Fanny Gittelman
Fanny Gittelman, 25, belly dancer from Metula, flying to Argentina. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Tomer Appelbaum
Shaul Mizrahi, 30, flight attendant from Jerusalem, arriving from New York. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

Fanny Gittelman, 25, belly dancer from Metula, flying to Argentina

Hello, can I ask you where you’re traveling to?

To Argentina, for a month.

Backpacking?

Not at all. It’s a family visit. I was born in Argentina. I am a new immigrant.

When did you immigrate to Israel?

I arrived in Israel a few days before the Second Lebanon War. Two days after I arrived, a Qassam rocket hit Kibbutz Re’im [near Gaza], where I was with my family. My parents wanted to bring me back, but I told them there was no chance. Even if there is a war, I am not going. I am here.

Are you Jewish?

My mother is Brazilian and my father is Argentine. They are both Jewish. I have a lot of family here – aunts, uncles and cousins in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Re’im. Many South Americans live in that kibbutz. 

Did you spend a lot of time in the kibbutz? 

In a different kibbutz. I was at an ulpan in Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael before I immigrated, and I knew already then that I would come back. I simply felt more at home here than I ever did in Argentina. I feel a powerful divine presence here that does not exist in other places. I felt that I had wasted my time for all those years, and it was hard for me to leave here after every visit. I will soon cry a little on the plane.

What have you done since then?

I obtained a degree in special education at Tel-Hai College. I just finished five days ago. I also got a teaching certificate for very young children. I hope to integrate what I studied in motion therapy. We’ll see. A little pre-school teaching, a little therapy and a little belly dancing.

You’re a belly dancer?

I am a belly dancer and a Zumba dancer. I perform, teach, transmit, engage. It’s great work. I even manage to make a living from it. I teach dancing to women in Kiryat Shmona.

Did you learn belly dancing in Israel?

No. I’ve been doing it for 11 years and I started in Argentina. People are always surprised by that. The same way there is salsa in Israel, there is belly dancing there. That’s how I explain it to everyone.

Well, Brazilian woman are supposed to dance, aren’t they?

They are also supposed to be tall and blonde, but allow me to tell you that it’s not natural blonde.

Is the blonde in Israel natural?

Israeli women are a lot more real, less plastic, and, with all the plumpness and fat, I find them more genuinely feminine. I am involved a great deal with body image and femininity. Belly dancing advances women.

A lot of people think the opposite.

Women invented belly dancing. It is adapted to the female body and allows women to enjoy their feminine areas. Some women are not aware of their physical abilities, and belly dancing enables them to connect with their body and get to love it. It’s a form of dancing that is natural for women − you don’t need a belly or tits, just to be a woman.

What do you say to the claim that it objectifies women?

It’s not the dance that makes women objects, it’s the men. As a principle I do not want to dance for men, by which I mean dancing at all-male events. I always ask about that when I am invited to perform. A wedding or a family event is all right. That suits me.

So men never plastered your body with money?

That only happened to me once, at an event for people from the former South Lebanon Army. I went with it because it was something else, not sexual, and everyone did it, even the women.

What are Israeli men like compared to Argentine men?

Israeli guys are one of the reasons I chose to come here. Really, there is nothing to look for in Argentina: the men are proud of themselves and impolite.

I thought they were hot-blooded.

That’s more external. The Argentines are very embittered. That’s their character. And I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, which has the energy of chaos. It’s also dangerous to walk around there. There are thieves who will rob and kill you for a watch that looks like it’s made of gold.

So you moved from one dangerous place to another.

It’s easier for me to cope with the danger in Israel, because I feel that we are all one nation and it’s not me against some Argentine robber. There is also the belief element. I am a very believing person and I connect with the prophecies about Israel and think that everything will work out, and above all I believe that this is where I should be. I immigrated out of faith.

Why did you actually decide to immigrate here?

I was quite stuck in my routine, in the inertia of high school and university life, without engaging in any sort of self-examination. At some point I mustered courage and decided to put a stop to it. I immigrated because of Zionism, the need for independence, for renewal, for sanctification, in a search for self and for God.

And did you find him?

Yes.

Where?

In myself. In the world. In everyone. In Israel.

Shaul Mizrahi, 30 flight attendant and construction project manager from Jerusalem, arriving from New York

Can we stop you for a minute? You’re probably the only person who got off the plane in a dress shirt.

Usually I also wear a tie, but as soon as we landed I took it off. It’s hot in Israel.

Why a tie?

Because I am a flight attendant with Delta.

Is it as exciting as they say?

It’s not as exciting as people once thought. But my father says that in the past, every parent wanted his child to be a lawyer, and today you should want him to be a flight attendant. Probably so there will be someone to bring things.

What did you bring this time?

I brought cigarettes, toys for my nephews for the holiday and perfume for my wife. I don’t go wild, because I don’t want to be stopped by Customs.

How long have you been a flight attendant?

For five years now. I actually started in the United States. Until two months ago I lived in Florida. I was married eight months ago, and my wife and I came back to Israel to live two months ago. I am originally an Israeli.

Why did you come back?

Everyone asks us that, and the truth is we don’t know. I’m kidding. My wife really pushed to go back, because most of our family lives here − a huge family, with aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers. Only her parents live in the States. My wife thought that once we have kids, it will be too late to go back. It was a now-or-never moment. I have a friend who left Israel 12 years ago, and we talked a lot about the subject. Even without children, it gets harder and harder to go back. Even for a visit. Every time I visited Israel I felt less attached, and I was afraid I would lose all ties to the country.

What was it like coming back?

The situation here is awful. It’s really a pity. I was an officer in the army and afterward I worked for a while in the VIP Protection Unit [of the Shin Bet security service]. I want to buy a home now − it’s impossible. I want to buy a car − forget it. The authorities are making things hard for young couples, and Israel does not really help returning citizens. My wife is also originally an Israeli, but she has the status of a returning minor. That means people who left the country with their parents before they were 18 and return after 18 of their own free will, and then you get a little help. She gets NIS 2,500 a month.

That’s not bad.

It’s just for half a year. Can you rent an apartment for that?

And you don’t get anything as a returning resident?

Nothing. All I have is some tax benefits on what I already paid tax on in the United States.

So, do you think you’ll go back to the States?

If things keep on like this, I think we will go back a lot faster than we are even thinking. You know, we came with a fair amount of money and we have a family that is helping us a great deal, yet we still can’t buy a three-room apartment in Modi’in. Not to mention all the rest.

Did you meet your wife in the United States?

Yes. I was studying building construction management. My father has a construction company; most of our work is building synagogues in the States. For example, we built a Holocaust memorial monument in Miami. We import the stone from Israel − Jerusalem stone. We make holy arks from Israeli stone. It’s very important for people. We built a project for Beit Hillel at the University of Florida, which has the largest Jewish enrollment of any university in the United States. The structure was built from Jerusalem stone and won prizes. On the memorial day for Yitzhak Rabin, the building was almost finished; my future wife and her family came out of the ceremony and that is where we met.

If your father owns a construction company, why are you a flight attendant?

Both because I am not known under that title here, and also for the fun of it. I don’t fly a lot. Just four times a week. But my wife has benefits on flights and I get to many interesting places. You bring couples to a wedding, people for holidays, new immigrants, business people. You meet 400 people on every flight, each of whom has a different story. And I try to talk to all of them.

How was today’s flight?

The passengers on the Tel Aviv flight are a very challenging group for us. Don’t forget that it’s a long, difficult trip. As it is, Delta is a totally American airline with a southern mentality. Delta really wants to improve the service, so they try and have at least three Hebrew-speaking flight attendants on every flight to Israel, so we can communicate more directly with the passengers.

Where is your next flight to?

Thailand.

Doesn’t your wife worry about all your flying?

It’s a lot of fun. It improves the relationship. We are never bored. We don’t have a routine.