He Fled Iran for Israel When He Was 12. But He Couldn't Stay

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Iranian Jew who left Israel for Canada, and an Israeli therapist who treats kibbutzniks

Liat Elkayam
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Solli Amihod.
Solli Amihod.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam

Solli Amihod, 70, lives in Montreal, flying to Brussels

Hello, what were you doing in Israel?

I’ve been visiting family. They’re all here and I come to see them once or twice a year.

Are you originally Israeli?

I grew up here, but I was born in Iran.

Iran? Really?

I don’t always tell people the truth, but I never actually lie. I come from a wealthy family, my father was a banker in Tehran, and I remember that as a child I had Armenian friends that I’d play with in the street but I wasn’t allowed to touch their things because Jews were considered dirty. I never had Muslim friends. They didn’t like Jews.

Racism has always been in style. When did you come to Israel?

I left Tehran when I was 12. Actually, I didn’t leave – I fled. My sister was already living here. I went to live at a boarding school, the Israel Goldstein Youth Village in Jerusalem. Gradually, the whole family left Iran: one sister, another sister and then my parents. My father died while I was living at the youth village.

Was it hard to immigrate to Israel?

It was relatively easy for me. It took me three months to learn to speak Hebrew at the youth village; everyone there came from all over the world so it was easy to make friends. At 20, I enlisted in the air force technical school. I’m good with my hands: I was an airplane mechanic.

How did you get to Canada?

I finished the army in September 1971, and by November that year I’d married my wife, a Canadian who had immigrated to Israel. I didn’t waste time. My wife is a nurse and she worked for a health maintenance organization in Jerusalem, with my sister. That’s how we met. Then we went to Canada to get married and didn’t come back. My wife didn’t want to. It’s a lot easier to work and live there, for sure. And at some stage my mother moved to Canada herself.

What do you, or did you do, for a living?

I started a business manufacturing special furniture, and I retired in 2012. But I’m not bored. I have a lot of hobbies, I paint a lot for my own pleasure, very colorful paintings. I also make jewelry – here, this is a necklace I made with a Star of David. I also have a studio and I do photography. I’m always doing something. If I think about something, I just go out and do it. I’m always busy.

Do you feel Jewish in Canada, or Israeli?

In our area there is a Jewish community, but I don’t go around with Israelis. When I arrived in Canada, I tried to make friends with someone who had been a pilot in Israel but he had a problem with me because I was just an airplane mechanic. So I said forget it, and I made friends with my wife’s friends. And I also have two friends of my own; one of them is married and the other one is happy. One says “My wife is an angel,” and the other says “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.”

Are you still with your wife?

Yes – we’ve been married now for 48 years. I was on my own my whole life, until I got married. I grew up alone and from the age of 12 to the age of 20, I did everything on my own: making the bed, doing laundry, ironing. You get used to it. But I’ve been with my wife since I was quite young. We have two sons and four grandchildren. Everything is good. We travel a lot. We were here together. I feel lucky. My children and my grandchildren live near us, and I am close to them, and my wife is even more so. It’s a good life. You only live once and when you’re raising a child, it’s also like that, there’s no turning back – you raise a child only once.

Kind of stressful, isn’t it?

That’s how I think about life. I’ll tell you something personal. I went for a CT scan, and the doctor told me to repeat the scan. After that he told me I have kidney cancer.


I sat there and laughed, and the doctor said to me: “How can you be laughing? Why is it that everyone cries and you laugh?” I said to him: “You asked me a question, so I’ll be a Jew and I’ll ask you a question: If I have cancer and I cry, will the cancer go away? So why should I cry?” You have to look ahead in life, accept life, enjoy it and that’s it.

Do you ever think about going back to Israel?

I have nothing bad to say about Israel – it’s just that I can’t live here. People here are always honking their horns, and it bugs me.

Yafa Kapon Ivry.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yafa Kapon Ivry, 47, lives in Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan, arriving from Istanbul

Hello, what did you do in Turkey?

I was on a 5-day pensioners’ trip, with my parents and two aunts. Every few years, I go on trips like that with them.

An unusual group.

They love their independence and want a vacation, but don’t like organized tours. And I’m a good intermediary, both externally, with the world, and internally, among them.

It sounds like you are a group dynamics moderator.

Absolutely. Decades of family life create baggage, but there are also many beautiful things. Lots of jokes. I’ve been a social worker for 25 years now, and I’m also a psychotherapist, so that helps a lot. At work, too, I offer psychological treatment for elderly people; I have my own clinic.

Do kibbutzniks go for therapy much?

In the Jordan Valley, it’s very popular. And today there are many older kibbutzniks, 70 to 80 years old, who go for therapy, which is something we didn’t see in the past. They examine the lives they have lived but also talk about dealing with aging and death.

You say aging and death with a smile. You love your profession.

The older I get, the more I enjoy it. I’ve always been a therapeutic type. By the time I was 16, I was already the personal coach of a boy who had cancer. I would go to his home every day, for homework, to offer emotional and social support. And then he recovered, and from the moment he went back to school, he never spoke to me again. Apparently from his perspective I was connected to the illness, and running into me in the hall was like encountering the cancer.

Did you realize that in retrospect?

I think I already understood it back then, at least intuitively and after that I was already toughened.

It’s easy to imagine how an occurrence like that could distance a young person from a therapeutic route. Make him suspicious of people.

In every individual, there is a degree of suspicion, and everyone encounters human evil. I am committed to believing in the good in people. I try to work with people’s strengths. Even when I have treated individual with severe personality disorders, I’ve been able to love them. They usually have experienced terrible suffering. Very often someone abused them before they themselves became abusers. I believe in the saying that if an individual has one person who has been able to love and trust him, it will remain with him. Let’s say that now, in Istanbul, I was riding with a cab driver and it was clear to me that he was ripping me off. I could have fought that.

And you didn’t fight it?

No, I can afford it. I found an inner justification for why he was behaving that way. I thought that he needed the money more than I did. Maybe he has a lot of children to feed.

And what if you couldn’t afford it?

Then it’s a lot harder. But mostly when you find in yourself a bit of generosity, you can find justification.

You’re a better person than I am.

Today I have a lot of love and compassion in me. Like every therapist, I myself have undergone many years of therapy. It’s important to keep in mind that our memory plays tricks on us. It very often feels the painful and the negative. One must flex an internal muscle to remember an experience in a positive way. This requires a lot of internal and external mindfulness. Life has been good to me, and I feel lucky. My family is very loving, both the one I came from and my own nuclear family. I recommend that everyone be grateful for what he has – because it could all end in a moment. My mother, for example, was orphaned from her mother at birth; from the age of 9, she was raised in an orphanage. Why would she be able to trust people? But she raised six children: It’s amazing; it sends shivers down my spine to think about that. And I was the second generation to a mother who never knew her mother, and I’ve had to help her as a child and as an adult. But everyone experiences anger toward their parents. And my daughters won’t be angry at me? They will.

How many daughters do you have?

I have two daughters, and my husband, Alon, is manager of the dairy barn at Sha’ar Hagolan. He is also the original “Alon” – Alon with the red balloon.

Alon from the children’s book “Tale of Five Balloons,” by Miriam Roth?

Yes. Miriam Roth is his grandmother, and that’s why he was the one who got the only balloon that didn’t pop.