'I Came to Israel to Thank the Creator for Saving Me From COVID-19'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A woman who made her husband swear he would become an Israeli; a Jazz musician and an opera singer reunite after months apart

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Shulamit Braver.
Shulamit Braver.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shir Reuven
Shir Reuven

Shulamit Braver, 60; lives on Long Island, flying to New York

Hi Shulamit, what did you do in Israel?

I came to thank the Creator of the Universe for the fact that I got over the coronavirus, which I had in March last year. It was important for me to come, because I’m used to coming here at least five-six times a year, and during the period of the pandemic it didn’t work out.

March last year – you were one of the first to fall ill.

Yes, I was infected by my lovely husband, who was infected by one of his colleagues, two of whose sons are physicians and brought it from the hospital. My husband recovered easily, because he’s healthy, he works out. I have preexisting illnesses, and we were told that if I went into the hospital I wouldn’t come out. So I stayed in bed for six weeks and I lost almost half my body weight. Occasionally my husband got me up to gargle water, salt and baking soda.

I’m trying to understand your status. Have you lived in Israel?

I was born in Jerusalem and I visit a lot, so I’m not considered a foreign resident, but I live in Long Island. My husband is American – I met him in Israel and we moved there the day after the wedding. Before we were married I made him swear at the Western Wall that he would also be an Israeli, and he promised. I really did turn him into an Israeli. He has an ID card and he knows perfect Hebrew.

Why was that important to you?

Because I am an Israeli and I am a Jew. I was born here, I grew up here, I worked here – I was one of the first dental hygienists in Israel – it’s important to me.

Do you have good relations with your family here?

We are eight siblings. Since WhatsApp arrived, we have improved our relationships. I attend most of the family occasions. If I can, I show up at the banquet hall to surprise a niece or nephew who’s getting married, and I don’t say that I’m coming.

What is your WhatsApp group called?

Ima Yekara [“Dear Mom”]. My mother was the light of my life. I didn’t want to leave her, so I also didn’t want to get married. She died four years ago at the age of 94, completely lucid. I sat by her every day; I slept in the hospital. It was very hard. On the day before she died I understood that the time had come.

How did you understand?

She suddenly became beautiful, she blossomed, her face became fuller, she was full of light. She also remembered everyone’s name – children, grandchildren – though at that stage she had already begun to get confused. I told her, “Oh, Mom, you’re so beautiful!” The way I remembered her when I was little. I sent a WhatsApp message to the whole family to come and light the eighth candle of Hanukkah with her and say goodbye to her. I also organized a video chat for her with my husband and the children, overseas. The next day she died. I came in the morning, her eyes were already shut, and I told myself that it was good we had taken leave of each other.

What does one do at that moment?

I went out to talk to my lawyer and to smoke. I still smoked regular cigarettes then. I had the phone number of my mother’s doctor. I called and asked him if I could come up. He said, “No, don’t come up, there’s nothing to come up for.”

Do you think you were smoking so as to avoid seeing her like that?

No, I wanted to smoke like I hadn’t smoked for a long time, because I’d been next to her in the hospital. I chain-smoked for around two hours. I’d already said goodbye to my mother. I went back up and saw that it was like the doctor had told me. I told her, “Mom, blink your eyes if you want me to recite Shema Yisrael.” She blinked, so I bent over her and recited the prayer. The doctor said that those were her last breaths. I told him I knew that. I looked out the window, the sun had started to set. The sky was incredibly beautiful, amazing. Like twilight or dawn. And right after the sunset she passed away. And that was it. But I see her all the time.

What do you mean?

When I fell ill with COVID-19, I was out of it. I don’t remember anything – well, only one thing: At the end of the fifth week my mother came to me. I look at her, and I see a person standing next to her. I don’t see a face, only light. I say to her, “Mom, who is that next to you?” – because it frightened me. She doesn’t answer. I ask again, she doesn’t answer. What did the figure tell me? “Go downstairs, you have another mission.” And then I opened my eyes.

What was the mission?

I don’t know. One mission I already have to deal with – I am suffering with El Al. I was supposed to fly at midnight and suddenly they change the time and notify me by email. I don’t know what email is, I’m with Psalms all day.

Tommy Simmons and Dalia Besprozwani.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Tommy Simmons, 27, lives in Modi’in; his fiancée, Dalia Besprozwani, is arriving from Berlin

Hi Tommy, why are you standing here with a guitar?

I’m waiting for my fiancée, Dalia. She’s an opera singer who lives in Germany. She received a really prestigious scholarship for a master’s degree, and now she is supposed to be landing from Berlin, after we haven’t seen each other for five months.

You’re also a musician, I’m guessing.

Yes, I’m a bassist, I play jazz. And it’s not a guitar, it’s a charango, a South American instrument. I am half Uruguyan, so I have a deep affinity for these things. It has 10 strings and each is doubled to give it this special sound. (He plays). It’s an Inca instrument, and originally it was made from the back of an armadillo.

Have you decided what you're going to play for her when she appears?

Yes, something like this (sings and plays): My beauty, my beauty / when will you come back / I’ve waited years for you / and now the moment has come / I can’t believe it / my beauty, my beauty.

That works! Did you meet through music?

Yes, sort of. I believe that a good relationship is supposed to bring out the good in you, and she brings out the best in me, and she says I do the same for her. So, when she got the scholarship, we said we would be a bit old-fashioned – we’ll go for it and become engaged.

Really old-fashioned? To change her last name and the whole bit?

She wants to take my name, but I'd like to do what’s done in South America: In all of Latin America, and also in Spain, you take the surnames of both parents, and then it is passed on.

But in the end you’re stuck with a million surnames.

Yes, that’s how it works. She has a really cool surname, with a special story: Besprozwani. It means “without a name.” Her family is originally from Ukraine. The Russian czar would take Jewish children from the shtetl and call them like that, because they didn’t have surnames then.

Aren’t you afraid that it will be strange for you after not having seen each other for a period?

No, I’m afraid I will be so emotional that I’ll cry. The whole day I didn’t do anything – I’d planned to do a lot of things but I didn’t succeed in doing any of them. I’m not afraid because of embarrassment, that doesn’t exist for us. Just a second ...

Is it her?

No, no, but she’s landed, I saw it on the flight board.

What does being a musician mean in day-to-day life?

First of all, it’s a spiritual act. In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t treat it as one will not take it to a professional level. The difficulties with it make you confront yourself all the time. And when you resolve things, you also grasp that you have coped with something by yourself. Do you know the term “falafel jazz”?

No. What is it?

It’s a term given to Israeli jazz. Israel's an insane jazz powerhouse. Israeli jazz musicians in New York are true stars, and many of them bring the tradition over from home – Yemenite or Moroccan music. In Israel we say “melting pot” a lot, but it’s actually a fusion of multiple cultures. Along with failed attempts to create one metaphor of what Israeli [music] is, there is for example, the “sounds of the vineyard,” which is genius. It fuses Yemenite singing from the synagogue along with a Greek guitar and modern-day instruments. The same thing happened in South America: Slaves arrived from Africa, people from Europe came with a classical education, and it blended. In fact, what is popular is actually complex.

How so?

Because it’s hard to play it if you didn’t grow up with it. I traveled around South America for eight months, and the most uneducated people you can imagine know how to do things that are musically and conceptually complicated. Just a second… no.

Would you like us to help you? What does she look like?

She has brown hair and glasses, but she might be without the glasses.

Does she look like anyone famous?

I don’t know. Maybe she resembles Emma Stone a little.

What product could she advertise?

Everything. Perfume, bathing suits – and on every platform.

There’s no one here who matches that description.

Well, when I see her I’ll know it’s her... Hey!!! Beautiful!!!

Hi, Dalia, we were waiting for you with a question. Where do jazz and opera meet?

Dalia: On Tinder.

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