'I Broke My Kids' Hearts When I Left. I Went Before I Started to Resent Them'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli who took a break from life in order to figure out who she was after getting a divorce, and an American professional soccer player who found herself in Tel Aviv

Ella Tenne
Tomer Appelbaum

Ella Tenne, 42, lives in Tel Aviv; arriving from Rome

Hello, can I ask what your name is and what you were doing in in Italy?

Ella. Until not long ago my name was Hagit. All my life I hated that name. Half a year ago, I decided to change it.

Was it complicated?

It was very simple, and even my mother is fine with it. Only people who haven’t seen me for a while call me Hagit, but that too shall pass.

Why Ella, of all names?

A few years ago I lived in Italy and was planning to write a food blog that I called Ella Nutella. It didn’t catch on but the idea stuck. There’s no special meaning to it or whatever, but it’s a lovely name, isn’t it?

Very lovely.

My children call me “Mom,” that hasn’t changed.

Tell me a little about living in Italy.

It was four years ago. I lived there for two and a half years, on a lake in Umbria. I went to help out friends, but the truth is that it was a time-out after I was divorced. I was quite lonely there, socially, because I don’t speak Italian, and I also went without my children, which was difficult.

For sure.

They remained with their father and I came back to see them every three months. Many people asked me, “How could you leave the children?” – but I didn’t leave them, I left the house and the life I had just in time – before I started to resent them for making me stay.

Regrets?

I don’t usually have regrets, but I know I broke their hearts when I left; it’s the only thing that was hard for me. But I believe that it was good for all of us, and today we have a superb relationship.

Still, an unusual course of action.

The reactions can be divided into two types. Some people think I’m a coward; others, that I’m courageous. But I feel like neither of those. I didn’t leave from a place of spite, and it was not a revolt, either. I had lived with my husband since my army service; I didn’t know who I was without him. I always defined myself as “mother of” or “wife of,” who lived on kibbutz. The moment I was divorced, I had to find out who I really was. To get to know myself anew.

What was that like?

In the end you take yourself with you every place you go in the world, but Italy was a good place in which to reflect. Living in a foreign country gave me the legitimacy to feel out of place. I never felt that I belonged. Today I’m old enough not to fight that feeling but to embrace it, to understand that I am special and not different.

How did you become so tough?

It’s related to childhood. Not that I had a bad life, but I needed to behave with roughness, to develop a type of superficial behavior. The years alone have exposed a softness I didn’t have when I was married.

What did you do in Italy besides reflect?

I worked hard. I helped friends renovate a B&B and then I worked in the market. I got up at 4 A.M., loading ice onto trucks until 9 A.M., took a lunch and sports break and went back at 1 P.M. to clean the truck until 5 P.M. It’s physical work, but I am an energetic person.

That’s clear. What kinds of sports? Cycling, I would say, according to the bag.

I ride a bike six times a week, between 10 and 15 hours. I ride alone, with music, but the earphones are placed away from the ears so I can hear what’s happening around me. I don’t want to be disconnected.

Addicted?

It’s my happy place. I’ve always done sports, but cycling is really a mental struggle with yourself, to raise the voice that says you can and lower the voice that says it’s impossible and why are you doing it altogether.

Why are you doing it? To conquer the mountain?

I recently biked up Mount Amiata, 1,750 meters of ascent over 25 kilometers. Not extremely steep, but an ascent that never ends. I rode slowly and enjoyed it immensely. I did the mountain in two hours and 10 minutes – the record for women is 1:38 hours. At one time I tried for the record, but a friend told me something that helped a great deal: not to try to conquer the mountain, but to ask the mountain to let you climb it. I understood that I wasn’t in a race with anyone, I’m doing it for myself.

Brenna Connell.
Tomer Appelbaum

Brenna Connell, 24, lives in Tel Aviv; flying to Sarajevo

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Bosnia?

I’m originally from Washington, D.C., but I play soccer for a team called ASA Tel Aviv, and we’re playing in the preliminary round of the Women’s Champions League. We’ll play three games there against teams from Iceland, Bosnia and Macedonia, and if we’re the best we’ll go to the next stage.

How did you get from Washington to Tel Aviv ASA?

I decided to play soccer when I was 4 or 5 and was totally obsessive about it. I admired Mia Hamm, a pioneer soccer player in the United States.

I wish I could say I’ve heard of her.

But I was a late bloomer, and from an early age I had to struggle. I didn’t start playing seriously until high school, and because of that my development as a player was a bit complicated. I wasn’t a star on the field in college, either. I had to fight for playing time and was injured, so the decision to continue playing as a professional wasn’t self-evident. Many people expected me to retire, but I went on and even signed a short-term contract with the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League, which is one of the best leagues in the world. A long-term contract is a different story, so to go on improving, I moved to Europe and had an opportunity to play here in Israel. I don’t regret it for a minute.

What position do you play?

Midfielder.

What’s it like to play in Israel?

It was a good season, we won the championship, and Tel Aviv is a terrific city. I’m happy that soccer brought me here, I don’t know whether I would have gotten here without it.

Is it just my imagination, or am I hearing more and more about women’s soccer?

There is a trend like that, and I hope it continues. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve seen any movement. We’re getting a lot more attention and are being taken seriously. Of course, there are still plenty of challenges.

How do people react to your profession?

The reactions are very interesting. Some people say, “Wow, it’s amazing that you play professional soccer,” especially people who like the game; others are mostly surprised. They ask questions such as how I survive and whether it’s possible to make a living from it.

Is it possible to make a living from it?

It’s hard to make money from women’s soccer; until not so long ago, it wasn’t even possible, but in my opinion a lot of that has to with our coverage in the media. In the final of the last Women’s World Cup, the viewing ratings were really high, so there is interest and I think it’s worth the fight. The future is rosy for women in soccer.

You don’t look especially aggressive or muscular.

That’s the beauty of soccer – there’s no one look for a player. I would say that some of the best players in the world don’t even look especially like athletes. Of course, there are some people you look at and say, “Ah, he’s a professional athlete.” There are some sports where that can’t be avoided. But in soccer you don’t need to be built like King Kong. There’s room for diversity; you have to be fast, but there are different types of speed.

What are you good at?

I’m good at techniques with the ball, at the ability to see the game as a whole and at understanding what’s happening around me. I’m not the biggest person physically, so maybe I won’t push anyone, but I’m relatively fast and I have other advantages, because much of soccer is making decisions, like what to do with the ball when it gets to you. Recently, since maturing as a player, I’ve discovered that what helps me most is to relax. Being wound up sometimes works better for other players, but what works for me is simply to relax.

What are your ambitions?

Until now, my main goal was to be a better player – I still haven’t reached the peak of my potential. I’d like to play in one of the senior leagues, like in Spain, and would like to go home and prove myself in the American league, too.

Good luck.

I would like to say, especially to children: Don’t let others define you. I’ve had challenges in life, there were coaches who didn’t see or appreciate what I brought to the team, but over the years I came to understand that the opinion of other people is their opinion alone, and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. If you believe in yourself, you simply don’t have to listen.