For This Former New Yorker, 'Coming to Israel Was the Only Option'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An American expat explains why life in Israel is easier

Sheyne Hodkin.
Tomer Appelbaum

Sheyne Hodkin, 28, from Tel Aviv; arriving from Berlin

Hi, where are you coming from and where do you live?

I’m coming from Berlin and I live in the Shapira neighborhood [in Tel Aviv]. So far I bet I haven’t said anything surprising.

Why?

Because there’s this stereotype which I somehow fit: a left-winger who lives in Shapira and travels to Berlin.

What were you doing in Berlin?

I was with my boyfriend. Oy, I feel again like some sort of stereotype. He’s a deejay and went there for work. He’s still there – I’m back early because I’m not a deejay.

Did you go parties where your boyfriend was working?

I went to one of them.

Just one? Did you stand next to him, at least?

Heaven forbid! Even though I already have the deejay-and-their-partner dance. But I don’t do drugs or drink, so it can get pretty boring at parties.

What do you do?

I’m in high-tech, the creative director of RapidUI, which turns PSP [design] files into websites.

What’s your actual role?

I’m a copywriter. I studied creative writing in New York and have a degree in writing.

With a profile like that, do you have an advantage in the Israeli labor market?

Thanks to the English, it’s not hard to find work.

I mean, is it easier to find work in the creative market because you come from a place that’s “more cool.”

Definitely. If someone, let’s say, badmouths Tel Aviv, I say that I’m from New York and that I think Tel Aviv is really cool. And then it’s taken as the truth.

Why did you make aliyah?

Aliyah “made” me. It just happened. Coming to Israel was the only option. I saw there was a job via the Jewish Agency, and within a month I was here. It was an escape hatch. I lived in Carmiel, Rehovot and Tel Aviv, and I was happy in each place.

Hats off to you.

Do you know the thing where people say “hats off” for something that was easy for you, so you think less of it? You know, it’s easier for me here than there.

Why?

For example, it’s easy here economically. In the U.S. you pay $800 a month for health care. And besides that, I started a new life here at the age of 22, which is a great age to dump everything and understand who your real friends are. At 28, I’m a completely different person from what I used to be.

How so?

I’ve learned new ways to communicate with my family, how to manage economically, to look after myself. I learned Hebrew.

Your Hebrew is excellent.

Thanks. In contrast to other new immigrants from the U.S. I don’t get embarrassed or dither about asking a question, and I’m okay about being corrected. What’s embarrassing is not to know Hebrew and to go on speaking English, like some people who’ve been here 10 years and don’t know a word.

I see you have a Hebrew tattoo saying “Modeh ani” [the first words of a morning prayer]. What’s the story?

The story is that there was a long period when, even though I wasn’t observant, just sort of aware, I would say “Modeh ani.” It was impulsive.

How many tattoos do you have?

Don’t know.

How can you not know?

Because I tattoo sketches on myself; no one trusts me to tattoo them.

Hold on, are you a tattoo artist?

I bought a tattooing machine through AliExpress, because I wanted one and it was cheap. I also bought vegan ink – oy, it’s all connecting back into a stereotype again! – and also got needles ... I started to write letters and sentences on myself out of a deep love of Hebrew.

What else did you do?

I did graffiti, because I started to write a book, and it was hard for me to write alone at home, so I wrote sentences on walls to see what they looked like.

That’s actually a very touching thing to do. What’s the book about?

About a young woman who’s seized by mania and falls in love with a one-night-stand from Tinder, who thinks that if she can persuade him he’ll understand that they’re a perfect couple. She shows up wherever he is. That is, until she finds a good psychiatrist. It’s part of a current trend in literature of mental health stories.

It’s a trend?

No, it’s an opening for a dialogue.

Would you like to share a thought about writing?

Everything that’s written is fiction, because there is no truth. My experience is in any case not the experience of another person in the same situation. So an attempt to write absolute truth will also ultimately be a fictional text.

Danilo Sica.
Tomer Appelbaum

Danilo Sica, 33, from Mannheim, Germany; flying to Mannheim

Hi, can I ask you what you were doing in Israel?

Yes. I was working. I work for a company that makes a safety system for trains.

What does the system do?

It checks the temperature of the brakes and the connection between the train and the wheels. If the temperature reaches a certain level, it can spark a fire during braking. There’s a danger of derailing. So the system monitors the temperature and activates an alarm if the system is at risk. Then you can stop and check.

Way to go! I can hear that you’re Italian. Do you live in Germany?

Yes, but I was born in Florence.

Why did you emigrate?

There are political problems in Italy, so I preferred to move to Germany so that I and my girlfriend would have a better future. I left everyone – family, friends. In Italy there’s no way I can establish myself, to make a home for myself. If I’d stayed there I would have had to live with my parents. That did not satisfy me.

Is it common for people to work abroad?

A few people I know went to England to work, others to Germany and Belgium, for example. But it’s not necessarily a widespread thing. It depends on the person. If you want autonomy and new experiences, it’s easier to look outside the country. But it’s hard, because sometimes you don’t learn the language there so well. That’s a problem I’m having now: It’s hard for me to learn German; at my job I speak mainly English.

Is there a mental difference between you and Germans?

Yes. The culture is different. As I see it, the Germans have a clear and direct vision, and they move toward it without ever changing their way of thinking. In Italy, by contrast, we are free to do what we want and how we want. You know how the day starts and how it will it end, but the middle is less important.

What do you miss in Italy?

At the moment I miss my friends. It’s hard for me to connect to others. I am sociable and open, and the Germans I know are cold and closed.

And your girlfriend?

She moved to Germany before me. She took environmental studies and is looking for a job. She has the same problem with the language.

That probably unites you as a couple.

It heightens the need to be together. But we have to find more friends. I would like to meet Germans, become active. Maybe work out, dance, play soccer, which I used to do in Italy.

So Germany is the last stop?

I think so. We have to see if my girlfriend finds a job. If not, we’ll have to move to Australia, where there are more possibilities.

Do you like to travel?

Look, that’s what has happened. In my job I keep having to go to other countries for a while: the U.S., Canada, Estonia, Switzerland, Sweden. So I started to like it. And each time it gets easier. Sometimes it’s good to travel, because it allows a change of habits and of culture. I don’t like routine. When you meet people and get to know a culture, that allows some sort of development. It’s a good experience. And if you ask me what you like to do most in life, I would answer: travel. It’s hard economically, but that’s life.

How do you feel as an emigrant?

Emigration is hard at the start, because you know what you want but you don’t know what you’ll find. At the beginning you feel excited and happy, but you get there and it becomes difficult, and there are worries and you start to feel that you are alone and have no one in the world.

Sounds painful.

Yes, but when you begin to learn and absorb things – it becomes alright. In a new country you don’t understand what people think about you and how they perceive you, and that creates a problem. If you’re strong you brace yourself and reach your goal; certainly it’s an experience that creates motivation and you grow and internalize things, and your brain fills up with responsibility.

What do you mean by responsibility?

In your own country, with your parents and your family, you ask for help anytime there’s a problem or when you make a mistake. So you don’t grow enough. Now, after being alone, I see on my own what I should do. 

And the loneliness?

Loneliness is, after all, fear mixed with emotional existence. Those are two feelings that struggle within you on every journey. So, I don’t mind the fear and I move on