'In Vienna, Life Is Meant to Be Enjoyed. It's Not Like That in Israel.'

An Israeli and a German explain the difference between life in Israel and in Western Europe

Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein
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Timur Hayuf.
Timur Hayuf.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Epstein
Noa Epstein

Timur Hayuf, 29; lives in Isfiya (a Druze town), arriving from Vienna

Hi, where are you coming from?

From Austria. I have a cosmetics business there, and I was there during the lockdown. At first I made light of it, but when the reports came in about the mortality rates in Italy and Spain, I understood that it was serious.

How did you get into cosmetics?

I’ll begin at the beginning. Until I did my military service I excelled, I was the best in everything all the time. I was a smart kid, but arrogant and a braggart, who didn’t know his place. When I didn’t make the cut for Unit 669 [elite search and rescue unit], I took it as a personal insult. If that’s how it is, I said, I’ll be the most ordinary jobnik [army clerk] there is. But when I got to basic training, I saw I had made a mistake and I tried to salvage what I could. In the end, I was a pilots platoon commander and did a million courses. I stayed on for eight months [beyond the minimal three years] in the career army. The army was the most beautiful period of my life. Maybe because of that I came out of it confused.

And from there to cosmetics?

No, from there to great confusion. I studied psychology, but realized after a year and a half that instead of discovering the secrets of the human brain, I was only learning how to help people. That didn’t interest me. I left and was still disoriented, I couldn’t find my place. Then an uncle suggested that I join him in Vienna, to work and open a business together. My parents didn’t like the idea.

Why not?

I was wandering around aimlessly here – so to go to a much bigger place and wander aimlessly? They were very concerned.

Did Vienna in fact bewilder you?

I was initially in a state of shock. Our store was on the main street, and the crowds of tourists were something I’d only seen in clubs. I was 25, and it was dizzying. But after a few days I got my act together. The ‘old world’ of cosmetics started with Dead Sea products, from business via carts. But we’ve made progress.

To where?

To high-tech cosmetics and equipment. For example, a machine for healing with infrared light – NASA technology. It treats a great many layers in depth. Red light is anti-aging and blue light is for treating skin diseases.

How’s work?

Great. We’re like a family in the business. And I’m surrounded by female clients, most of them older, but it’s terrific. In Vienna you can see people 80 and 90 years old who are in excellent physical condition. They take care of themselves, they travel, they’re tough. All told, Vienna is a model for me.

A model of what?

Of how to live. It starts with public transportation – there’s no reason to own a car. It’s always more convenient to use public transportation; it’s unbelievable how much easier it makes life. Besides, they don’t live with war and constant irritation, they are calm and focused. They enjoy themselves when they have a coffee, they enjoy themselves when they eat breakfast. They are not into the news and security all the time; they’re not pissed off with each other or anxious about their children. It’s not that I think everything there is all sweetness and light, but it’s a different way of life. Life there is meant to be enjoyed. Here it’s not like that, unfortunately. Here people honk on the road, shout, worry. Israelis are in so much pain that just touching them on the finger makes them blow up. In Vienna there are people from all over the world, and everyone is treated with respect. Here I sometimes feel like I’m on a desert island; in Vienna I feel that I am part of the world.

When have you felt that you were on an island?

On my last visit I had do a refresher course in driving. Half an hour before the end of a lesson I got a phone call. I didn’t have a car, and the driver who’d come to pick me up got lost. I asked the teacher for permission to go out and make a one-minute phone call. She said I could. I spoke for 59 seconds – I checked – to explain the route. While I was speaking the course coordinator showed up and asked me to end the call. I spoke another two words and hung up. She said, “Take your stuff and get out of here.” It made no difference how much I tried to explain, and gently. When my father, who has a PhD in history, tried to explain, she kicked us both out, cursing.

Could it be that your Arabic was the problem?

Possibly. But I am determined to disregard that idea, otherwise I will be internalizing the racist way of thinking myself, and that’s the worst.

What about the license?

I tried to appeal. But it was no-go. This time I hope to redo the course and complete the task.

Laura Gundlach.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Laura Gundlach, 29; lives in Israel and Munich, flying to Frankfurt

Hi, where are you headed?

To Frankfurt and from there to Munich. I will finally visit home after more than three months. I live in Israel; yesterday was the first anniversary of my move here.

Congratulations! Why did you move here?

I work here. I am a civil engineer in a large German-Austrian company. We are building a water system in the Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh area. My job is to check engineering quality. We have just finished the stage of building the tunnel, and now we are installing the pipes.

Why does Israel need a foreign company for that?

The company I work for is a huge construction firm in Europe. Israel doesn’t have much experience in building tunnels, so they came to us. We began work at the end of 2016 and we completed the tunnel this past March. Now we are putting the pipes, to enable a proper water supply.

What’s it like living in Israel?

Mostly it’s expensive. So expensive, dear God!

To hear that from someone who comes from Munich…

The price of local food is reasonable enough, but if I want a nice dry wine I have to pay four or five times as much [as at home]. Ahh, and I really miss the fruit and vegetables of Munich.

Come on, the fruit and vegetables are great here.

True, but the price!

What about the people?

There are all kinds. I have a good friend on a kibbutz, and when I’m there it feels like one big family, everyone is friendly and nice to you. They offer help without my even asking. It’s exciting to feel that.

There’s a “but” coming here.

But when you’re driving, the feeling is that it’s kill or be killed, all the time, really scary. I didn’t expect the driving here to be like that. And then there’s the matter of the language.

Which you don’t have.

True. It’s not that I haven’t tried to learn Hebrew, but it’s so complicated. I can read the letters, but it’s really hard to put a word together from them. I tried to learn the basics, so I would be able to buy butter, oil, hummus.

Has anything stuck?

I remember sitting with a girlfriend at a steak place, and suddenly I heard someone at the next table say something. I said to my friend, “I think he asked for a fork, because they gave them one less by mistake.” Then the waitress came back with a fork and gave it to him. I was in seventh heaven – a fork was missing and I understood it! I said to her, “Let’s order a 250-shekel [about $70] bottle of wine, we have to celebrate.”

So you travel a lot. What’s it like living like that?

Maybe too good. At first I thought I would want to do it for two years at most, and then I would go back to a normal life with friends, restaurants, sports and a routine. But every time I went back, I discovered that nothing changes there, at home. I realized that it was nice for me to live with change all the time. There are always new people and new experiences and also new problems, but not of a kind that wear you down. Life is interesting and exciting every day.

But it’s not like being a tourist and just enjoying yourself.

True, and I prefer the option of working. I have traveled quite a bit, and there is always that stage where you don’t feel so good and you just want to go home and lie in bed without anyone talking to you. On a regular trip that’s impossible. Now I have my own place, but it’s also a place that’s quite foreign. I feel that I am at home and abroad at one and the same time.

Is it addictive, this way of life?

Everyone tells me that it is. That if you don’t want to live like this for your entire life, you have to get out very fast. That it’s hard to return to a boring life in one place afterward. So on the one hand, I want to go on like this for my whole life, but there’s also the family and the children I want to have.

That’s probably a conflict that bothers men less.

They have to sacrifice less, that’s for sure. People look at me now and say, ‘Well, she’s not an option for something serious.’ Maybe that’s why I’m the only woman who’s involved on the technical side at the construction site.

What’s that like?

Very good, surprisingly. I was afraid that the macho men here wouldn’t want to listen to a woman boss, but they totally respect me. I don’t know what they say behind my back – or maybe in front of me, because I don’t understand the words – but who cares? It’s all good.

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