'America Taught Me Patience and Serenity. That's Something I Lacked in Israel'

An Israeli expat who sees himself as '100-percent Americanized,' and a dentist who splits his time between Israel and Italy, even in the middle of a pandemic

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Nadav Sofer
Nadav SoferCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Nadav Sofer, 33; lives in Florida, arriving from New York

Hi, where are you coming from?

From New York, but I live in Florida. I came for two months to visit my family, even though it’s not the right time with all the quarantines.

Maybe you’ can at least grab a vaccine along the way.

I’m not so sure. The feeling in the United States has been a little different from what’s happening here. Even if you’ve been vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask, go into quarantine – you can still infect people. If they don’t know yet what the side effects are and what it will do in the long term, it’s too much of a risk.

What do you do in Florida?

I do hair exhibitions.

Hair exhibitions?

Like sales carts at malls, only nicer. I introduce people to hair products, do demonstrations, show the product and sell it. It’s all across the United States, so I get to travel and also to make a lot of money. There’s a huge hall with a lot of carts, very fancy; people pay to enter, and we draw them to our booth.

What type of products do you sell, and to whom?

Every girl wants what she doesn’t have. If you have straight hair, you want curls, and vice versa. I sell hair extensions, straighteners, curlers, driers, shampoos, conditioners, serums. They’re less interested in the quality, what’s important is how fast something works. If it dries your hair in two minutes, it’s perfect.

How did you get into that line of business?

I started with sales carts 13 years ago in Portugal, from there we moved to Spain, to the United States, then back home, then to South Africa and from there back to the States. The whole time with the carts and hair straighteners. There are a lot of other possibilities, skin care for example, but that doesn’t really do it for me. I like hair, I know plenty about it, much more than a man needs to know.

What’s kept you at it for so long?

I don’t know, there are a lot of answers. The most important thing is the amazing money one can earn. I feel economic security, even if there are good periods and less good ones.

Do you still recruit new workers from Israel?

I bring in fewer new people, but train them more. They arrive young, new, they know the United States less and are a little scared and don’t know how it all works. In Israel people work crazy hours and can’t get make it through the month financially, and suddenly, you can make in half an hour what you didn’t make here in a month.

Why do you think Israelis are good with carts?

Not necessarily Israelis – it’s individual. They’re not the old-style carts; this whole area has developed a lot. At one time you clearly saw the cultural differences, today everyone has the same culture. You are very polite and very pleasant, but we know how to achieve the goal in the right way. You’re taught not just how to sell, but also what’s around that – what to say if the customer says this or that. There’s a response ready for every question.

What makes you good at it?

Experience. I was going through a period that was a little difficult – it’s difficult now, too – but I started even before anyone taught me the basics. I needed to investigate and to learn by myself. Today the people in charge give you a pitch as soon as you land and tell you what to do. I invented my pitch and learned by myself.

Have you become more American over the years?

I am 100-percent Americanized. I used to think in Hebrew and translate into English, today I even dream in English. When I get to Israel it takes me a week or two to acclimatize. I’m not around Israelis there; I look more for American girls, for quiet, for less pressure. I used to be more social, but now I like being alone. America changed me for the better, it taught me patience and serenity. That was something I really lacked. I found tranquility there.

Don’t you feel that you lack a home or roots?

I decided quite a long time ago that I don’t want children or a family unit. I’m from a family of six children, a very warm family with a whole bunch of cousins. There are a lot of ways to live life, no one’s decided that one way is right, but this is what suits me. [Not having kids] makes no difference, but maybe that’s because I didn’t marry an Israeli or a Jew. We live our life. There are many non-parents in the States, who have no desire to have children. It’s a lot more accepted today.

Meir BraunerCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Meir Brauner, 50; lives in Rome, flying to Milan

Hi, where are you flying to?

I’m heading for Milan, via Paris. I don’t know yet how I’ll get home, to Rome, but I’ll get there somehow.

What were you doing in Israel?

I work here, I’m a dentist. Until two years ago I flew to Israel every three weeks, and this year I’ve tried to get here as many times as I could, but it’s becoming harder and harder. There are patients I need to work on, both in Italy and here.

What’s it like for you to move around so much?

It’s fun, as long as I’m able to do it. This is the fourth ticket I bought in order to get here finally. I hope that with the vaccinations, we’ll start getting back to routine. A routine of being mobile.

When did you move to Italy?

At the age of four months. I moved with my parents and brothers – my father went there to study dentistry. I have two dentist brothers and my father is a dentist. It started with Dad and continued, and now I have a nephew on the way to becoming a dentist, so it must be hereditary.

What does a family Sabbath-eve meal look like with so many dentists?

Usually the talk at the Friday meal is about what’s happening with the patients, and there are arguments. We argue about how to manage the clinics, mostly one person argues with all the rest and we go on from there. In the end it works out.

Did you always want to be a dentist?

No, but that’s how it turned out. I can do all kinds of things well, but this is what made my life.

Was there a stage when you thought of not flying back and forth all the time?

I have a family in Italy. My brothers are still in Italy and my parents came back to Israel, but they also fly back and forth. My father decided at the age of 84 to open a clinic here, and that keeps him young.

Was your mother also part of the practice?

She worked at the reception desk but she left, she’s pretty old. Now she prepares food and is trying to be a grandmother, but it’s hard during this period. It’s really a pity.

Do you feel more Israeli or more Italian?

That’s like asking me whom you love more, Mom or Dad. There’s no right answer. I’m connected to European culture, but with I have the nerves of an Israeli.

What’s the difference between the patients in Israel and those in Italy?

In Israel I work with Italian clients and in Italy with Israeli clients, so I’ve learned how to get along with all sides. In Israel there’s not so much of a dialogue with doctors, and that’s what people like about me, I think. It’s more usual in Italy. If there’s a problem they send me a WhatsApp message, but in Israel that’s not done so much – they feel less able to do that. I tell them, “Send a message, send photos,” but in my opinion they think it’s strange. Like it’s forbidden to them.

What does Rome look like these days?

They say there’s a lockdown here in Israel, but it’s not a lockdown. In Rome there’s a lockdown now, and you don’t see cars on the roads. There’s no one outside, people are on the street only until a certain hour. They behave better than in other countries, and the infection rate went down. People are obedient and careful – contrary to what people say about the Italians being anarchistic.

Do you need to go into quarantine when you get back?

I’m required to be tested, but as a doctor the quarantine is my responsibility. We’re trusted to be careful. I even have swabs for self-testing in my suitcase. It’s not 100 percent effective but it’s something. The day after you arrive you take it easy at home anyway, and after that you’re careful.

Was it hard to see those sights [in Italy] at the height of the pandemic?

It was awful. There was a feeling that you couldn’t do anything. There’s still nothing to do – when someone gets sick now they give them antibiotics and everything, but they still don’t know how to treat COVID-19. We expected that after a year, there would at least be a medication, even if not a vaccine.

As a dentist you’re on the front line.

It’s a problem. We’re not being vaccinated there yet. I can get vaccinated in Israel, go back to work there and come back here in another three weeks, but it’s chaotic. I’ve worked during the coronavirus crisis, but not like usual. It takes a lot more strength, more new ideas. People haven’t been afraid, because I showed that I’m trying to maintain everyone’s health. I can’t be afraid, I’m a doctor and I don’t have a choice. We’re soldiers this time, that’s how it is.

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