'I Moved to Israel Because of the Hummus'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: Young Uruguayan-Israelis explain where they get their optimism from ■ An Israeli couple whose story is what rom-coms are made of

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Mijal, Guili and Dan Hadass.
Mijal, Guili and Dan Hadass.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

From left, Mijal, Guili and Dan Hadass – aged 14, 25 and 22, respectively; Dan and Mijal live in Netanya, Guili in Chisinau (Kishinev), Moldova, and is arriving from there

Hello, what’s with the lovely welcoming dance?

Guili: We’re Uruguayan originally. Salsa.

Dan: Look, I even have the shirt.

Guili: We’re into the Copa América [soccer championship].

Dan: There’s a game on Shabbat.

Guili: We have a chance.

How did you get from Uruguay to Netanya?

Guili: I made aliyah first, when I was 15, with the [Jewish Agency’s] Naaleh program, because of Zionism and love of the land. Our father is an Israeli who came to Uruguay as a Jewish Agency envoy, so we grew up in a very Zionist home – Hebrew school, youth movements. At home we listened to Shlomo Artzi all the time, to Monica Sex [rock band]. “On the Floor” [a Monica Sex song] is really popular among Uruguayan Jewry.

Rightly so. Alone in a strange country? Weren’t you scared out of your mind?

Guili: Absolutely not. In the first three months I felt terrific, like at summer camp. I lived in a boarding school on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin. When the penny dropped, I started to miss home and began to pressure my parents. I told them, “This is our country, come on.”

Dan: Our parents asked us what we thought.

Mijal: I don’t remember a thing.

Dan: Well, you were around 2 years old.

And you were in favor?

Dan: There was agreement. We said it would be an adventure. And Guili sent photos of hummus with shawarma. I made aliyah because of the hummus.

Guili: At first he ate everything here with hummus. Not only schnitzel – he also ate chocolate with hummus.

Dan: I was enthusiastic. Hummus on schnitzel with ketchup was tasty, so I dipped the Toblerone into it, too.

Guili: It took half a year of nagging and then everyone came here. My parents wanted me to leave the boarding school and move home, but I decided to stay. It was fun, I felt like I was in a telenovela. So I finished high school there. I also knew that I would do the army and also a post-army trip.

Every girl needs a plan. What did you do in the army?

Guili: I was a sports instructor in the air force.

Dan: She was queen of the Zumba.

Guili: (Laughs) The Zumba was intense, I got an outstanding grade. They even used to fly me from base to base to give classes. The soldiers were wild about it. All the guys from antiaircraft were happy just to move. After the army, I did a fitness instructor’s course. And I also knew that I would be a dentist. The only thing that wasn’t part of the plan was doing the studies abroad. That was a hard decision. I immigrated to Israel in order to live and study here, and the studies in Moldova last five years. And a boyfriend: I don’t want anyone from Moldova, I want an Israeli.

What’s school like in Moldova?

Guili: It’s not fun there, but that’s good for studying, because there are no diversions. And the people are amazing.

Why dentistry?

Dan: Mom made us promise that one of us would be a dentist.

Guili: So you really should thank me! I want to be a dentist to get people to smile. Our mom is an orthodontist, and I see dentistry as a type of art. There’s a story that our grandfather had a barber shop in Uruguay, with a special chair that went up and down, and because of that my mother got into dentistry.

You look like a very together family.

Guili: When we fought, our mother had a motto that you have to say three times: “Los hermanos sean unidos, esa es la ley primera, si no se los comen los di afuera” (“Siblings should be united. That is the first law. If not, those on the outside eat you”). That trickled down. Mom will be happy that we used her motto.

Where do you get all your optimism?

Guili: We have very optimistic parents.

Dan: We got the Latin-ism thing from them.

Guili: We dance a lot at home, the whole family. Especially when we’re cleaning.

Hats off to your parents.

Guili: We are very proud of our parents. Within 10 years they built an empire out of nothing. I can go to university thanks to them, and we really appreciate it. It’s not easy to immigrate here and start from nothing at their age. It’s also nice that we know how to be appreciative, so hats off to us, too.

Yaron Itzhak and Itzik Cohen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yaron Itzhak, 39, left, and Itzik Cohen, 37; live in Herzliya, flying to Crete

Hello, can I ask you why you’re going?

Yaron: We’ve gathered here for the purpose of taking a short break from the ordeals of life. Yesterday we struck a last-minute deal. Backpacking, sun, pool. Even though we also take vacations in the living room.

Please teach me how to take a vacation in the living room.

Yaron: The last one was when we pampered ourselves with two recliner sofas, which stand one next to the other, like Chandler and Joey.

Itzik: And then we also bought a new rug for the dog, because there’s no way we’re going to have a good time and he won’t.

How long have you been together?

Yaron: A year and a half.

How did you meet?

Itzik: At the birthday party of his cousin; she’s a friend of mine. Actually, the first time I saw Yaron was at her birthday party five years ago, but I blew it then. He had a boyfriend and I was shy. And then, after almost four years, there was a surprise party for her, and I said to myself that I had to do something. At the party we drank and talked, and after that I wrote to him and we met. We’ve been together since that evening.

Yaron: That’s how I remember it, too.

Itzik: No regrets?

Yaron: On the contrary.

Itzik: Same here.

Yaron: It was a real scene, because I didn’t know how to get in touch with him. I didn’t think he was into it, I didn’t think he was gay at all.

Tomer, the photographer: Don’t you have “gaydar”?

Yaron: I don’t spot them all.

Itzik: And also, a decade ago the straights adopted the gay dress code.

Yaron: Metrosexuals are a very confusing thing for gays.

For straight people, too.

Yaron: In retrospect, it turns out that the flirtation took place during the hour at the end of the birthday party when we drank and talked.

Itzik: I was a bit drunk and he brought me a glass of water. Yaron is my first serious relationship with a guy. For years I was with both women and men. With Yaron, it was different. From the start, it was something different. It was a lot more than that.

Why do you think you didn’t have a relationship with a man until now?

Yaron: To wait for the best takes time. (Laughs)

Itzik: My maturation was personal and slow. I think I knew my whole life that I was attracted to both, but when I saw Yaron I felt a connection to the psyche, not only the body, and other things don’t interest you then. I want to say to people that when love comes, you have to grab it with both hands.

Yaron: It was amazing to see how his family accepted the fact of us being together.

Itzik: Everyone embraced it and accepted it. The only thing that was hard for me was that my father was already very ill when we began to be together, and I had the feeling of a missed opportunity that they didn’t get to know each other very well. In my dad’s last months he didn’t speak a lot, and he couldn’t give of himself as he used to.

Yaron: Unfortunately, we have a common destiny because our fathers died of cancer. His father a year ago and mine almost five years ago. We talk about it. It absolutely took me back to my father’s death. I lament his loss again after years. Remember I told you? There was a moment when I had to cry, and I knew that if I lost it, he would get pulled down, too.

Itzik: There were plenty of times when he had to serve as a support. I remember my father getting into the car and telling my mother that he was going to die. That was a bombshell, a slap. The ground falls away.

Yaron: That’s the fate of so many people, but it doesn’t make it simple.

Itzik: There was one time when we visited him in the hospice and he got up to give Yaron a big hug. I knew that he and Yaron could have been good friends.

Yaron: Our families are very close today.

Itzik: My grandmother came over to his mother's for family meals. When I met Yaron, after only two months, he insisted that I meet the family.

Yaron: With us, everything is open.

Itzik: And I don’t know if you’ve ever come to a place where you were hugged and kissed as though they’ve known you forever. That’s how it was.

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