A Last Goodbye to Miss Oran '49, an Algerian Beauty Queen

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: What it's like to skip between Israel and France several times a year ■ Two young Israelis vow to leave their hometown, no matter what

Adi Deboutin Avidar and Keren Deboutin Avidar.
Tomer Appelbaum

Adi Deboutin Avidar, 37, from Tel Aviv, and Keren Deboutin Avidar, 39, from Netanya; arriving from Marseille

Hello, can I ask where you’ve been?

Keren: We’re returning home after the death of our grandmother. We got there while she was in hospital. She was very moved to see us. She lay there with a ventilator in our father’s department – he’s a cardiologist in Marseille, very well known. She had heart disease. We had time to sing her “Shir Hama’alot” [“Song of Ascents,” from Psalms] and hug her, and she passed away in the evening. We buried her in the village, a pastoral spot next to the country house. There are fields of lavender, small houses.

Tell me something about your grandmother.

Keren: She was “Miss Oran” in Algeria, a beauty queen at the age of 18, in 1949 [shows a photo on the telephone] – look, like a Hollywood actress. Look at her with the winner’s sash. When we were sorting out photos there, my father occasionally shed a tear, or said, “Look what a hunk I am”; he paid himself compliments.

Your father lives there and you’re here?

Keren: Yes. We were born in France. We made aliyah to Israel in 1985, after our parents were divorced, and we grew up in Jerusalem. We’ve been going to visit the family in Marseille since we were children, three times a year: at Hanukkah, Passover and during summer vacation. We were together our whole childhood. That also steels you.

Adi: We were among the children who would fly on El Al alone, with a pouch hanging around our neck.

So you spent a lot of time together on planes as children. How did you spend the rest of the time back then?

Keren: Don’t get us started. Because I’m the big sister

Adi: What terror!

Keren: I used to torment Adi a little. I would tell him we were on the wrong plane and that we were going to land in Germany. When Adi was in the washroom, I would put salt and food in his tea, and tell him that if he didn’t drink it I wouldn’t talk to him in France. And Adi had a French accent from the Caribbean, because we lived there as children, so he was ashamed to speak and depended on me to communicate.

How did you get to the Caribbean?

Keren: Our grandfather was a consul general. When our parents were divorced, the question arose of whether to make aliyah then, or go on a three-year break with [our grandparents]. It was a period of prosperity, before the revolution in Haiti.

Where was it most fun: in Marseille, Israel or the Caribbean?

Keren: Let’s not get carried away – we’re Zionists: In Israel.

Is it hard to grow up like that?

Adi: It made me feel odd. If I’d grown up elsewhere, I would have had a different take on life. But Israeliness has played a large part, for me. For example, when it comes to loving others: If someone needs help, everyone will help them. Over there, you could lie in the street and no one will approach you.

Is that really so?

Keren: Yes.

Adi: If you’re abroad and don’t know the language, try and get along – good luck with that.

What do you both do?

Keren: I’m a fashion designer, a graduate of Shenkar [College of Engineering, Design and Art]. At the moment I have an internet store.

Of your designs?

No, for [retail] sales. I really like what I’m doing. When you’re creative you always find something creative to do in life.

What about you, Adi?

Adi: I work for Adika [a fashion firm]. A bachelor, 37, a romantic guy

Keren: Enough! Don’t get started. No, the truth is that with him it works to say “romantic-likable-gentle,” because he has a heart of gold.

What’s it like to visit France every year? Do you see things changing?

Keren: The French are very supportive of small produce markets – not buying in the supermarket – but the world is progressing, places are closing down, the roads are getting wider. And you feel I won’t say anti-Semitism, but you know what Marseille is like.

No. What’s it like?

Keren: A beautiful city. You get there, leave the airport, breathe pure air. You can physically feel the forests.

Why did you move to Netanya?

Keren: We moved in the wake of my mother and her partner, who were looking for a place by the sea. I’ve had my fill of Tel Aviv. Even if I were a millionaire I would not go back there.

And how do you feel in Netanya when you’re surrounded by other French people?

Keren: It’s a problem – you can’t gossip!

Efrat David and 
Ofir Cohen.
Tomer Appelbaum

Efrat David, 20, and Ofir Cohen, 23, from Tiberias; flying to Cusco, Peru

Hello, are you flying together?

Ofir: Yes, for a trip to South America. We’ll start in Peru and then split up.

Efrat: I’m going on to a bigger trip.

Where did you meet?

Efrat: At work. Ofir was doing ‘preferential’ [post-army jobs]: we worked together in the dairy kitchen of a hotel.

Ofir: I worked 15 hours a day at two jobs, left the house at 8 A.M. and got back at 2 A.M.

Efrat: You don’t see home, family, friends.

Where did you go to school?

Ofir: I went to a high-school yeshiva and Efrat was at an ulpanit [religious school for girls], but we went to the same [Orthodox] primary school in Tiberias, Talmud Torah.

What was that like?

Efrat: You have to feel connected. If you feel you’re not part of it, it’s hard to get your bearings there. It was hard for me.

Are you no longer religiously observant?

Efrat: I have blind faith, but in the way I choose to believe. Without a connection to religion. The values remain, though.

Why did you decide to go on this trip?

Ofir: I want to get experience so that I will be able to leave home. Tiberias is a hothouse. It’s stressful to move to Tel Aviv. All my friends have finished their army service and are dying to move, but they’re afraid.

What are they afraid of?

Efrat: We’ve always been surrounded by people who will look after us and guide us, so it’s hard for us to find the way alone.

Ofir: Independence is something that wasn’t really imparted to us. There was an argument with our parents about the trip, too; things didn’t go smoothly. I thought about canceling so as not to leave the family.

What other things like that happened before?

Ofir: I’d planned to move to Jerusalem a long time ago, but there was no place available in the hotel I’d been planning to work in – but beyond that, I didn’t have the courage. In fact, one of the goals of this trip is to acquire the courage to stand up to our parents and to succeed in conveying to them that I am going, without their whole world collapsing. I am the first in my family to do this.

There’s no future in Tiberias?

Efrat: Mostly, there’s no point in studying. What happened at the hotels there, for example, is they were built long ago, and all the senior staff – reception manager, food and beverage manager, salary accountant – never really studied those things, because it used to be easy to get those jobs. You open a hotel, you ask [applicants], “Are you good at math?” And they’re in.

Ofir: So a guy who studies construction engineering and wants to get a job won’t be appreciated for his degree, and instead they’ll ask whom he’s connected to, and how. In every field. Anyone who’s planning to stay in Tiberias thinks twice about whether to get a degree.

So what’s your dream?

Ofir: To find a job in Mexico and stay there. You hear a lot about people who opened a branch of something there.

Efrat: In another 10 years, the passport will be full, with God’s help, and I also want to study. In the meantime, I’ve been working in a hotel kitchen and like to cook. Maybe the trip will give me another direction. But it’s a job where you learn a lot.

Ofir: It’s been degraded to [the status of] menial work for no reason. The level falls, and the desire to work falls, too: “Come on, peel onions,” even if you’re a class-3 chef or I don’t know what.

What’s a class-3 chef?

Efrat: It’s the third rank in kitchen work, out of five. No one gets above class 3 in Tiberias; there’s no class 5 work in the city. There are no world-class kitchens; there are no possibilities and there’s nothing to see.

Ofir (to Efrat): One way or the other, we’re not going back to Tiberias. That’s not even an option.

Does that make you sad?

Efrat: Obviously – there are family and friends. It’s a pity to leave a place knowing that you’ll be carrying on by yourself.

How will you handle kashrut on the trip, Ofir?

Ofir (pointing to a large bag): All this is food. Majadara, Israeli couscous, instant noodles. I’m cool, because there are plenty of Chabad Houses.

Efrat (laughing): I only brought a bag of Bamba [a snack] for the flight.

Ofir (laughing): It’ll be fine, I’m not expecting the all-inclusive Club Hotel.