Meet the New Tel Avivians

Aliyana Traison
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Aliyana Traison

Becca Resnick, 25, Chicago, Illinois

After spending eight weeks at Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon as a senior, Becca was struck by the Israel bug. Her year abroad at Tel Aviv University confirmed it: The White City was for her.

Shortly after completing her B.A. in international studies at DePaul in 2009, Becca woke up one day and said, “I’m making aliyah.” She did six months of ulpan on Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan near Haifa, then settled in Tel Aviv while studying for a master's in diplomacy and conflict resolution at the IDC in Herzliya.

Becca loves Tel Aviv. "The beach, the good vibes, the people, the atmosphere. It's alive. What's not to love?" She would warn any Tel Aviv-bound immigrant, however, to "prearrange employment … it makes a difference in the quality of life."

She has spent the last seven months working at the Dancing Camel brewery, with a stint as a grant writer, and has thrown herself into The Running Project, a nonprofit she founded to make the sport accessible to females of all ages and economic means. Becca sees Tel Aviv, where the running culture is picking up but not everyone can afford training or equipment, as the perfect place for the project. “I don’t know if I would have had the idea anywhere else,” she says.

Professionally, life seems to have come full circle now that Becca has scored a job as marketing director at Muss. She's not planning to leave Tel Aviv though, just because her new work is in the suburbs. "I'll do the reverse commute."

Life in Tel Aviv has been a generally positive experience for her, but it did take time to surmount the greatest challenge of all: municipal bureaucracy. "There were hard times. I felt like I wanted to give up. It was a constant fight." But for Becca, who has never lived anywhere for more than four years, Tel Aviv has become home. "I've made a life for myself. I just had to figure it out."

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Paul Berkowitz, 25, Roslyn, New York

Paul, whose love affair with Israel began during a high school semester with his Reform youth movement on Kibbutz Tzuba, has just one thing to say to people who think Tel Aviv is a secular city: “They’re wrong."

He and his family have slowly grown more observant since they first joined a Reform synagogue for his bar mitzvah. In America, he would describe himself as "conservadox, usually, because it's not a movement," and here, dati leumi (national religious). "It took me a long time to figure out what that meant, or that it applied to me."

Paul has found a good community in Tel Aviv over his two and a half years here, with three packed shuls to choose from every Friday night and rambunctious Shabbat dinners at the apartment he shares with his sister. He has no reason to move to Jerusalem. “It wasn't for me. I liked aspects of it, but I don't see myself living there.... It’s an intense city, and I'm not looking for that right now.”

He has been working at a juice stand for the last few months and volunteering at the Lone Soldier Center while searching for a spot in his field of audio engineering, but doesn’t think the job market in America is any easier these days. “I don’t see many problems here that don't exist anywhere else."

Paul feels at home in Tel Aviv, with the beach nearby and the thriving art scene. "I really like living in a city in general. There's a lot of stuff going on here if you know where to look,” says Paul. “I only ever saw myself living in two places: New York where I’m from, then after I got to spend time in Israel, Tel Aviv.”

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Elisheva Wylen, 30, Wayne, New Jersey

Elisheva moved to Tel Aviv about six years ago, after a year in Pardes Hannah and a few months at the Ma’agan Michael Kibbutz ulpan. It was an easy choice: It’s where she had friends, work and a social scene “in a place that wasn’t Jerusalem”.

“I felt like Jerusalem was really heavy, for people who had made tshuva [become Orthodox] and wanted to change the world, and be super-Zionist,” she says. “People are kind of zealots in Jerusalem. I came here for the social and cultural aspects of the country, not the religious pursuit."

Elisheva grew up in the Reform movement and “never felt like the U.S. was a good home for the Jewish people." She decided to make aliyah when she was 16 and finally came six months after graduating from Ramapo College in New Jersey. Being in a country where she can freely celebrate the holidays that matter to her and not feel out of place as a Jew has been an incredible experience. “I came here mostly because of Christmas and Purim,” she says.

Since moving to Tel Aviv, she has held an internship at The Jerusalem Post and various other jobs as a nanny and writing content for casino websites. Now she’s a dog-walker and a manager for an American customer service office. When she’s not working, she enjoys the beach, the “whole outside aspect of the city,” and sitting with her friends at coffee shops.

Elisheva shares an apartment with her beloved dog Chai and a roommate, and while urban life and its rising cost of living can be a challenge, Tel Aviv has become “the only place that’s home” – though she misses having family close by. Her sister lives in Pardes Hannah with her husband and toddler, but Elisheva doesn’t see moving there as an option for now. As a single woman in her 30s, she says, “I don’t feel like there’s anywhere for me to go .... The social scene is why I stay here.”

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Joshua Schnitzer, 31, West Orange, New Jersey

Josh fell in love with Israel as a fresh-faced college student on Birthright, but it took him 10 years to make aliyah. "I got to a point where I said if I don't do it now, I'm never going to."

At 30, Josh quit the IT company he’d been running and moved away from New Jersey for the first time, to a country he’d visited for a total of a month his whole life. He settled in Jerusalem for a short ulpan run, dropping out when a relative secured him a job at a high-tech company in Tel Aviv about 10 months ago.

He's a low-key person who’s "not crazy about cities" but figured Tel Aviv "is the place that everyone wants to go when they're coming to Israel, so I had to try it." Though he hasn't picked up much of the language, he finds he doesn't need it here, and feels that “aside from the Hebrew, my personality is Israeli”.

He loves the beach and Saturday bike rides to Herzliya, but works long hours and is having a hard time finding his niche in Tel Aviv. "You're surrounded by people, but you still feel alone…. It's kind of like Manhattan, and I never wanted to live there."

Josh is now considering moving back to the capital, where people are "warmer," though admits the timing is strange. "All my friends are moving from Jerusalem just as I'm thinking of moving from Tel Aviv."

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Cameron Paine-Thaler, 25, Seattle, Washington

“Like 90 percent of the other Anglos” Cameron has met here, she came to Tel Aviv 15 months ago initially because of a relationship. Her then-boyfriend couldn’t get a visa to the United States, so she left New York where she’d been living and moved to Israel.

They broke up four months later, but remain good friends and share custody of their puppy Eddie. “I surprised myself after we broke up, and I stayed."

By then, Cameron was already involved with the African Refugee Development Center, volunteering with women’s health aid work. “I was pretty committed to that and didn’t want to leave quite yet,” she says. “I had already given up the rest of my life in New York City, so I wasn’t about to pick up and move again. It seemed way more exhausting than trying to put down semi-roots here."

Cameron works her own hours for an American company and dog-walks on the side, and has gotten to know the city well through her walks, bike rides and explorations. “I know Tel Aviv like the back of my hand.” She’s especially drawn to the city parks and the bar scene – “sometimes I close my eyes in a cafe and I think I am in NYC" – but is shocked by the “obscene” cost of living here.

Cameron will probably leave Tel Aviv this summer to study for a graduate degree in international public health and social work in Europe or the United States. While she can’t really see herself living in Israel permanently, with most of her family still on the West Coast, she says: “I think I would be staying here longer if it wasn’t for school."

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Neil Brodie, 30, Glasgow, Scotland

Neil moved to Tel Aviv with his boyfriend Rolando and their dog Sophie in 2011, after two and a half years in Jerusalem. They found the capital “claustrophobic and intense,” and wanted more of a social life in a young and liberal place suited to “the sorts of people that we are”.

Neil first came to Israel in 2006 as part of his Hebrew Studies degree at the University of Manchester. He and Rolando, a musician from Costa Rica, got together about a year later when Neil was here on holiday, and he decided to make aliyah in 2008.

Life in Tel Aviv is laid-back and easy for Neil – except for the weather, which he finds unbearably humid. “It’s a city that never stops. There’s a nightlife, there’s people out. It’s young, it’s secular.” He loves the “atmosphere of Tel Aviv, the openness and the freedom. Any city you go to in the world, being gay isn’t so easy and straightforward ... whereas in Tel Aviv we can hold hands or kiss. We don’t have to worry about being harassed, or violence."

Neil is an analyst at a media agency, and though he works mostly in English and his group of friends is primarily Anglo, his Hebrew is fluent. While he does see the cost of living in Tel Aviv as a problem, it’s not enough of a factor for him to want to leave.

“It’s not going to be better anywhere else. You’ve got to balance things, I guess. It’s cheaper to live elsewhere in Israel, but then you wouldn’t have the same social life, the same opportunities. You’ve got to decide between those different aspects of life .... I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Israel. At the moment anyways."

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Irene Sharon Hodes, 33, Chicago, Illinois

Sharon’s childhood was not typically American. Her Israeli mother spoke to her in Hebrew from a young age, and both of her parents are Francophiles who took her to live in France for a few years as a child. “I always felt on the fence in my identity.”

By her mid-20s, Sharon had lived across Europe and felt like “an international person.” She was drawn to solidifying her Israeli identity, so she came here for a five-month MASA program in 2006. “I was seriously considering moving here, but I wanted to dip my toe in first.” Six months after the program ended, she made aliyah and set up home in Tel Aviv, choosing it over Jerusalem because “there was nothing there for me practically or spiritually."

While she indeed perfected her Hebrew and got to know the lay of the land, Sharon “has never felt more American than she has in Israel.” Tel Aviv is home though, and she has embraced the city’s wine and food culture. “I feel more Tel Avivian than Israeli."

Sharon knew she wanted to get into the wine industry soon after making aliyah, but started working in high-tech to make a living. She found her way into the Golan Heights Winery about a year later, starting with part-time assistant work and as a sommelier, and has in the last couple of years become a full-time manager of the company’s wine steward program, turning her life’s passion into a profession.

Sharon thinks she’ll stay in Tel Aviv and would really only consider leaving if a wine-related opportunity emerged elsewhere. She's excited by the growing industry here, though, and wants to be part of it. “What Israel gave me was a new world,” she says. “The world of wine."

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Steve Zaman, 23, San Francisco, California

Steve came to Tel Aviv almost a year ago after a kibbutz ulpan, initially because it was close to the army base where he’d be serving. As a city person, it seemed like the perfect fit. “Ein al Tel Aviv [There's nothing like Tel Aviv]. I came here to visit my aunt a couple of times and thought Tel Aviv is awesome. I’ve got to live here."

His army job takes up most of his day, though he tries to go to the beach as much as possible. Steve lives in the center of town, but his girlfriend has a place in Jaffa with an “amazing view of the shoreline,” and he likes the old port and sitting at the cafes and the bars in the flea market. “Tel Aviv isn’t about the tourist spots – they do have them – but it’s just a cool place to walk around. I could wander around Tel Aviv for hours and it wouldn’t really matter."

Steve’s parents met in the army – his father is Israeli and his mother lived here for 10 years – though they relocated to the United States before he was born. His Hebrew is flawless, though he never spoke it at home. He had no qualms about joining the Israel Defense Forces. “It was something important that I wanted to do."

Steve made aliyah partly out of “nostalgia” for the life his parents had here, but finds his own experience to be different. He is thinking about going back to the States to study biomedical engineering. “I’m here in my day-to-day life, and I ask myself, what am I doing here? Day-to-day life is the same everywhere,” he says. “But I know the second I leave I’m going to miss this place terribly. I’ve lived in a few places, and I’ve never liked any of them as much as Tel Aviv."

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Daina Ryan Reed, 32, Livonia, Michigan

Daina moved to Tel Aviv in 2004, kind of by chance. She’d been in Israel for about a month, staying in Jerusalem and touring the summertime festivals, and got a ride to Tel Aviv with a friend who happened to have a cheap room to rent in a big hippie house. “And that’s how Tel Aviv started."

After about a year, she realized she didn’t want to leave. “I decided to make it official, and I was interested in the benefits [of aliyah],” she says, particularly the option of subsidized education. She had worked in the “high-tech bubble” as a self-taught web designer after high school, then traveled the world and now wanted the opportunity to go back to school.

While the school part didn’t work out, she found freelance work in her field and launched her own fashion website, Dreed Tea, handling sales for designers and their collections. She also took on a full-time job at a startup company last year “for stability,” frustrated by the high cost of living and the bureaucracy of owning a business in Israel. “It’s not set up for success. It’s set up for you to fail."

Despite the challenges, Daina has settled into life here with her musician husband Sagi and their dog Mookie, and doesn’t see herself leaving Israel anytime soon. “I’m married to an Israeli... [and] I’ve grown up here and spent so much time here. I’ve become Israeli, even though I don’t speak Hebrew fluently."

She still likes living in Tel Aviv - "there’s a lot of culture and artists and interesting people, and plenty to do .... You can always discover something new” - but she isn’t sure city life is for her. “I want to stay in Tel Aviv as long as I can, but it can be very loud and stressful, and I also want some quiet and fresh air."

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Jamie Marks, 36, Cleveland, Ohio

Jamie arrived in Israel at 28, a seasoned traveler looking for the next stop after India. He came to Tel Aviv because he’d heard it was a “bright and vibrant city... and that was the place to go”.

Jamie made aliyah on a whim. He had a “somewhat positive perspective of Israel” and knew there was financial assistance, so he thought he’d try it out. He’s still here, though travels often “for mental sanity”.

Jamie’s Protestant mother remarried and converted to Judaism after his biological father died. He was raised Jewish, but had to convert officially before making aliyah. He doesn’t feel quite Israeli, but also not completely American. “I don’t identify too much with nationalities, or even being gay. It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t define me."

Jamie initially planned to learn Hebrew and have a bar mitzvah, something he’d never done, but “as soon as I got here, I realized that was kind of ridiculous."

He lives with his boyfriend in Tel Aviv’s old north; their two kids spend a few days a week with them and the rest with their mother.

Jamie has carved himself a spot in the yoga world here, teaching ashtanga, and enjoys the beach and the dance culture. He was shocked at first by the “abrasive” Israeli personality, but overall is charmed by the people. “That’s the funny thing about living here. Sometimes the most difficult thing can be the people, and sometimes it’s the most wonderful thing."

Jamie finds Jerusalem more aesthetically pleasing, but has “slowly come to see the beauty” in Tel Aviv. He doesn’t know whether he’ll stay, but as an expat he has learned "you never have to be in one place. There’s always a moment when you can pick up and leave.... I’m here now."

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From left: Irene Sharon Hodes, Steve Zaman, Daina Ryan Reed, Joshua Schuster, Cameron Paine-Thaler, Becca Resnick, Neil Brodie, Jamie Marks, Elisheva Wylen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum