven-eight months. We studied and studied, and then we had to go through the rabbinic court in Kiryat Shmona. The final exam was in the rabbinic court; there were three rabbis and they asked plenty of questions.

Do you still remember it vividly?

I remember that they asked less about all the details and facts that we learned, and tried more to understand if we had grasped what Judaism is, and what the most important elements of the religion are. I also remember that I went with a large group of women to immerse ourselves in a mikveh [ritual bath] in Bat Yam.

Why was it important for you to convert?

I miss my family very much. But I never wanted to stay in Switzerland. I didn’t feel a connection with the country. I traveled a lot from a young age and saw the world. The travels only strengthened my feeling that Switzerland was not the place for me.

Bat El: My mother is really not a typical Swiss person.

Did you feel a sense of belonging in Israel?

Yael: Israel suited me more. When I got here I visited a girlfriend on Kibbutz Kfar Szold and I loved the kibbutz. I wanted to live on a kibbutz, but I found a job in a youth hostel in Tel Aviv and afterward worked in a resort in Nuweiba [in Sinai].

Nuweiba! I was there as a kid.

Yes, that’s it. It was a nice place. [Singer] Didi Harari was in charge of the entertainment team and [actor] Meir Suissa also worked there. That’s also how I met the girls’ father; he worked in the holiday village of Kfar Vitkin.

And was Israeli.

And also Yemenite. A Swiss woman and a Yemenite man is an interesting combination. But we are divorced.
Bat El: I came out a mixture, and the middle sister looks like Mom.

Yael: I have three daughters. The middle one is an officer in the army, so she couldn’t come to the airport.

Who looked after the dogs?

Bat El: I did. They drove me crazy! My mother gets up at 5:30 A.M. and takes them out. Mom, they came into my bed every morning at 5. You have no idea what they did to me.

Did they bark?

As a matter of fact, they didn’t. They just sat on my head or licked me and wagged their tails. They were nice about it, but the message was: If you don’t take us out − you won’t sleep. I couldn’t get them used to sleeping later, because then she [my mother] would have found out that I didn’t take them out in the morning, and I didn’t want to depress her.