'In Sao Paulo, Jews and Muslims Live Together Happily. In Israel, It’s Complicated'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An expat who lives in Brazil explains why she left Israel ■ Why it's complicated for gay people in Eilat, according to a young couple

Vicky Asulin Dias.
Meged Gozani

Vicky Asulin Dias, 58, lives in Alter do Chao, Amazonia, Brazil; arriving from there

Hello. It sounds like you live in an exotic location. How did you end up there?

I lived in Ofira [near Sharm e-Sheikh, in Sinai], and about 37 years ago when we had to give it back to the Egyptians, I left. For 10 years, I sailed on a yacht, from place to place. You know, I think the sea offers the most ecological way to travel: Sea travel doesn’t pollute like flying, you eat mainly fish, you need very few things, a few clothes and you’re with the wind all day. Until you stop somewhere, work a little and learn something. I speak 10 languages now. That’s the gift of moving about in the world. You must learn how to talk: A dog that doesn’t bark, doesn’t eat.

Why did you stop sailing?

I got to Brazil, where I met my husband. A delightful man, Brazilian. We are married to this day and have a son who’s an engineer, who lives in Amazonia and builds ecological homes.

And what do you do?

I do art, make jewelry; we also have a café where you can buy art. We work only with local organic farmers. Overall, everyone in the family is involved in socially oriented work and environmental protection. Our village abuts the biggest body of water in Brazil, but it’s polluted with mercury and sewage. In contrast to little Israel, Brazil covers a huge area. If you don’t take care of it, it will all go down the tubes. The president of Brazil, Bibi’s friend, is an extremely destructive man.

So you didn’t vote for Bibi?

I don’t vote. I do my work and don’t want to get into political things. From my point of view, the ecological problem is the only thing that’s really important.

Do you believe it’s possible to change anything?

In Brazil, the problem is in education. The people are good, but there’s no direction. It’s very sad. Everyone talks, but no one does anything. I implore everyone who reads this to do something, even something small – pick up garbage on the beach, remove plastic objects from the sea, give a hungry animal food – or think twice before buying something. We buy and it costs us.

And the price you’re talking about is not the price of the product itself.

For example, if Europeans would consume less soy, the Brazilians wouldn’t grow it.

Is soy harmful to the environment?

Look what’s happening now in the Amazon Basin. A farmer has land and he wants to deforest it so he can grow something there – like soy – so he throws a match into the forest and it goes up in flames. Those are virgin forests, and it’s very hard to put out the fire. There have been a great many fires, many families have been killed and homes have been destroyed. It’s crazy what’s happening; people are praying for it to stop. It’s a problem.

Aren’t there restrictions, regulations?

In Brazil there are no laws, there is no supervision and there is no one to say, “You lit a fire, here’s your summons.” People suffered from horrible disasters involving fires in Greece, too. Now, there are times when fires are allowed, but they have inspectors who watch to see where something dangerous starts, and immediately send in firefighters.

You sound very passionate about the subject.

Nature is my soul, it’s the wind, the spring, the desert, what can I tell you – mass insanity isn’t for me. During my wanderings, I didn’t live in New York or in Rio or Sao Paulo. I wanted forests. Even though the place I love most is Israel.

Then why didn’t you come to live here? Was it a trauma from the evacuation?

It has nothing to do with Ofira; it’s something that happened. It’s just that Israel is the place I always arrive in with tears in my eyes. People here are special, but things are very hard here. In Brazil, if you’re a good person, you’re welcome – in Sao Paulo, Jews and Muslims live together happily – and here it’s complicated. We don’t live in peace and love.

Far from it.

It’s true that peace and love are mainly in our heads but, after all, reality here makes things come to the surface. People are rude to each other. There’s Gaza and there is a terrible social problem. It’s Babylonia here. People with different languages, people who were displaced from who knows where and arrive in a country that is a dream, but in reality it’s hard to cope every day.

Sivan Shaouat and Yuval Arem.
Meged Gozani

Sivan Shaouat, 21, left, and Yuval Arem, 22; live in Eilat, flying to Burgas, Bulgaria

Hello, who does that “Harry Potter” belong to?

Sivan: It’s mine.

It looks as tattered as every book dreams of being.

Sivan: It’s my sixth time reading it. I know all the books by heart already.

And what will Harry Potter do in Burgas?

Sivan: A friend asked if we’re going to party and drink and so on. But we’re not really very into that.

Yuval: More into travelling in the area.

Sivan: Museums and the beach.

Yuval: We’re going with Sivan’s parents.

Sivan: It’s a present from my grandfather.

Yuval: And I’m going with her, as the partner. Lesbians in Eilat – even that happens sometimes, too.

No doubt.

Sivan: We’re very much the periphery. There used to be one decent club for gay people, but not in our era. We’ve only heard stories about it.

And now?

Sivan: There’s virtually nothing.

So, how do you manage?

Sivan: People meet through apps, like everyone else.

Is that how you two met?

Yuval: The funny thing is that we were in all kinds of things that involved us both, but we didn’t meet.

Sivan: We were in middle school together and didn’t know it. We were in the same gifted-and-talented program.

Yuval: And at the same primary school.

What happened in high school?

Yuval: I moved to Jerusalem, to a boarding school called Yasa [the Israel Arts and Science Academy]. A cool place. From the age of 15, I only got to Eilat on weekends, a terrific deal.

Sivan: I was born in Jerusalem. We moved to Eilat when I was three months old. And those were the best three months of my life. (Laughs)

It’s not easy in Eilat?

Yuval: Now that I’ve returned, it’s strange, but I thought it would be worse. Soon I’ll be starting Ben-Gurion University – behavioral sciences and sociology. I served there for half a year during the army. I taught soldiers who needed remedial classes to get to 12 years of schooling, and saw how cool it was.

Sivan: I was a spotter [i.e., gathering intelligence via radar, etc.] and I also enjoyed it a lot.

What do you do in civilian life?

Sivan: Also a kind of spotting. I work in the municipality’s control center, with cameras. We work with the police.

Isn’t that an invasion of privacy?

Sivan: I actually believe in spotting, I think it’s an excellent tool to prevent violence and vandalism, and as long as you don’t use the information for wrongful purposes, everything is fine. Sometimes we really do see dangerous things. Now I’ve also started prepping for the psychometric exam [for university admissions].

What do you want to study?

Sivan: I’m still checking it out, but I’m leaning toward medicine. In any case, I won’t go back to living in Eilat. It’s a terrific city to grow up in, but that’s it.

Why?

Sivan: For people like us, for example, who really care about studies, the schools in Eilat aren’t good enough. I would show up for chemistry and music, but during the other classes I would draw on my desk. And it’s not that the subjects didn’t interest me. It’s the way they were taught.

Yuval: The fact is that in 10th grade, the moment the program for gifted kids ended, I wanted to leave.

Was it also harder to come out of the closet in the periphery?

Yuval: I didn’t realize I was a lesbian until sixth grade, and by the end of ninth grade, I was already out. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, and in Jerusalem it was really chill.

Sivan: With me it was a process that started at age 15 and went on until I was 17. I didn’t meet any other gay people in my grade. I felt like an odd bird and had no one to talk to. But maybe it’s not only the lesbianism, but something that other gifted people experience. Maybe it’s arrogant to say this. I was simply very lonely, with no one to talk to. At school, too, during the whole 12 years, it wasn’t really talked about. One time they accidentally screened “Yossi and Jagger” [an Israeli feature film about two gay soldiers] in class, and in the parts where they kissed the teacher turned off the TV. By the way, maybe not because of the homosexuality, but because of the kisses.

Yuval: My mother is a psychological adviser at a high school, and there are already classes where people talk about it.

Sivan: Well, maybe it’s partly because of her daughter.

Yuval: At my school in Jerusalem, being straight was considered not hip.