'I Miss My Family in Venezuela but Life Is Better in Israel. I'm Staying to Defend the Country I Love'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A group of young Jews who feel that their gap year in Israel has changed them, and a high-tech headhunter whose company encourages her to take vacations

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Daniel Zuckerman(second from right), lives in Mexico City and flying there, and friends seeing him off: David Serfaty, Alexia Dorfman, and Eric Cohen.
Daniel Zuckerman(second from right), lives in Mexico City and flying there, and friends seeing him off: David Serfaty, Alexia Dorfman, and Eric Cohen.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Daniel Zuckerman, 19 (second from right), lives in Mexico City and flying there, and friends seeing him off: David Serfaty, 18, Alexia Dorfman, 19, and Eric Cohen, 18

Hi, what brings you to Israel?

Daniel: We met here a year ago, we lived together in Israel. We came on the Masa Israel Journey program during a gap year following high school. We’re group leaders in an organization called Maccabi, and after doing that you spend a year in Israel and meet your counterparts from all over the world. We met here nine months ago and now I’m flying home to Mexico, and they’ve come to see me off.

David: I’m the only one who’s staying in Israel; everybody else is going home within a few days. I plan to join the army’s lone soldier program in August. I’m from Venezuela, and I really miss my family, but life is better here. There’s a lot more freedom and security.

Daniel: We live in countries where it’s impossible to do a lot of the things that you can do in Israel, especially in Mexico and Venezuela. You can’t travel by bus alone or go around alone at night. We had the experience of living in a country where you can do everything, where the country is there for you. When each of us goes back to their own country, we’ll be able to apply some of the things there.

What, for example, will you take with you for your life in Mexico?

Daniel: An important element in Israel is education. As part of the program, we were paramedics at [emergency ambulance service] Magen David Adom, and we had 15- and 16-year-old high school students with us. The fact that Israeli society has these values shows us how far behind we are. We all have a strong bond with Israel, because the year we spent here was one of the hardest Israel has had – the war, the coronavirus – and we’re leaving with the best feeling there could be, because Israel treated us so well.

What was it like for you to volunteer at Magen David Adom?

Eric: On one of our shifts, we took an older woman in the ambulance. When she held out her arm we saw that there was a number on it. Out of respect I didn’t say anything, but I was in a state of shock, treating someone who survived the Holocaust. She saw my face and realized I had seen the number. She asked where I was from and I told her I was from Spain, and she told me she was born in Poland. That really stunned me.

How did you all decide to come here?

Daniel: Most of us came to Israel to enjoy ourselves, not to have to worry, to meet new people, to do what we felt like, a year’s vacation. But in the end we became different people. You get a lot more mature, more independent, more responsible – things you didn’t expect.

How did you get through the latest fighting with Gaza?

Daniel: To call your parents from a bomb shelter is very stressful for them. When I’m in the shelter I’m calm, I understand the situation, but it was stressful for my parents. There were 30 of us in the program two weeks ago, and now we’re only five – everyone else left because of the war.

Did the war change your minds about Israel?

Daniel: It’s interesting that as a group we had the same ideology and talked about what’s happening here, but when we talked with friends at home they talked about the liberation of Palestine. As someone who lived here and heard the sirens, you realize that it’s not a normal life. It united us as a group, it made us more Israeli.

David: I felt safe. I want to stay and be part of it, to defend the country I love.

And why did the rest of you decide not to stay?

Daniel: That’s a good question.

Eric: Because our homes are in the countries we came from. I’m an Israeli – my father has lived here for many years – so if I wanted to live here now I’d have to join the army, and I’m not ready for that yet. I’m leaving tomorrow.

Alexia: My family is now moving from Venezuela to the United States, so I want to live with them. They’ll be living in Miami. I’m waiting for my visa and then I’ll go.

Is there a large Jewish community in Venezuela?

David: There’s a small community, around 2,000 people. It’s getting smaller all the time.

Eric: I live in Spain now, and when I left Venezuela in 2010 I was in the same school as Alexia and David. In the first grade there were 140 of us, and by graduation there were 12 or 13, that’s it.

Alexia: Many come to Israel to make aliyah.

Daniel: Those who can leave, leave.

So what are your plans now in Mexico?

Daniel: My family doesn’t know I’m coming, it’s a surprise. My favorite soccer team has reached the final, so I’m going to surprise my father in the stadium.

Tali Gross.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Tali Gross, 40; lives in Jaffa, arriving from New York

Hi Tali, what were you doing in New York?

I was on vacation – galleries, museums, walks in parks, good food, friends. The plan was to go for a week, and then suddenly there were missiles, so I stayed for another week. There weren’t any flights, either, and there was no reason to come back – it’s fun there.

Sounds like you needed it.

Yes. After a year without going abroad, I did need it. A friend called me one day and said she was going to New York and suggested that I go with her, so I said yallah, let’s go for it. Just like that. I really love New York. It has everything you need – culture, art, freedom.

What did you see there?

All the best museums and galleries. The view from the High Line, it’s an amazing place. There’s a fairly new park called Dumbo, and you can see all of Manhattan from there. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

What do you do?

I’m a vice president at Top Soft, and I help people find jobs in high-tech. I do headhunting and connect personnel with companies looking for new staff. Everyone who’s looking for work in high-tech is invited to send me a résumé. I’m in touch with all the leading companies in Israel, and there’s huge demand for people in every niche.

What does headhunting mean exactly?

I guide people in their career. To me, that means helping people put their best version of themselves forward. You have to know how to listen and understand what’s hurting a person in the place they’re at in their life, and to know how to suit the response to what’s hurting them. If, say, somebody doesn’t want to work long hours, I match them with a less demanding client. Or if, say, somebody feels they’re now interested in a certain career, I match them with a company that’s being established from the ground up.

I know how to mix and match. Listening is the most important part, I think – to talk to the candidates, understand where they see themselves, what they would like, what they feel in their current job and then match that with what my clients need. I’ve been doing it for 15 years now.

What has changed in high-tech during those years?

Demand for workers has become insane, there’s competition over every person today. It’s at a completely insane level. Human capital is what makes a society successful, so today every company understands that the world of human resources is just as important as marketing or sales. An unsatisfied employee is the face of the company. When an employee is satisfied, their sales are a lot higher, their loyalty to the company is higher.

It’s not just money, you know, it’s how you feel when you get up in the morning. I think that’s a job in itself: to make the employees feel meaning when they get up in the morning, that it’s fun for them to get up for work, that the organization is investing in them. That’s organizational culture.

What makes a company a worthwhile place to work?

A company that respects their employees’ leisure time and family values, that allows people to work from home and is very attentive to their needs, including in the work itself. It sees to it that employees feel at ease, feel that what they have to say is being heard, that there’s a constant dialogue and that decisions aren’t made above them and imposed. Workers feel significant when there’s discussion and brainstorming. Financially, too – if it offers stock options, for example, it makes employees feel they’re part of the company. The competition is insane, including in salaries, but also in other aspects like all kinds of health packages – you name it.

And what do you do in your free time?

I find the world of art exciting. I try to go to a gallery at least once a week in Israel, and now internationally, too. I think being in a gallery is like love, it’s exhilarating. I research the artists, dig deep and learn. I look at a work and feel a thrill, and that makes me happy.

In the future I would be happy if I could have a gallery of my own, that’s my dream. There are so many artists that I like, the gallery will have works that thrill me and speak to me.

How do you balance life and work?

My job allows me to integrate perfectly my love, which is to travel around the world and see art. By the way, I’m also single, for anyone who’s interested. The company I work for encourages me to take vacations. When I was in New York now there were missiles [in Israel], so my boss told me to extend my vacation, and I did. That’s why I’ve been working there a long time; it’s a delight.

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