'Amid COVID-19, Israel Told Us We Could Stay but Our Baby Has to Leave'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A family that was left no choice but to leave Israel, and a taxi driver whose love for animals knows no bounds

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Nir, Nova, and Bob Keren-Longworth.
Nir, Nova, and Bob Keren-Longworth.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Keren-Longworth family: Nir, 41, Nova, 6 months, Bob, 36; lived in Haifa, flying to London and relocating there

Hi, where are you coming from?

Weekend banner.

Nir: From Haifa. I’m originally from Israel, Bob is originally from Costa Rica, we met when we were both living in Canada. We’d planned to live in Israel, but after a year we decided not to stay, so today we’re leaving.

Why did you decide to come to Israel in the first place?

Bob: We wanted to be close to Nir’s family. With a new baby, a family is always a good thing.

Nir: My father, my aunt and my sister live here. We knew we were going to have a baby, so we decided to come to Israel to live. We didn’t plan that it would only be for a year, but the circumstances led us not to stay.

Would you like to share?

This isn’t the Israel I knew 16 years ago, before I left for Canada. And at this point, I don’t want my daughter to grow up in Israel. I guess I got used to living in Canada, where life is quieter. The pressure of life here is simply unbearable. The politics, the problems, everything here is a struggle. You wake up in the morning and you know you’ll get a phone call from somewhere and you’ll have to fight.

What were you fighting for?

Nir: The main problem we had is that our daughter was not recognized as an Israeli, because Bob is not an Israeli. Then, basically, her tourist visa expired. We are both residents, but they didn’t want to give her a permit to stay. We tried to fight it, we filed an appeal and we have a lawyer who checked with them time and again, but they simply ignored us.

Bob: We are lucky that we even managed to obtain an extension of her visa. In the midst of the coronavirus, we went to the Interior Ministry, and because her visa had expired, they told us that we could stay but she would have to leave. We had to fight them to get an extension.

That’s crazy.

Nir: Instead of fighting all the time, we dropped the idea and decided to go to a place where we are more desired. In Canada, if you want something, you just need to be nice and people will help you. Here they will trample you; you need to be aggressive to get anything. And even if you are aggressive, it’s not enough. It’s a very different culture.

What did you do in Canada?

Nir: I set up an organization that advises people around the world about surrogacy and advanced fertility treatments in Canada. Women who have trouble becoming pregnant after many rounds of fertility treatments can come to Canada, where I manage a clinic. We have methods that aren’t yet in use in Israel, and they become pregnant. And if they can’t, we do an egg donation and surrogacy, which is a far more difficult process in Israel. And of course, we help same-sex couples a great deal. We have more than a thousand couples all over the world that have given birth or are in the process.

How did you meet?

Bob: We met online in Toronto, eight years ago. We’ve been married for five years, and here’s Nova, the final product.

And have you remained in touch with the surrogate mother?

Nir: We speak to her every day, we send her pictures. But it depends very much on what the couples want. If someone doesn’t want a relationship with a surrogate, we tell them not to come to Canada. If you want to buy a baby, then go and buy a baby. There has to be a relationship, although the ties aren’t always so strong. We are planning to have another baby with the same surrogate.

Wow, what stage are you at?

Nir: She’s already pregnant, so it’s in the works. But it’s a very early stage in the pregnancy, so anything can happen. In the early stages, there’s always a high probability that something will go wrong. She’s in Canada now, and we’re in touch with her every day. We know her, her [other] children and her parents, she sees pictures of Nova all the time.

Is she attached to Nova?

Nir: She calls her “my surrogate baby,” but she’s not hers. She doesn’t ask questions about how we are raising her.

What is the surrogacy situation in Canada?

Nir: It’s very legal and well-entrenched there, and the women do it for free. Of course, all their expenses are paid, but they do it from an altruistic place.

Why aren’t you going back to Canada?

Nir and Bob: It’s too cold in the winter.

And what awaits you in London?

Nir: Nothing, life.

Yakov Cipel
Yakov Cipel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yakov Cipel, 62; lives in Rishon Letzion, arriving from New York

Hi, where are you coming back from?

I was in Connecticut for two months. I have a cousin who lives there, we travel a lot together and he told me to come. His ex-wife lives in Woodstock and we are good friends. She was renovating her house, so she said, “Listen, I’ll buy you a ticket, come and help me renovate and we’ll travel together.” And so it was.

So you went to renovate a house in Connecticut, and on the way to travel with your cousin and his ex-wife?

Something like that. She had renovated almost everything, but there were a few things to do: replace a shelf here, install an electrical outlet there, all kinds of small things. There was work to be done, but I also enjoyed myself. I was supposed to come back in another 10 days, but I came early.

Why?

I have a dog who’s about to die, she has lung cancer. So I want her to see me before she dies. Her name is Bonita. She’s a Doberman pinscher, and she’s been with me for 16 years, since she was a puppy. I have four more dogs that I found on the street when they were old, one was crippled, another was blind. And also rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, chickens, hedgehogs, rats, one parrot and 50 cats.

A whole farm – how did that happen?

I left my wife 20 years ago and met my present partner. We both love animals, and we added more and more. I have a veterinarian friend, and if someone brings him an injured pigeon he brings it to me, and if he receives a cat that’s missing a leg or a crippled dog he brings them to me. A lot of animals in a terminal state have gone through me. I have an animal cemetery across the street from my house, with a lot of dogs and cats that I’ve buried. Everyone who has an animal to give or doesn’t know what to do with it – I’m the address. I’m ready to accept everything.

Is there domestic harmony among all the animals?

Almost. Vicky the parrot is the only one who doesn’t get along with the other animals. I bought her 12 years ago, a type of cockatoo. Her wings aren’t clipped, she’s free, and she flies wherever she wants, and she doesn’t like the cats, she attacks them. At first we thought it was a male and we called her Victor, but when we found out she’s a female, we changed it to Victoria, Vicky. She can’t stand my partner, either, she’s bitten her a few times on the head, in the eye and on the chin. I’m the only one she likes.

You’ve probably also had a few bites in your life.

I spent 11 days in hospital because of being scratched by a cat – I developed cat scratch disease. My liver was almost damaged from the bite of a mouse that I removed from a trap – I developed a virus that attacks the kidneys and the liver. I didn’t feel well after being bitten, but I thought it was flu. When I went to the doctor she immediately gave me antibiotics and had me do a blood test, and it showed that if I had waited I would have died.

Wow. How do you manage a household with so many animals?

We don’t throw out anything. The chickens eat the rice, the rats eat peels. But the last rat died while I was abroad. They were rats I saved from a laboratory, two males. One died when I was still home, the other died now, of old age.

When did you start taking care of animals?

I grew up with animals. I was born in the Abu Kabir transit camp [for new immigrants, in Tel Aviv], and my father was a professional pigeon breeder. He used to have exhibitions of pigeons at the Fair Grounds, and I would spend every summer vacation at his exhibition. There used to be a lot of pigeon breeders and many types of pigeons, and many of the pigeon breeders gave their pigeons to my father for the exhibition. They held competitions: They would take carrier pigeons to Rosh Hanikra and release them, and whichever one returned first got prizes.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a taxi driver.

Okay, what are your hobbies?

Taking care of animals, of course. A lot of people talk to me about it. I even had one passenger whose cat had kittens and she didn’t know what to do with them, so I took them from her.

Well, how does a taxi driver get home from the airport?

I call a friend who’s a taxi driver. If he’s not free I’ll find one here, or I will call Gett. But I don’t tell the driver that I’m a taxi driver.

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