'On Fridays We Would Have Kiddush, and Then Sit Down for a Ramadan Meal'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An American hoping to start a new life in Cyprus, and an Israeli who went on a beachside vacation during a pandemic

Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein
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Kati Betzer.
Kati Betzer.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein

Kati Betzer, 43, lives in Olathe, Kansas; flying to Larnaca

What’s a girl from Kansas doing in Israel?

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My daughter lives here. She came as a student and stayed, made aliyah. I came here a year and a half ago to visit her, stayed for three months and fell in love.

So you stayed because of her?

At the time it was a visit. I cried all the way back home. I decided to leave my job of 14 years as a schoolteacher and sold the apartment, the car, the furniture. I wanted to give Israel a chance.

It was brave of you to leave the place where you were born and lived all your life.

Yes. I got here in January with a tourist visa and looked for a job as a teacher.

And then the coronavirus arrived?

The hardest period of the lockdown was actually fine. I lived in a hostel in Jerusalem together with a young woman from Brazil. At the same time, 150 Palestinians who worked in Israel and couldn’t get back to the West Bank were put up there. Most worked at Rami Levy [a supermarket]; others came from a processing plant for chickens. The Brazilian woman and I worked there.

Doing what?

We cleaned the [guest] rooms and the public areas and rest rooms. We made sure that the keys worked, that towels were available. It was Ramadan, so they ordered food in every day; some of them cooked. There was one group of slightly more closed men, but we managed to connect with them. They showed us pictures and clips of their families and children, and they invited us to the Ramadan dinner every evening. We ate makloubeh and lots of desserts, amazing food. On Fridays we made kiddush with them and then we would sit down for a Ramadan meal.

Wasn’t it intimidating to be two women among dozens of men at a hostel?

It was different. Before they arrived, we had become used to having the whole place to ourselves. In the evenings we watched television, ate popcorn, played pool, listened to music. From the moment they arrived, I would go into a room and say something, and then instantly all eyes were on me. The feminine voice stood out in such masculine surroundings.

So you found work in Israel?

I got a job teaching sixth grade in the West Bank, and everything went well, I had all the documents. But last week, at the last minute, after I thought I would be able to get a work visa while I was still in Israel, they said, “You know what, it’s not working out.” I don’t know exactly what happened; the administration there was replaced and suddenly everything changed. I had thought I wouldn’t have to leave, and suddenly uncertainty again. My visa expired a few days ago, so I decided to go on to Cyprus. I’ll be there until October, and then I’ll go back to Kansas, because my daughter and her fiancé will have a wedding party there.

The daughter from Jerusalem?

Yes, it was always just the two of us. If it works out, I’ll find a job in Cyprus. I’ve heard marvelous things about Cyprus and its beaches. I’ll be able to live there and I’ll be an hour by plane from my daughter – and from the grandchildren who will arrive – but not too close.

To drop everything and move to a place where you don’t know anyone?

I had a daughter at the age of 20. Then I went back to college by myself, with no help, while I raised her on my own. It was always us two, and it was wonderful, but I also gave up everything for her. I concentrated on my career and on her. In many senses I lost my 20s, I missed those beautiful years. Before that, I grew up in a family with nine brothers and sisters, we were very poor, we never went anywhere, we never went on vacations. My daughter and I used to go sometimes, but the options were very limited on a teacher’s salary. I still don’t have any money, but I’m no longer responsible for anyone.

Only for yourself.

Yes. If I don’t eat, that’s fine; if I have to sleep outside, that’s fine. I’m a bit of an adventurous type, but I gave that up. So now is the opportunity, this is my time. I’m exchanging my 20s with my 40s. Now I’m free and I can do whatever I f-----g want. But now I see that my flight was cancelled!

Bummer.

Never mind, I’ll go back to Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem hostel has a branch there. They’re closed, but they’ll let me stay. I’ll start on the beach in Tel Aviv and then go on to the beach in Cyprus. Life is starting.

Assaf Bloom.
Assaf Bloom.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Assaf Bloom, 35; lives in Tel Aviv, arriving from Paphos, Cyprus

You actually went on a vacation to Paphos?

I met my partner there, who’s Austrian. We hadn’t been together for four months, because of the coronavirus. She was supposed to move to Israel in April, and we started the process of a visa for a life together – but it got stuck because of the virus. She couldn’t visit Israel and I can’t go to Vienna, so we went to Cyprus.

What was it like to see her after such a long time?

It was good, it was a blast, it was moving, it was strange. In the first minutes it’s odd, because physically you haven’t seen the person in a long time, even though we had video conversations almost every day. But we got used to it fast and enjoyed ourselves. It was a terrific week.

What’s Paphos like?

It was my first time in Cyprus, and I was very favorably surprised by the beauty and the nature there. We saw a lot of things. It was a much-needed clearing of the mind.

Didn’t the coronavirus interfere with the vacation?

No. There’s a completely different atmosphere there. Only the service providers have to wear face masks. It’s the opposite of the panic we have here. They are very dependent on tourism, so they are very idle now and crying out for visitors. We were in an Airbnb place, because most of the hotels are closed or inactive. There was a feeling of a city that lives from tourism and now is almost abandoned, operating in very low gear. But there was something nice about it, something quiet and calm. And now I’m going into quarantine. I knew that would be the price, but I planned for it.

How?

I still have the memory of March, when we were pretty much locked down, but then I still went out once or twice a day, because it’s important for me to move around and do sports. I bought a laundry rope and weights and a few other things for exercising.

Are you an athletic type?

I’m a bit hyperactive, so I have to move around. When I lived in Berlin it was a way of coping. I went to school there and learned how to do yoga, run, swim, take care of my body.

Why were you living in Berlin?

For the experience. I wasn’t in the army, so I didn’t do a post-army trip, and I always wanted to experience a place abroad and live there. My occupation with electronic music drove me to find a place to live. I like traveling, but the format of just traveling suits me less; I wanted to live in a different place. A few years earlier, I had visited Berlin and was turned on by the city, so I wanted to try.

What did you do there?

I already had a few connections, because all sorts of friends started heading there, so I felt I would have a base. I started school but I didn’t continue. I learned the language and worked at odd jobs. I experienced the city, and in the end I felt I had exhausted it and came back and knew I preferred being here.

Did you think about staying there for good?

There were moments, but certain things faded with time. School there didn’t live up to expectations, there was a relationship there that had to end. And there were all sorts of difficulties I had to cope with. I realized how connected I am to this place, where I have a support network and the possibility to grow – things that I didn’t appreciate before going.

Was there loneliness?

Sure. The distances are greater, the weather affects your mood. It’s all very different. So there was a lot of loneliness, but all kinds of things came out of coping with that, both in terms of creativity and also the discovery of inner strength and original ways to deal with things that I didn’t have in the past. I started to look after my body, to read a lot more, to open my mind to things beyond my usual surroundings.

And since you returned?

I’ve been busy with electronic music – my commercial name is Natural Disaster. I perform, deejay, record by myself, do sampling. Besides that, I work for an organization in Germany that advises people who want to attend German universities; and the same with Germans who take the opposite route.

An Austrian girlfriend, a German organization, a stay in Berlin....

Yes, there is a certain motif here.

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