'To Live in Israel, an Occupying Nation, With All the Implications, Isn’t Easy'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Israeli who moved to the U.S. because he couldn't stand the politics, and a Hungarian who moved to Israel for love

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Roee Teper.
Roee Teper.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Roee Teper, 40, from Pittsburgh; flying to Toronto

Hello, can I ask you where you got the tattoo?

My daughter painted it – she’s very gifted. She sold three paintings and held an exhibition in a café near our house.

Which is where?

My family lives here – and when I say “family,” I mean my wife and our two daughters – and I live in Pittsburgh.

You’re divorced?

No. We’re a very close, loving family. We lived in Pittsburgh starting in 2011, and after three years it was clear that my wife wasn’t connecting with the place. We came back to Israel, to Haifa, a year ago. I realized that I couldn’t stay here, so we decided that in the meantime they’ll be here and I’ll go back and forth, that’s the custom. I don’t know how long it will go on.

Sounds like a rough ride.

It changes. There are times when it’s easier for me and times when it’s hard for me to be alone, but to visit Israel is never easy for me.


I don’t much like the country, I have issues with the politics here.

Can I take it that you’re left-wing?

I’m actually quite center, but to live in the country of an occupying nation, with all the implications, isn’t easy for me.

What are the implications, do you think?

How the resources are distributed, the morality that’s involved, and not only from the soldiers but from the people in the street.

Oh boy.

And the economy here is also hard for me.

What do you do?

I’m an academic, and in Israel it’s not easy to make a living in academia, that’s also part of it. My education is in mathematics, but I teach economic theory. There’s more demand for economics teachers in the United States, simply because there are more employment options outside academia. Mathematicians have fewer options outside.

How did you end up in Pittsburgh?

There are offers in my field, and you choose what you want. I had offers from England and from Montreal, but I preferred to go to Pittsburgh.

You have it good there?

I like Pittsburgh. It’s a city that hasn’t been discovered yet, even though I have a feeling that that’s changing somewhat now.

Who discovered Pittsburgh?

Google and Uber are there, and they’re launching the driverless car there. This is the only city where this is happening, and I’ve already had the opportunity to travel in one of the cars twice.

Is it cool or scary?

At the moment, two crew members sit in the car, one at the steering wheel and the other one dealing with data on a computer. Right now this is only happening in taxis, but there’s talk of the public market and shared cars. Pittsburgh also offered a bid for Amazon [to host the company’s second headquarters]. That means there would be 50,000 new jobs, which is hysterical – one-sixth of the city’s workforce.

The technological revolution at the city gates.

It would change everything – the demographics, the rent. I like Pittsburgh as it is: It’s a little like Haifa – heterogeneous, with young people, older people, blue collar, white and African-American academics. If Amazon opens here, there will be all kinds of cool young people who’ll come and fiddle with their phones all day.

How do you get along with the Americans?

It’s true that the politics there in the past few years is no less problematic than here, but the fact that I don’t feel like it’s my home made the transition easier.


A lot of people go and miss home and don’t feel they belong, but for me the absence of belonging is only good. I don’t feel I’m part of the politics there; it’s not mine. That’s a feeling I didn’t experience here. Here you feel that it’s yours, the responsibility is yours. I was never able to disconnect.

Did you try repression?

The truth is that I stopped with the news, with newspapers and everything, and slowly I’m feeling it less. I know buzzwords like “Bibi,” “navy” and “Bitan,” but I haven’t been familiar with the details for years. Maybe in time I’ll be able to be here more.

Nimrod Dagan and Kristof Steiner.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Nimrod Dagan, 27, left, and Kristof Steiner, 36, from Tel Aviv; arriving from Budapest

Hello. The metal chic suits you. Can I ask: You’re not Israelis originally, right?

Kristof: I’m originally from Budapest, but I moved to Israel nine years ago because of an Israeli guy who was a med student in Hungary. In the end we broke up.

Why did you stay?

Kristof: I felt good here, and then Nimrod and I met, and that was already a really good reason to stay.

How did you meet?

Nimrod: We met two years ago through a gay dating app called Grindr.


Nimrod: Yes, it’s not a place where you generally expect to meet someone who will continue with you into a serious relationship.

Kristof: People usually just fool around on these apps, but somehow we connected and we’ve been together since.

What did you do in Budapest?

Kristof: We were there to work. I have a new cookbook that was published in Hungary.

A PR trip?

Kristof: That too, but I also do food workshops around the world. We did a meal for 30 people with three vegetarian dishes.

What’s the title of the book?

“Kristof’s Kitchen.”

Is it also in Hebrew?

Kristof: People are always asking me when it’s going to be published in Hebrew, but it’s not so simple. I’m working on it.

Is it simpler in Hungary?

Kristof: In Hungary I emceed a TV show for years, and I’m still known there. It’s fun for me to visit Budapest and live a different life for a few days, and then to come back to Israel, where it doesn’t matter if I take out the dog in my pajamas.

Nimrod: In Hungary he was the local Asi Azar [an Israel TV presenter who came out of the closet].

Kristof: Yes. I started out as an actor and I also worked a lot in the field of music until I got tired of it. Ten years ago, when I moved here, I started to write and cook seriously.

What kind of food do you cook and write about?

Kristof: Vegan food.

Veganism goes together with the Hungarian kitchen, with all of its meat dishes and fried foods?

Kristof: As a boy who grew up in Hungary and ate potatoes and onions, I find it amazing that there are different types of avocado in Israel. Until a few years ago, yams were considered exotic in Hungary. But I’m not necessarily obsessed with health, I’m a hedonistic vegan.

A hedonistic vegan?

Kristof: I always say that veganism isn’t intended to deprive you of pleasure, and I think it’s not that we miss the taste of the cow, but rather the seasonings and the texture. So anything is possible. I even make vegan Hungarian dishes.

Nimrod: He makes vegan goulash, cauliflower and stuffed pepper. You can do everything anew through veganism.

Do you do workshops in Tel Aviv, too?

Kristof: Yes, and people also come to our place to eat. Like in the EatWith concept.

Nimrod: We live in an apartment of 28 square meters in Kerem Hateimanim [an old Tel Aviv neighborhood], and people come and we always serve 12 different dishes; it doesn’t matter if it’s two people or six.

So Nimrod, do you also cook and eat vegan?

Nimrod: I never cooked before we met, but I was vegan two years before that.

Kristof: He ate popcorn and Bamba [an Israeli snack].

Nimrod: Cornflakes was my best option, and today I’m a sous chef in the kitchen and I love it. It’s like meditation for me, and very different from my everyday life.

What do you do day to day?

Nimrod: I’m an actor with Habima [Israel’s national theater company]. I play Hamlet’s mother in Meir Zaguri’s production of the play, and I’m also in “A Simple Story” and “Dangerous Liaisons,” as well as “The Child Dreams,” directed by Omri Nitzan.

Kristof: We were together for a month before I saw him on stage. It was incredible, like living with someone and then discovering that he can fly. He also has a natural talent for cooking. He’s a natural in the kitchen. Also in designing the apartment. If you have a sense of aesthetics and art, then you’ve got it all.

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