'I Miss New York, but What Can I Do? The Rabbis Told Me to Return to Israel'

One Israeli talks about going to Cyprus for a 10-hour hair transplant operation, while another explains how Jewish summer camps in Russia convinced her to move to Israel

Edward Movashov.
Tomer Appelbaum

Edward Movashov, 46, from Rishon Letzion; arriving from Larnaca, Cyprus

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Cyprus?

I had a hair transplant. It’s something I was wanting to do for a long time. My head was half hair and half not.

Why in Cyprus?

It’s cheaper in Cyprus, you also get a vacation and it’s only 40 minutes from here. It’s done in Israel, too. There’s a doctor who does it in Ra’anana, but for around 30,000 shekels [$8,285]; he was ready to go down to 28,000 at most.

How did you find the transplant person in Cyprus?

Google. There’s a doctor from Turkey who also has a clinic in Cyprus. He brings a team from Turkey and they rent part of the hospital in Cyprus.

How was the operation?

The operation took 10 hours. They use hypodermics to put the head to sleep so you don’t feel anything. It feels like a rock on your head.

What did you do for 10 hours?

Got very bored. You lie there and move a bit, then every three-four hours they have a break. You get up for a coffee and lie down again, no television and no nothing.

What do they transplant?

The hair of the transplant is yours. They take the roots from the back and move them forward.

And now what?

You put on lotion for a week or two and that’s all. We’ll wait for it to grow for eight-seven months, and then what will come out will be new hair. We’ll see if there are any results.

Where’s your American accent from?

I was born in Russia, in a city called Dushanbe. It used to be in the Soviet Union, and today it’s Tajikistan. We immigrated to Israel in 1978.

Do you know why your family immigrated here?

Not really, but everyone started to leave then.

Do you remember Russia?

Sure, I remember the house I grew up in. We didn’t have any tall buildings. We lived in a kind of village, like kibbutzniks.

What happened when you came to Israel?

The first night we slept, the second night they shaved me bald. They put earlocks on me, sent me to Kfar Chabad and that was that. We didn’t understand what or why.

What and why, actually?

Because my parents were new immigrants, and everyone got put into Kfar Chabad, and what they said we all did. We studied Torah, we studied everything. We lived there for two years. After that, when my parents received an apartment, I went to primary school in Ramle.

That’s not a Ramle accent, more like Harlem.

When I was 13, in 1985, there was a war here and soldiers were stabbed. Our neighbors had a son who died in the army. My mother got scared, so my parents moved to New York.

Sounds like a lot of pressure.

I had a very hard time. You don’t know English, nothing. I wanted to come back here, but my parents wouldn’t let me. 

They were afraid you would go into the army?

My mom certainly worried about me. My whole family is still over there. I have an older brother who was a basketball player. He was even accepted by the national team, but my parents went to America with us when he was 17, and he stayed there. I did a returning resident [procedure] two years ago, and I’m still here.

How is it here? Lots of fun?

I opened a shawarma [place] and got burned out by it, a schnitzel place in Ashdod, and then I sold it and started [working] here in the airport. 

Are you happy that you returned to Israel?

It’s my wife who returned; she said she didn’t want and didn’t like New York. I have two small children who are actually content here, and two older ones – a son who is there and a daughter who wants to try to come here but hasn’t yet made aliyah.

You don’t sound thrilled.

I miss New York, but what can I do? I went to rabbis, and they told me, go where the family is. That’s why I keep myself busy, flying from here to there. That calms me down, and you need the heart to be calm. In New York I was always on the move, doing business. If you want to rest, go to Turkish Cyprus. They have beautiful hotels, mountains and sea. That’s the atmosphere, it’s great, you don’t have that on the Greek side. There’s also a lot of casinos there, and Israelis love casinos.

Are you a religious person?

There’s a little left from Chabad. I keep Shabbat, go to synagogue every Friday. Usually I have a kippah, but because of the operation I can’t put it on.

Anna Lerman.
Tomer Appelbaum

Anna Lerman, 22, from Tel Aviv; flying to Samara, Russia

Hello, can I ask where the accent’s from?

In 2012, when I was 17, I immigrated to Israel from a city called Samara, and every half a year I visit my parents and family there.

Why did you decide to immigrate?

I had gone to Jewish summer camps since the age of 12, and I visited here with my parents when I was 16. That’s when I thought: Why not try living here for a year?

It’s been more than a year.

After a year I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I immigrated on the Masa program [which brings young Jews to Israel for up to a year], and after I completed the program, I received citizenship. I was accepted to university, and now I’ve completed a B.A. in East Asia studies and economics at Tel Aviv University.

Congratulations. Do you know Chinese?

Yes. I was in China and came back a week ago. I think I’ll go on studying Chinese, because I want to live there for a period.

How was the aliyah?

I think that, relatively speaking, I had an easy integration. My friends from summer camp also immigrated here, and through them I met more people. Everything flowed. I enjoyed learning Hebrew and was serious about it.

Tell me about Jewish summer camps – sounds like fun.

There are Jewish Agency emissaries in Russia who organize interesting and creative activities for young people. There are no activities like that for other populations. My parents wanted me to go to that. My father is an atheist but he has a Jewish identity that he hides, and he’s proud and happy that I’m in Israel, speaking Hebrew and enjoying it.

Mother, less so?

My mother would like me to live with her and help her, but she loves Israel, too.

How do you get along financially?

At first my parents helped me out, and afterward I worked in student jobs in the Singapore-Israel Foundation and in the office of the chief scientist of the Economy Ministry. I was in contact with many managers of large companies, and that was a shock. I thought they would be pompous and irritating, but they were helpful and pleasant. I understood that they’re people, too, and were also students once.

Definitely.

The first time it was hard for me here was only after two-three years.

What happened?

I started to miss my parents and family, and I started to understand that there are also problems in Israel.

What? What kind of problems?

All kinds of things of army, Jews and Arabs, high taxes, national insurance, refugees.

Ah, those marginal problems, yes.

The thing is that in Russia, elections never decide anything, because it’s clear who will win. And here, too, I’ve realized that it’s not really a democracy, because of the propaganda. So I don’t know which is worse, but at least there’s summer here, and you can find a job after getting a degree. In Russia you can’t do anything without connections, and publishing an anti-government post on Facebook can land you in jail. On the other hand, here there are problems with the army, the occupation and the settlements.

Maybe you should just choose for yourself and go to China.

Now I really do want to live in Beijing for half a year, and I don’t know what will happen afterward. There’s something that keeps me here.

What will you do in China?

I was just there. It has so many people. There’s a huge potential for business, because if someone buys something, a lot of people go and buy it. Maybe it’s possible to sell hamsas [palm-shaped amulets] there.

Speaking of conquering the world, weren’t you supposed to serve in the army?

I didn’t do army service, I was in detention.

How did that happen?

There’s a program where, if you do a degree immediately after aliyah, you get a deferment from military service until the conclusion of your studies. I didn’t get a deferment in the past year, and a draft notice arrived and I didn’t go for my draft date. I didn’t know what the system is, I didn’t understand that you have to be afraid of it. I thought it was okay and everything would work out.

Oh, no. Did it work out?

In the end, I hired a lawyer and turned myself in. I had a trial and I cried at the trial, and also said that I didn’t know how things worked here. In the end I was in detention at Tel Hashomer, and then I went through a sort of induction and I was a soldier for two weeks, but at home, until the psychiatrist discharged me. It was like a bad dream, but in the end I got terrific socks from the army.