'My Husband Wants Me to Be More Jewish. But I Don’t See Myself on That Path.'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A Colombian expat embarks on a new chapter in her life, and two sisters reunite after a two-decade separation

Alexandra Materon.
Tomer Appelbaum

Alexandra Materon, 32, lives in Tel Aviv; flying to Budapest

Hello, what will you be doing in Budapest?

I’m going to a festival called Ozora. I like electronic music, progressive, but I prefer dark, which is what they have at Ozora. Then I’ll go to the MoDem festival in Croatia, which is even more dark.

Sounds cool – and dark.

I go to international festivals a lot; this will be my third time at Ozora. I’ll be sleeping in a tent there for a week, because when you take a hotel you constantly waste time.

Are you going alone?

I’m going with my girlfriend. People I know from all over the world are coming – from England, Austria. We come and go, and get along really well; it’s a little like a community. It makes me feel I’m alive; I get really happy. Unfortunately, this year my husband didn’t want me to go. He said that if I went, he doesn’t want me to come back.

Wow. What changed this year?

I don’t know exactly, but he’s become a little more religious lately. He observes Shabbat and he wants me to learn Judaism and be more Jewish. But I don’t know if I see myself on that path. Sometimes people meet at one point and change along the way. And now he wants me to choose: him or Ozora.

Hard core. I understand you chose Ozora.

I told him that, it’s my life, that I don’t want to be stuck and I don’t want to be like a little girl who’s told what to do. I told him, “Don’t get so stressed out. I’m going and I’ll be back in two weeks.” The moment I said that I wasn’t going to do what he wanted, everything turned bad; he wanted me to take all my stuff with me. So I’m here with a seven-kilo knapsack, because that’s what I was able to take. But I don’t want to cry over things I left in Israel; they’re material things and not really important to me.

You sound pretty cool about the whole thing.

Maybe I sound strong, but inside I’m scared. Where am I going to go? What’s going to happen? I’m sad and emotional and hope that in the end he’ll calm down and at least talk to me. I am originally from Colombia and I’m not Jewish; my parents thought I was too young to marry. I really was young, but I wanted to see what life had to offer me. I wanted to try and experience things, and I thought life would take me forward, help me learn and grow.

Is that what happened?

Yes. We got together in Israel six years ago. I learned Hebrew, I lived in Tel Aviv, in Be’er Sheva, a little in Eilat. I’ve been a secretary, a waitress, I modeled, I worked at Myspace, I did hair-removal by laser. My relationship with my husband went through a lot. I love him, but he once had dreadlocks and was a hippie. With time he became more serious.

Do you have a Plan B?

After the festival I’m thinking of continuing on, to Barcelona. It’s a city I’ve already been to and loved, and I know Spanish, of course. I have friends in Barcelona and hope to find a job there. I have a feeling that it will work out.

And if not?

My mother is a Christian, so I told her to pray and to send me good energy. I’m a woman and I want to have a family, and maybe one day I’ll meet someone that I can raise a family with. At worst, I’ll go back to Colombia, to my grandparents who have a farm there, and to my parents who have a house in the hills. But I think I want to travel and visit other places. I hope to get to India, to Japan. I want to learn more languages, to learn as much as I can about the world, but I don’t know exactly how that will happen.

So you think you’re not going to be coming back here, to him.

Right. I think it’s over now. We were together for six years, we argue a lot and our relationship has been damaged over time. I am trying to fix things, but I keep feeling that I have to be lowering my head all the time – and I really want to be independent.

Victoria Chaloulakos, left, lives in Athens, and Shoshana Labi.
Tomer Appelbaum

Victoria Chaloulakos, 91, left, lives in Athens, and Shoshana Labi, 86, lives in Tel Aviv; Victoria is arriving from Athens

Hello Victoria, what are you planning to do in Israel?

Shoshana: Victoria is visiting me. We’re sisters and we haven’t seen each other in 20 years.

Victoria: We were born and raised in Israel. I showed the guy at passport control my army discharge papers; he was pleased.

So what are you doing in Greece?

Victoria: I married a Greek.

Shoshana: She married a famous musician who played the bouzouki with [Greek singer] Aris San. When they came to perform in Israel she met him.

How famous?

Victoria: His name was Fotis Chaloulakos and meeting him was just amazing. I had a Greek boyfriend at the time, and I suggested that we go to the concert. We sat with a few of my girlfriends, and they made a 10-lira bet about who would succeed in talking to Fotis. I said I would.

Brave.

Victoria: At the concert, Fotis looked at me and I looked at him. The boyfriend said that if he came to our table, we’d seat him with one of my girlfriends. In the end he approached and signaled that he wanted to dance with me. My boyfriend tried to persuade him to dance with someone else, but he insisted on me. So we danced a little; we couldn’t talk because I didn’t know Greek. All I wanted was to set up a date and win the bet.

Shoshana: That’s the first time I’ve heard the story about the bet!

Victoria: We did go out, and I won the money, but I also stayed with him. We were married for 60 years. He died at age 90 and he really was truly wonderful. Anyone who sees his picture says, “What a movie star!”

How did you communicate?

Victoria: He knew a little Spanish, and I spoke it from home.

Shoshana: Our parents were born in Turkey; Dad was in the Turkish army. He met our mother here; they married and stayed in Israel. They spoke Ladino at home.

Victoria: At first I lived in Israel with my husband and baby – in the Florentin neighborhood [of Tel Aviv], on Cordova Street. I hear it’s expensive there now.

Shoshana: Today it’s a neighborhood of a lot of young people; a lot of hippie types live there too.

You’re up to date.

Shoshana: I’ve been a Tel Avivian all my life. Now I live in the northern part, in the Lamed section. I’m a widow, I have nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Victoria: I have two daughters and a son. He also plays the bouzouki and sings.

Are you still close?

Shoshana: When we were young, I went with the kids to Greece every year, and she came to Israel a bit. Now it’s less pleasant to travel, so we haven’t met for a long time, but we talk on the phone every day.

What do you talk about?

Shoshana: About the children, the grandchildren, the family. And about politics, which I really like.

Victoria: I like politics, too. I listen to the radio all the time. I don’t like watching television so much, except for Turkish movies, which aren’t offensive. In other movies sometimes a kiss takes an hour, the bedroom scene takes an hour. But with the Turks, it’s not like that; they only kiss on the forehead. Besides that, I like soccer and basketball. I live next to the Panathinaikos [soccer club] field, and when people go to games they pass by. I sit on the porch and enjoy hearing them sing the team’s songs.

What do you plan to do in Israel?

Shoshana: She’ll stay with me and we’ll travel a little. Would you like to go have a falafel?

Victoria: I haven’t eaten anything since the morning. I was very excited about the trip.

Shoshana: We’ll go to Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa. And to the place where she met her husband. Do you know what’s there now?

Victoria: There used to be a jail there.

Shoshana: Now it’s a hotel.