Laroy Shtotland, 36, lives in Munich and Tel Aviv, arriving from Vienna
Hi, where are you returning from?
From Munich via Vienna. I’ve been in Munich since March, but after being stuck in the house because of the coronavirus, I’ve come here and will continue working from here.
Do you live in Munich or here?
Both. In principle I live in Israel. My wife and I live in Tel Aviv. I immigrated to Israel five years ago, but in January I signed a contract with a European company, and since then I have been mainly in Munich. I am not allowed to leave Germany for more than six months a year, otherwise I will lose my status as a worker there.
Where do you like living best?
From my experience – and I have been to 45 countries – the best place to live is Thailand. But if I compare the Russian system that I left, to the Israeli system to which I immigrated, and to the European one where I am now most of the time, I like Israel best.
Because of the feeling of freedom here. I feel it already in the airport. In Russia everything works via money and bribery, and you either choose to be part of that and obey, or you go to jail. In Germany it’s all strict laws. There is a law for everything imaginable or not imaginable, and you have to find out what it is, and there is no way to get around it. In Israel what you need to know is how to babble. An Israeli speaks with an Israeli in order to get something from him or to avoid something, and it works. Of the three options, I prefer the Israeli way. Still, after five years here, I am planning to leave.
Because I reached the conclusion that I have no future here. I have family here who came in 1989, most of them are physicians and they live well here. They are real Israelis today. That was a good time for aliyah. But today it’s different. I am a cloud security architect, and my wife is a graphic designer. We can see that even if we work hard for 20 years in our fields and earn well, we will never be able to buy an apartment. The apartment we’re renting now, in south Tel Aviv, costs us 5,000 shekels ($1,460) a month. And I’m talking about a small apartment behind the New Central Bus Station. Friends of ours were appalled when they heard that we are renting in that area.
Did you imagine life in Israel differently?
I expected it to be hard in the first years, and it was. I went to the Technion in Haifa and afterward it took me a year to find a job. Half the places I applied to told me I was overqualified and the other half said they didn’t want me because I didn’t know Hebrew – during my studies I only did a basic intensive Hebrew course. But most of all I learned that I have no future here. The situation in Israel is driving me out of Israel: Politically and economically, it’s getting worse and worse. I feel that I have more options in Europe, where I’ll earn more money and life is more comfortable. Now I’m working for a European company and my clients are Audi, Volkswagen and Renault.
So the direction is Europe?
Not necessarily. I grew up and lived in Moscow, I lived in Thailand for a few years and got to know Asia, I lived in Israel and now Europe. Maybe I also have to check out the United States, although a lot of people say that’s not a place to live in today.
What about Australia?
Another village. Like Israel.
Israel is a village?
In many ways. As early as 2005, I connected the residents of a Moscow suburb to the fast internet – something like Hot [telecommunications systems] is selling today – and the result was a lot faster and better quality. When I left Moscow in 2014 for Israel, you could find 100-megabyte internet of superb quality everywhere. Today in Tel Aviv I have 40 megabytes and bad internet. The banks here also work like in the old days, and the stores, too. In Moscow, if you want to get a shower head at 2 A.M., there’s no problem. In contrast to the PR – about the startup nation and all that – technologically, Israel is lagging behind quite a lot. That came as a surprise to me.
Where does your wife want to live?
We are looking for a place or a moment in time when we will know that this is it, this is where we’ll raise a family. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in Israel. In the meantime, all options are open.
Alex Russell, 22, and Ma’ayan Russell, 23; live in Jerusalem, flying to Montreal
Hello, what are you drinking?
Ma’ayan: Some cocoa, mocha powder, a bit of honey and coconut milk.
Alex: She’s an amazing chef. Not long ago, before the coronavirus, we were about to open a restaurant in Jerusalem.
What kind of food?
Ma’ayan: Plant-based food. You could call it vegan, but the emphasis is not on avoiding cruelty to animals – which is also a good reason – but on its being healing food. The idea is to create the right balance of acidity in the body and to get to know the body. I make food from anything that grows and turn it into the tastiest, coolest food.
Alex: When you eat in a certain way you feel completely different; food affects what and who you are.
Alex, before we sat down I saw you gorging on potato chips.
Alex: And in another 20 minutes, I’m going to feel crappy.
Ma’ayan: You’re allowed to sin here and there. We need to love ourselves as the imperfect beings we are.
Sounds like part of a spiritual doctrine.
Ma’ayan: We both grew up in religiously observant homes. We met during a very powerful spiritual journey.
Alex: On a bus. The No. 361 to Safed. She made aliyah there from Canada; I was studying there. She came on to me.
Ma’ayan: No way!
Alex: My friends met her and her girlfriends on the bus and started up with them – the regular boy-girl dynamics. I was sitting quietly and listening to music, and then she came over and asked, “What’s your name?”
Ma’ayan: The truth is, I don’t remember who came on to whom.
Ma’ayan: I only remember sitting with a good friend who pointed at him and said, “Ma’ayan, I think that’s your husband.” I replied, “Wow, I think you’re right.”
What made him look like your husband?
Ma’ayan: It was a soul connection. We’d both gone through a stormy period. I had traveled a lot and spent time in Safed on a very healing journey, looking for myself as a person, a Jew, an Israeli, a Canadian, an artist. Alex, who is originally from Connecticut, was also on a journey. When I saw him ... it’s hard to describe, I knew that our souls were connected.
Alex: We both underwent very powerful growth. We arrived in Safed, a very spiritual and ancient city. It was a critical period; we dated and after a few months we became engaged. Now we’ve been married almost a year.
Wait – why didn’t you open the restaurant?
Ma’ayan: We had an opportunity to go to Vietnam for free! We were emissaries at a Chabad House. It wasn’t an easy decision, because we already had a business plan, partners, money. But I said, “I can open a restaurant next year.” In retrospect, it saved us from economic failure because of the coronavirus.
What did you do in Vietnam?
Alex: We were the “nice couple.” We helped Israeli backpackers. I actually spent quite a lot of time in police stations, because Israelis always get into trouble. We were Mom and Dad.
Ma’ayan: We were in Hanoi for four months and spent a few weeks in India. We came back with this [pointing to her stomach]. Another three months and we’ll have a baby.
Ma’ayan: Thanks. It was a surprise. Thanks to Hashem [God]!
What will you do instead of the restaurant?
Ma’ayan: I’m working on plant-based ice cream and writing a book titled “Soul Hacks,” about all kinds of ways to connect with the soul.
Can you give an example?
Let’s say, Shema Yisrael [the Hear, O Israel prayer], which everyone knows. It says, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Why does it say “hearts” [in Hebrew] and not one heart? The idea is that we have two hearts – a divine heart and a bestial heart; neither is better than the other. The tendency is to be extreme, it’s very difficult to find a balance. We have to remember that the goal is to be part of the world through these two souls in order to love oneself.
Aren’t you a bit young to become a spiritual mentor?
It’s not that I’m telling people what to do, but I believe that I have something to give to the world. I grew up in a Chabad home, where the assumption is that on the day you were born God decided that the world could not continue without you. So I have to use myself and give of what I have to give, regardless of my age.