David Ispirov, 23; lives in Haifa, flying to Batumi, Georgia
Hi David, what awaits you in Batumi?
Everyone. My whole family: parents, siblings, wife and child. I am from Georgia and I made aliyah nine years ago through the Naale program [for young Diaspora Jews]. I went to a boarding school for four years and then I was drafted into Golani [infantry brigade]. I finished the army, then I went to work, rested a bit, and now I’m flying home. Also to rest a little – it’s hard to be here with the situation as it is right now.
What first brought you to Israel?
I was 15, and I wanted to get to know a different world. I wanted to know what Israel is: who lives here, what it’s like living here. It was good being here – it’s still good for me.
Where did you meet your wife?
She served with me in the army, we met in the Golani 12th Battalion. She was a service conditions noncom and I was a lone soldier. I went to see her all the time to ask for furlough forms or other help, if I didn’t have money or food. For a year we got to know each other, we went on dates, and we were together. She wasn’t allowed to get married here, because she’s not Jewish, so we were married in Georgia, and she wanted to stay there. She’s there and I’m here, alone.
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What’s it like being a couple but living apart?
Hard. Now I’m flying there, and I’ll be there for a week or two before returning. I work here and I send them my whole salary. I’m left with maybe a thousand and something shekels [about $350] for rent and food, and that’s all.
So what keeps you here?
I love Israel. If, heaven forbid, they announce that it’s necessary to mobilize for war, I’ll be the first to serve in the army again. If they send me a letter, I’ll be back in Israel in two days. Besides which, the economic situation in Georgia isn’t good. If here the salary is 5,000 shekels [$1,530] a month minimum, there it’s 400-500 shekels a month. It’s a bit cheaper to live there, but life isn’t good in any case. Everyone needs to work and there are no jobs.
What do you do?
I was a conductor for Israel Railways in Haifa. When there was a problem because of the coronavirus, I went to Eilat. It was already hot there and they opened the hotels, so I went to work there. I’m responsible for my family – my son and my wife – and I know that if I don’t work they won’t have food or a place to live.
Where did you grow up in Georgia?
In Batumi. I had it good there. There were also more good jobs back then, and money. But when I grew up I was no longer into being there. When I decided to leave, my mother said, “Why are you leaving us? Israel is a good country, but there are wars there all the time.” And I told her: “Enough, I’m not a little kid anymore.”
How did you feel when you couldn’t get married here?
I went to a religious boarding school, so I know all the religious laws. I already knew that we wouldn’t be able to get married here, but it was in any case better for us to be married there, because the whole family is there. Our wedding wasn’t big, but it was traditional. Afterward we went on a jeep trip in the mountains.
How do you see your life in another five years?
I want to do a programming course; I’ve checked the cost and how long it takes. I want to work in Europe, because they have better salaries. Best would be to work there but live in Israel. I own an apartment in Haifa, but I want to sell it and buy another one in Ashdod. It’s a city of Georgians; you can find khachapuri [cheese-filled bread] and other Georgian foods everywhere.
What did you dream of doing when you were younger?
I dreamed of being a senior figure in the army. I was a commander and wanted to be an officer and to sign on permanently. I was told I could stay, but because of my son and wife, I thought it would be difficult. I don’t see them as it is, and if I were in the army I wouldn’t even be able to phone or speak to them every day. Now I regret a little not staying in the army. I’ve always liked the army. I wanted to serve in the army in Georgia, too, but I was told that if I had served in the army here, I wasn’t allowed to serve there.
How was it being in the army here?
At first, in basic training, I was at Mihve Alon [a base that promotes integration of various communities into the army and Israeli society]. There was some racism – there were Russians, Arabs, Ethiopians, and all of them were against each other the whole time, and I didn’t understand why it was like that. The army is everyone together. I felt like I was in an Israeli army, the Ethiopians were in the Lebanese army, and the Arabs in the Russian army. Afterward I got used to it and I saw that, wallah, it’s better than the Georgian army. In Georgia you go to the army and serve there for a year, but you’re at the base the entire time. You don’t see home at all.
Avivit Asulin, 38; lives in Jaffa, arriving from Larnaca, Cyprus
Hi Avivit, what were you doing in Larnaca?
I’m involved in real estate, and I went to see projects for Israelis to invest in. At last we’re starting to work, after a year and a half, so it’s exciting.
What leads an Israeli to buy a house in Cyprus?
The real-estate scene there is very interesting, because Cyprus is divided into two countries. On the Greek side there are the same prices and there’s the same high-rise construction style as in the European market. In the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the currency is the Turkish lira, the prices are significantly lower and the construction is different. It’s quite an untouched area, there are no high-rises and they’re still building along the coastal strip.
What type of people want to move to Cyprus?
There are students who come to attend school, there are people who transfer their companies there for tax purposes. Some people want to relocate, others are just plain in the middle of life and say, “That’s it, I feel stifled and I’m leaving this place.” There’s a very large community of Israelis in Limasol.
Do you work in other places besides Cyprus?
We sell properties in Dubai, too, and in vacation venues like Portugal and Majorca. We started in Germany 17 years ago, when the flow [of Israelis] to Berlin began, and now we manage 700 residential units there. In the wake of a change in the law in Berlin, the company’s returns decreased and we decided to find more attractive locales for investors.
How did you get into this field?
I lived in Mexico until two years ago, and I was in real estate and vacation homes there. I had a big company there of all-inclusive services for vacation apartments, in the Riviera Maya region. I came home after nine years and looked for work in the profession. I managed a pool in a Jerusalem hotel and from there I rolled along until I found this job.
What led you to go to Mexico?
I went on a trip and I ended up staying. I stayed because of the business potential, I got there during a period when everything was starting.
It takes a lot of independence to make a decision like that.
I come from a home where we helped our parents as children, and that made me develop [a sense of] independence at a very young age. I grew up in Jerusalem with two blind parents – not blind from birth. My mother is a Holocaust survivor; my father fell from a horse in Morocco. It’s a lot of responsibility. You need to accompany Mom or Dad because they can’t see, and if you lead them incorrectly they will fall and get hurt. At a very young age we learned how to take a bus alone, how to get to preschool by ourselves. I also began working at a young age – at 15 I was a waitress in a banquet hall. You want to feel mature; on the one hand you’re a girl but on the other hand you feel responsibility like someone who is older than her age.
What is life like as a child with blind parents?
You develop patience. You describe everything, ranging from colors to particular shapes. Trying to describe color is not easy. My mother became blind when she was an infant, so she doesn’t remember anything. She doesn’t know what yellow is, or what red is.
What difficulties are involved in such a family?
As a child you don’t notice the difficulties, but with the years you discover that you have many memories for which there is no documentation, no pictures. I was a dancer for many years, and no one ever came to take my picture, no one came to my performances. Not long ago I was speaking to a friend, and she said, “Show us yourself dancing in a show,” and I have nothing to show them. I have costumes, I have physical proof, but I don’t have any pictures. There was never a show with Mom and Dad in the audience, and that is painful.
Did your parents meet when they were both blind?
Yes, they had a blind date! There’s a nonprofit organization for the blind that takes people on outings twice a year, and on one occasion they were in the Tiberias Hot Springs. My mother sat next to my father at lunch. He ordered fish and let her taste it. They’ve been together since.
Totally. It shows that in love anything is possible. Love can leap out of nowhere, when you’re least planning for it to happen. My mother was 30, which is considered relatively old, and thought she’d never marry. Suddenly a man seven years younger comes along, lets her taste his fish and adds her to his aquarium.
Is there an advantage to not being able to see each another?
Absolutely. As a child you can get up in the morning and feel like putting on a stained blouse with holes in it. Some things are best not seen!