'My Son Lives Right. He Isn't Chained to Any Social Conventions'

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Brachi Ronen.
Brachi Ronen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Brachi Ronen, 70; lives in Pardes Hannah, arriving from Portugal

Hi Brachi, where are you coming from?

I went to visit my son who lives in Portugal. That was at the beginning of January. As soon as I found out that there were problems flying via Frankfurt, I decided to stay on there. I had an Air France flight, but it kept getting cancelled, so I kept delaying my return by two weeks. It wasn’t easy. Not that I was suffering, of course. I had a terrific time, it’s a delightful region, with huge beaches and the sea. But not being able to control your plans is difficult. For an older woman like me, who’s 70 – I’m in shock about it.

They say 70 is the new 50.

That was true until the outbreak of the pandemic. When COVID-19 arrived, everyone from 60 to 100 years old got lumped in the same category – “Don’t visit Grandpa and Grandma,” and all that nonsense.

So you’ve missed out on the vaccine in the meantime?

True, but I’m not worried. I’m the only one among my friends who has traveled somewhere. I was in Crete in September, and now I flew to Portugal. I haven’t decided yet whether or not to be vaccinated. The whole atmosphere surrounding vaccination is very odd. I’m not saying that I’m in denial about the coronavirus or about the vaccine, but something smells fishy.

How was Portugal at this time of year?

Wonderful. My son lives in the Algarve region, where there are great waves. He’s lived there for a few years. I have a granddaughter there and I chase her across the world. She’s 12 now, but when she was 2 she lived in New Zealand, so I went to New Zealand twice. And then they lived in Barcelona, so I went to Barcelona. And then they came to Israel, couldn’t find a job and went to Portugal.

How does he decide where to move to?

He surfs, so he looks for places by the sea. He surfs for fun, and besides that he works.

Have you also surfed?

The only things I do at the beach are get a tan, read a book and swim.

What do you think about your son’s way of life?

You follow the whole standard route of graduating high school, serving in the army, maybe doing an combination military-academic program, then you get married and after that you have kids. Suddenly I see a whole generation of people who are already 45 today, whose path in life is very different from ours. And I ask myself, isn’t it more correct to live like that? Not to commit to a mortgage, but to live without being committed to anything. I think that if I were going to buy a home today, and went to a bank and was told what I was committing to – I would say bye-bye and head for New Zealand. It’s a life path that’s very different from mine.

And in retrospect, how do you think it’s preferable to live?

I think that generation is living more correctly than I am. They aren’t chained to any social conventions. Today there are people my age who, to pay off their home, still work from sundown to downtown. And what about the family? What about the children? And the beach? I would go crazy. I guess that in the end I wasn’t a great conformist. I always did what I wanted. I never committed to anything, and even when I had no money I always tried to travel abroad.

But did you buy a home?

I inherited my grandfather’s house – he was one of the founders of Pardes Hannah. The only Yemenite there, the one Yemenite family that moved there from Zichron Yaakov. My grandfather wanted to settle down, he wanted land and he wanted to be an orchard man.

Where’s the nickname Brachi from?

I have a Yemenit aunt who was named Bracha. And from the minute I burst into the world I was called Brachi, so there would be a difference between us. I didn’t want to change the name in the ID card, because it’s in memory of my grandmother. No one calls me Bracha; Bracha is the aunt. So I’m Brachi.

What do you do in life?

I’m retired, and before that I was a physical education teacher. I was also a homeroom teacher at the regional high school at Kibbutz Gan Shmuel.

What was it like being a phys-ed teacher?

It’s the most important subject in school. I was a teacher for 39 years, and thanks to me there are many children who love sports. When the girls arrived in the morning, they showed up without a drop of strength, and at the end of the class they were brimming with energy. My goal was for me to have students who would turn physical education into part of their way of life in the future. And I succeeded.

Keren-Or Shema.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Keren-Or Shema, 38; lives in Leeds, England, flying to London

Hi Keren-or, where are you off to?

I’m flying to London, and I live in Leeds. It’s an amazing city, three hours from London by train. I was in Israel for half a year, helping my grandmother. I was supposed to be here for a month or two, but I stayed on, because of the lockdowns. Now I know she’s in a much better place, so I’m going back to my life.

How did you get the name Keren-Or [ray of light]?

I have two names: Korin and Keren-Or. I choose to introduce myself as Keren-Or, because that’s what I am. I’m a person who very much likes to give and to create things, and I feel that wherever I am I find something else to do and to contribute. I grew up as Korin and I always had difficulties with that name. When I was young, around 7, Grandma would take us to rabbis for blessings and such, and one rabbi saw me and asked what my name was. When I told him “Korin,” he said, “That’s not your name, you’re Keren-Or,” and that’s when it took hold.

So you’ve been connected to that name since you were seven?

Yes, because that rabbi saw something in me that others didn’t see. And he actually couldn’t see, he was blind, but he still understood – from my voice, from the intensity, the energy. When I was 16, I decided to add Keren-Or to my name. For years people around me didn’t accept it. They would laugh, “What is Keren Or?” They said it was like a Care Bear. When I was about 23, I started working on cruise ships, and I needed a stage name, because I worked with children, and I became Princess Keren-Or. So little Korin is still there somewhere, but my name is Keren-Or.

What’s the importance of a name, do you think?

I’m a great believer in names and in tradition. I have intuitions, and that name was always in my mind. A name is connected to the soul. You receive it from your parents, but it doesn’t always match who you are. With that name, I started to accept myself and to like myself. When I was at school it was the period of Corinne Allal [a popular singer, a lesbian], and the other kids teased me and said, “You like girls.”

And do people pronounce the name right in England?

It’s hard for them, they pronounce it “Karen.” But I always correct them so they will say Keren-Or, and I don’t forgo the “Or.”

How did you end up in Leeds?

By chance. I was on a trip to London and I went to visit a girlfriend who lives there. She had just had twins, and with my experience with children and babies – I have eight younger siblings – I told her, “Go to sleep and I’ll be with them.” She trusted me and I helped her. After I got back to Israel, she wrote me nonstop, asking me to come back and visit. And I always felt like a kind of odd bird in Israel, and I said, why not – I’m not in a relationship, I don’t have children and I’m at an age when I can do what I want, so I flew to England and stayed there.

What made you want to stay?

Fortunately, I knew the Chabad community there. They helped me and were very courteous and nice. For the past few years, I’ve taught Hebrew and craft to children ages 3 to 5 in a Chabad school. During the summer vacation, when everyone left, I did a very big project, I renovated and organized things and I gave a lot of myself. They accepted me when I had nothing, and that very much strengthened my desire to stay.

What do you do there now?

At a certain stage, I decided to do something else. I like martial arts, and I met a guy who teaches judo and Krav Maga. So I went to help him. But I was very much alone there, because I was the only unmarried girl. So I told him that I needed to do something else. That guy also has a hair salon. He asked me whether I was good with my hands and whether I had ever cut hair. I told him I could learn. So he told me to come and watch. And so, for three months I would go there, watch him and mimic him. And then I started to do the simple things. He gave me a job and now he’s begging me to come back, because the hair salons are going to reopen in April.

What is your dream now?

I’m 38 and I’m at a stage of life when I want to be a mother. I’ve traveled a lot, but I didn’t find my direction, and relationships didn’t work out, so now I’m at a place of starting to do it alone. I’m at a crossroads, because I’m not sure that I will end up making England my home. But I’ll check out the options and we’ll see. I’ll meet you guys in another year and we’ll see what’s happened with me.

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