'When COVID Hit, I Realized There's No Point in Continuing to Work. So I Decided to Learn Surfing'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli decides to embrace minimalism amid a pandemic, and two American expats explain why they made aliyah

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Tami Ben Hanan.
Tami Ben Hanan.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yael Benaya

Tami Ben Hanan, 30; lives in Tel Aviv, flying to Budapest

Hi, where are you off to?

I’m on the way to Budapest, for my little sister’s wedding. She’s 20 and is getting married through a matchmaker. My family are Chabad people and, thank goodness, a nice cute groom, Menachem Mendel, was found for my sister. And also I haven’t seen my parents for eight months, so I’m very happy to be flying home for a little visit.

When did your parents move to Budapest?

When I was 10, and after 13 years, I went back to Israel. My parents became religiously observant there, but I was already gone, so it had less impact on me. My sister lived in Jerusalem until the coronavirus arrived. They flew her home and she asked to start meeting young guys. I’m happy they found her a match.

What was it like for you when they became religious?

I lived my life and they lived theirs. We were always brought up with a great deal of respect and freedom and choice. I go out on Fridays and get back when I want to, but I dress modestly if guests come for dinner, out of respect for my parents. Dad will buy me a bikini, whatever I want. He just won’t come into the store with me, but the credit card comes out of his pocket.

What do you do?

I’m unemployed, but it’s from choice. When the coronavirus started, I realized there was no point in continuing to work, so I decided I would learn how to surf and live as close to the sea as possible. Through friends I found a trailer home to rent, where I lived for three months. I was at Hatzuk Beach [in Tel Aviv], and then I moved to Apollonia Beach in Herzliya, and that’s how I got through “summer vacation.” I haven’t been on summer vacation [from school] for a long time – remember how it was?

Was it something you’d thought about doing for a long time?

No, it came to me spontaneously. It was a world I didn’t know. I went to Hatzuk to install a surfboard carrier on my motorcycle, and realized there was a whole world there. I arrived on Friday and by Monday I’d already moved into the mobile home.

What’s it like living in a mobile home?

What’s most fun is that you open the door and there’s the sea, in front of you. But it can be rough, too. The chemical toilet has to be emptied, and the electricity doesn’t always work. You realize that not everything comes easily, and you think how much you’d like to be at home or in a hotel for the weekend. And I also learned to appreciate water. I was always filling up containers. I’d wash the dishes and suddenly realize: Damn, I won’t have water for a shower. Life in a trailer home is not simple.

What did you like about it, nevertheless?

It’s mobile, so you can be somewhere else every day. And there’s something terrific about living minimalistically. Suddenly other things become important. I stopped paying attention to my phone, to whether there were messages, and to what was going on in the city. There’s calm and quiet.

Did you learn how to surf?

Yes! I even went down a size in the surfboard and bought a new one. I surfed today, too. I decided it would the last thing I’d do before leaving. There’s no sea in Hungary, so I needed to surf a little beforehand.

Are you taking some of the simplicity of life in a trailer home with you?

I’m going for three weeks with a backpack and trying to preserve minimalism. I have lots of clothes and shoes – that’s something I can’t give up – but there’s less hoarding of nonsense. When I left the apartment, the most terrific feeling I had was that I had a surfboard, a moped and a few clothes. It was very hard to part with my plants, but I let all the rest go – washing machine, sofa and even books, which only collect dust. Obviously I’ll have books, furniture and appliances again in my [next] apartment, but there’s an understanding that it’s all something temporary and material, which isn’t meant to tie you down. The less, the better.

Even so, where did you put all your things?

I have terrific grandparents, and they have a storeroom that I’m exploiting to the last meter. Yesterday I showed up with a bunch of bags, and Grandma said she hoped it would all fit in. I said, “It’ll fit, Grandma, it’ll fit.” Everything went in.

And what now?

After living in the mobile home, I need a 10,000-kilometer maintenance check. My mother has already arranged a massage for me. I’m going to breathe in the house. I’ll rest, recharge my batteries, and then come back. I believe things will work out; I’ll find myself. I’ll need a home first, four walls. And then the rest will come.

Shani and Amit Bob.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Shani Bob, 35, and Amit Bob, 33; live in Haifa and Jaffa, respectively, arriving from New York

Hi, what were you doing in New York?

Shani: We were seeing our family. Our parents and our sister live there.

So what brought you here?

Shani: Zionism. Our parents are Zionists, too, they were here on a kibbutz for a really long time. I made aliyah two years before him. I had been working in tourism there, bringing groups here. I was here a lot and already had more friends here than there. So I finished that job and I said, “Fine, a new adventure.” A decade has passed since I arrived.

Amit: When I wanted to come on aliyah, I knew I already had a family in Israel, so it wouldn’t be so hard. Shani found me my first place.

Are your parents Israelis originally?

Shani: They’re Americans who immigrated in 1976 and returned to the United States after 15 years. They hadn’t expected to go back, but the economic crisis at the end of the 1980s was really rough.

Did they speak Hebrew with you at home?

Amit: Not so much. It was their secret language for some years, until we started to understand it more and more, at which point they realized it wasn’t working anymore.

How did the family react when you decided to make aliyah?

Shani: Someone once asked my mother how she felt about it, and she said, “I cooked it, so it’s not surprising. There was a 50-50 chance it would happen.”

What do you do here?

Shani: I work with new immigrants, accompany them in university. I help them realize their rights, coming to them via the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. Before that, I was a teacher.

Amit: I am a kindergarten teacher in Tel Aviv. I also coach kids in soccer and basketball.

Why kindergarten?

Amit: I’ve been working with children for many years. There was a time when I felt a better connection with adults, but now that I’ve almost finished my degree in education, I’ve had the chance to work with children in elementary school and kindergarten, and realized that it’s an area where I feel strong. I talk to them and it doesn’t bother them that I have an accent or that I make mistakes in Hebrew. They correct me sometimes, and it’s cute; they don’t laugh about it. Older children like to laugh about it, or sometimes don’t even notice. There aren’t many men who work in kindergartens in Israel, and there’s a need for them.


Before we went abroad this summer, I was working in a kindergarten in Jaffa. I was the only male there, and it was meaningful. It’s important for there to be an example for the boys, someone who can talk to them and respond to how they feel. They understand that a man doesn’t just mean Dad. It’s another person who can talk about emotions, about what’s hard and what’s good. Most of the time they talk with their mothers and not their dads, and now they have another guy in the room who’s willing to discuss things.

And how did you get to be a coach?

Amit: I like sports and I’ve played sports since I was little. I always connected to sports, they made me feel good, feel alive and happy, and to the other children there. As an adult, too, I understood that it’s something important that children should have: to learn how to be part of a group, how to work and play with one another, to cooperate and not only to run after the ball and win. It’s fun to win, but it’s important to do it together.

Shani, what were the first years after aliyah like?

Shani: I lived in [Givat] Olga, in a commune, and then I moved to Haifa. At first, in Olga, we lived in a huge pink house on the beach, eight people. It helped our integration a lot, because we didn’t have to be alone and manage by ourselves, or feel that everything was sitting on my shoulders alone: to maintain myself, find a job, deal with the bureaucracy, open a bank account. We were in it together.

And now? What place does it occupy in your life?

Shani: It gave me a lot of confidence to think about what I want to do. I stopped being a teacher, because I felt that it wasn’t good for me anymore, and I didn’t need to find a new job right away. I took the summer off to think, and in the meantime I had a way to maintain myself and I had friends to talk and consult with.

Amit: I live with two female friends in Jaffa. During the coronavirus, we took care of one another. We found work in agriculture and did it together. We got up early each morning and drove there together. We worked on Moshav Kfar Monash picking clementines, oranges and grapefruits. That helped me get through the period safely. I have a lot of friends who live alone, and they were about to go crazy, they didn’t know what to do with themselves at home.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: