'I Hope Israel Doesn't Spit Me Out Again Next Time I'm There'

Arrivals / Departures: A Jewish New Yorker is looking for a religious wife who won't mind his tattoos; a Jewish Canadian says BDS on college campuses is turning 'Jewish children against Israel.'

Yosef Yadin.
Tomer Appelbaum

Yosef Yadin, 36, lives in New York; flying there

You’re in luck, I bought a huge pizza. Have some.

Thanks. What’s the blessing for pizza?

In the yeshiva, we say that if it’s the entire meal, you have to say “Hamotzi” [the blessing for bread].

Can I ask what you have in your suitcase?

A trumpet. I’ve been playing since the age of 5. My mother was a music teacher, so I had no choice. 

What will you do in New York?

I’m going back now to my old job as a kashrut supervisor in a Manhattan restaurant.

Which restaurant?

A deli called Kasbah. I feel like a superhero there. If I find some insect, I feel I’ve rescued someone from eating treif, it’s quite amazing.

What did you do in Israel?

I studied in a yeshiva in Crown Heights, New York, Lubavitch. It was good. And then I came to study here. I thought I’d make aliyah but it didn’t happen. The yeshivas here are mainly for 30-year-olds and younger. At the yeshiva I found for older people, they took one look at me and asked if I had studied previously. I said I had, but it was my first day in Israel and I looked messy. Such a long trip is not a good way to keep your white shirt white

You do look different.

Molds are meant for cookies, not for people. When you’re a hozer b’tshuva [newly religious], they know. They look at you although they’re supposed not to judge you. In the end I got annoyed, and stopped looking like them, trying to fit in.

Are you happy to be returning to New York?

No. I hate New York. I’m actually a country boy. I grew up in Spokane, in Washington State, with deer and forests, but I think I was very impatient.

Why?

I grew up in a religious home and my mother was religious, we were Orthodox. But when I was 18, she moved to Australia and I said I’d do my own thing. I started traveling all over the U.S., searching, but didn’t find anything. I even married a shiksa [non-Jewish woman] and had children, but it didn’t work and we separated. I think God is saying: “That’s what you thought you want?” Each time he brought me back to him, until I reached a point where I was standing in front of the synagogue I attended as a child. It was a Reform temple; I felt lost and said, I’ll go in and pray.

And what happened?

I cried and shouted – and that’s what I needed to do. I remember that as a kid I saw a Chabad Hasid talking to God, and pouring his heart out, and I wanted that relationship, his connection to God. So I returned to religion at the age of 32, and everything changed. I went to the Chabad House for a year until I reached a level when there was no longer enough for me there and the rebbe sent me to the yeshiva in Crown Heights.

Are you still in contact with your mother?

We were estranged for many years. It was very hard, I thought she was rejecting me.

And now you’re okay?

My mother made aliyah. On Shabbat I went to her house in Talpiot [Jerusalem]. And after 18 years during which we didn’t talk, I saw a picture of me on the wall and it broke my heart. I thought she had forgotten me but she was waiting – she and the picture and the open arms. Nothing changed: She still asks, what will you do? Where will you go? Let me feed you.

The tattoos didn’t bother her?

Not at all. She was a little annoyed at the braids in the payes [sidelocks]. Although I look like this, I’m very strict. I only hope that there’s a girl who will observe halakha and won’t be concerned about the way I look.

Are you looking for a shidduch [match]?

I even went to Amuka [the grave of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel in the Galilee], which is good luck for a shidduch. It’s like crossing the Red Sea for me. I think that she’s here, in Israel. I only hope that next time the country won’t spit me back out.

Will there be another time?

I’ll come back here in another year, God willing. When we were children we always said: “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem,” but that wasn’t meaningful the way it was this time, on Shabbat in my mother’s house.

Jerry and Gail Abraham.
Tomer Appelbaum

Jerry Abraham, “not old enough,” and Gail Abraham, 68, live in Toronto, Canada; arriving from there

You really don’t want to say how old you are?

Jerry: Next question! 

Fine. So, what will you be doing in Israel?

Jerry: I’ll visit the Old City, there’s a place where we always stay when we come here.

Do you come to Israel often?

Jerry: Every year for the past nine years. Sometimes more than once a year. Usually we come for the holidays: Purim, Pesach, Rosh Hashanah. Every time we come I like to go to the Kotel [Western Wall], it’s about a minute from the house. I go to the Kotel three times a day, every day.

And what do you do at the Kotel?

Jerry: I pray. I ask the Creator to restore the Temple to this exact spot, so that the pain suffered by the Jews in the world can be relieved and will go away.

Do you have family here?

Jerry: My children came to study here and my grandchildren live here. And now I’m working on it too. We’re thinking of making aliyah.

Now you remember?

Israel is a wonderful place and Jews should live here, and since Obama has been in the White House, Jews understand that.

Obama, of all people, bothers you?

I think that there’s a big change now in the United States, serious anti-Semitism in America is on the rise and showing its face. BDS and other movements on campuses are taking Jewish children and turning them against Israel. That’s disturbing and problematic. These children are being torn away from their religion and from themselves.

So why didn’t you make aliyah when you were young?

Jerry: My family started out in Budapest, and my grandfather was invited to be the cantor in the first Hungarian congregation, Ohab Zedek, in New York. At the time it was a very prestigious place in Harlem. And I was born and grew up in New York.

It’s hard to leave New York.

Not necessarily. In ‘67, just at the time of the Six-Day War, I moved to Toronto because of the family business my father started. My brother managed it in the United States and I was “exiled” to Canada to manage the business there.

What’s the family business?

Jerry: It’s a health food business – additives, non-prescription drugs for pharmacies – and a supermarket. In short, I had to move to Toronto at the end of June ‘67, and the war broke out in early June. At the time I considered coming to Israel and it was confusing, because I had two little children. When the war began, we said: “How can we go to Toronto now? It’s impossible.” And then only six days passed and the war was already over, but it was nerve-racking. My first wife and I moved to Toronto. And we lived there, and then my first wife died of cancer. A lot of heartache, a lot of suffering. I married Gail, she’s my second wife. Her Jewish name is Geula [redemption] because she was born on November 29, 1947 [the day the UN voted for the partition plan in Palestine].

Gail: I have a twin sister called Hannah Feige; she was born first.

Jerry: We have to make aliyah.

Have to?

Jerry: Why not? I have a friend who made aliyah at the age of 90 and he’s really enjoying himself here. He still runs around.

Impressive.

Jerry: My mother lived with us in Toronto until the age of 102, and she always used to say: “Old age is not for sissies.” Yes, you have to suffer a lot of pain in order to reach the age of 102.

So how does one survive?

Jerry: Now when we were sitting in the plane they showed us exactly at what spot on the globe the plane was located, above which continent, that’s also an amazing thing in my opinion. You have a healthy body – appreciate it; you have a soul – make it happy. Appreciate the family, appreciate your health, appreciate the Land of Israel. After 2,000 years we’re here, and look at this country, how it has developed in the past 60 years. I travel a lot and we have nothing to be ashamed of. You have to be happy and to appreciate that we live in a paradise. I know that it’s a strange thing to say, because there’s a lot of pain in the world, but you have to look for it, for paradise. You have to see the trees near where we live. In Israel there are trees with purple leaves. That always amazes me.