'In Canada, I Stood Out. It Gave Me a Feeling of Presence I Didn’t Have in Israel'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli who moved to Canada and found herself, and Greek sailors who have been away from their families for too long

Noa Epstein
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Neora Ayalon.
Neora Ayalon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein

Neora Ayalon, 25; lives in Oakville, Canada, arriving from Toronto

Why have you come to Israel?

Weekend banner.

For family and friends. I’m from Bat Yam, but I’ve been living in Canada for the past three years. I’m a student, so I come here in the summer.

Why Toronto?

I live there with my partner, who’s Canadian. I met him before my army service, when a friend of his, who was trying to make aliyah, wrote me on Facebook.

What do you mean, “wrote me on Facebook”?

I simply got a message from a guy named Eugene. He wrote that he was in Bat Yam and would be happy if I could show him the city.

Did you have mutual friends?

No, nothing.

So what made you decide to meet him?

I knew he was Canadian and I thought there wouldn’t be a problem, because Canadians are good people. My mother was worried, but I told her I had a good feeling.

Daring! So you met up with the Jewish guy from Canada.

Yes. For a week I showed him around and then he said his friend was coming, so he wouldn’t have time to meet anymore. Then, a few days later, he wrote me, “I’m at the beach and my friend fell asleep – want to come over?” I was working at a beach café, so I went over.

And the friend is now your partner?

Yes, it was Edward. He was shy and quiet. For a few days I took them to all kinds of places, and he barely said anything.

Where did you take them?

They really liked Falafel Ratzon for 6 shekels [$1.70] on King George [Street in Tel Aviv] and The Old Man and the Sea [a Jaffa fish restaurant], because they had never seen so much food on one table. One day, they had tickets for Please Touch in Jaffa, which is a total-darkness experience, and Edward and I held hands, at first not intentionally. And it was clear that there was something between us.

But he lived in Toronto.

Exactly. He went back to Toronto and I went into the army. During my service we kept in touch; he’d send me all kinds of presents, like Xbox games. Then he suggested that I come to visit him on an army vacation.

And did you?

My mother was worried, she’s a single parent, there’s just us two, but in the end she agreed. Afterward he came here and the three of us lived in Bat Yam for two years. After the army, I wanted to study design and art. I didn’t get accepted to Shenkar [an art college in Ramat Gan], and Bezalel [in Jerusalem] was far away. So we decided to try Canada.

Right around the corner.

We had already been together for a while and I could get residency status and financial aid. I was accepted, and I am studying interactive design in a college in Oakville [Ontario].

And what about Mom?

I hope to bring her over and if not, I’ll come back. I won’t leave her on her own. She is open to the idea of moving to Canada. We see each other twice a year for a few months. She comes to visit me and I visit her, but because of the coronavirus, I haven’t seen her for a year.

How’s life in Oakville?

It’s a developing city. Originally it was mostly farms, and it’s very quiet, a bit too quiet, with lots of nature. There are squirrels and rabbits and foxes running around, and not long ago I saw a deer, too. I became a vegetarian there, and Edward followed suit. It’s hard to eat meat with all those cute animals around. In general, I think I integrated easily because there is something very Canadian about me.

What do you mean?

I tend to apologize to people. I always let them speak, I always wait for others. I feel that I sort of disappeared in Israel, and in Canada I was suddenly no longer the shy girl. I stood out. It gave me a feeling of being present that I didn’t have in Israel.

What’s it like to return each time and meet your friends?

Everyone is already married, and even though my friends in Israel are always loving and the friendships are stable, I feel that from one visit to the next the distance is growing. I speak to them differently, the jokes are different, the ideas, the plans for the future. Everyone asks me when I’m getting married, but in Canada that’s not even on the agenda. Even Edward’s mother wouldn’t ask me a question like that. It’s a different mentality.

What are your plans?

To finish college, take one of those yellow school buses, renovate it and travel across the country. That’s not unusual in Canada.

Lefkios Kanakis
Lefkios Kanakis.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Lefkios Kanakis, 49; lives in Limassol, Cyprus, flying to Larnaca

What were you doing in Israel?

I arrived by boat. I am a captain and this fellow next to me is a second officer. We arrived in Haifa 45 days ago on a tugboat and after 15 days we moved to Hadera and stayed there.

Second officer, what’s your name?

I’m not telling you, and I don’t want to be photographed.

You just want to make comments from the side.

Exactly.

Lefkios: With the tugboat we pulled a barge, which is a kind of huge box without propellers or an engine or a command bridge of its own, to anchorage in Hadera.

What does the barge do?

Lots of things. In this case, it has a crane on it, with which we work on the anchorage systems of big ships. The one we worked on this time was old and inactive, and so we refurbished it. An anchorage system actually consists of large floats.

Floats?

You sometimes see those orange floats in the sea? So imagine those, only 20 times as big. The floats have a very long chain at the bottom, and at its end there is an anchor that holds them down, and they have hooks above, to which the ships are docked.

They’re something like a parking lot for ships?

Yes, something like that. So when the floats get old they need to be taken care of. In this case they weren’t being used at all. We did the repairs on the floats. We replaced the anchorage system there.

And then you hung around a little in Haifa and Hadera?

No. We were only on the ship – four men, 45 days.

And you’re still talking to each other?

Second officer: Yes. What do you think we are, girls? Why should we not be talking?

How did you pass the time?

Lefkios: We didn’t actually do anything. Every day, when the work was finished, we prepared food, took showers, and then everyone was focused on his phone.

What’s happening now with the ship?

A different crew replaced us. Because of the coronavirus and the fact that many airports are closed, there are crews that are stuck on boats. There are workers who haven’t been able to get back home for a year and a half, because they move from one port to another and the airports are closed. It’s only when they get to a country they can fly out of that another crew can replace them.

How many years have you been doing this?

All my life. I was a professional swimmer, then I joined the navy, and in 1992 I started to work as a diver, cleaning the underside of maritime vessels. In time I became a captain, and now I’m here to do the job.

Do you like the work?

Second officer: He likes the money and hates the work, like everyone else.

Lefkios: The money is never enough for a job like this. You risk your life, you’re far from the family.

Are there no good moments?

Second officer: When the weather is good. But it’s usually bad, and that’s shitty, especially in winter, of course. There are also operations in which things go wrong, and you find yourself working 48 hours straight.

Lefkios: Things go wrong every day. It’s hard work, but that’s what we know how to do.

How do you combine it with family life?

Lefkios: The family is used to it. You never know how long the next project will take.

Second officer: Sometimes it’s a few days, sometimes a few weeks, and lots of times it’s a few months.

What does your wife say?

Second officer: She knew what it would be like when we got married. This is what I know how to do, and this is how it’s going to be.

What do you like about the sea, despite everything?

Second officer: The mermaids.

Have you seen many?

Second officer: Tons of them. But do you know why mermaids are the most useless creatures in the world?

I have a feeling that I know where this is going.

Second officer: Because you can’t eat them and you can’t f--- them.

That’s what I was afraid of.

Lefkios: It’s been a long time since he saw his family – do you understand what that does?

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