'My Jewish Husband Sold Everything in Order to Move to Israel, but Israel Won't Let Him In'

Last week at the Tel Aviv airport: A family split apart by the coronavirus pandemic and Israeli bureaucracy, and a couple determined to stay active no matter what

Yael Benaya
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Oshrit and Leah Nelson.
Oshrit and Leah Nelson.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yael Benaya

Oshrit and Leah Nelson, 39 and 15, live in Even Yehuda; Leah is flying to New York

Hey, where are you flying to?

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Leah: I’m going to New York, I live there. My father lives there, and so do my grandfather and grandmother.

Oshrit: We decided to come to Israel because of the coronavirus and also because my father doesn’t feel so well. We got here a month and a half ago, and Leah started to go to the American School in Even Yehuda. But we didn’t know that everything here would be done on Zoom. And Leah really missed New York, so I decided to send her there for the period of the lockdown. She’s going for three weeks.

So you’re planning to come back?

Oshrit: You’d better.

Leah: Yes, for a year.

How do you feel about the move to Israel?

Leah: I don’t want to make the move. But I have some good friends here, all of them Americans, so we have things in common. Where we live, in Even Yehuda, it’s not so bad. But I still want to go back to New York after a year here.

Oshrit, when did you leave Israel?

After the army. I was sent by the Jewish Agency to be a summer camp counselor [in the United States]. I didn’t have money, so I did it that way. Once I was there, I received a six-month visa and I never came back.

Did you know you wouldn’t come back?

Yes. People say I’m strong; I say I’m weak. Everyone asked me how I could move to New York with $1,000 in my pocket and not return. I would say to my siblings, ‘You’re strong for staying.” This country was too tough for me from childhood. When I got to New York I felt immediately like I belonged, I immediately felt a type of orderliness. What you do is what you get, with no games. In Israel you never know what you’ll get. And that’s frustrating.

Why did you decide to return, after all?

My husband is Jewish and he always wanted to make aliyah. We left the United States, he sold everything – the house, the car – he closed the business. And they wouldn’t let him enter Israel. He was in shock, he didn’t believe that Israel wouldn’t let him in, they have rejected his request five times already with no explanation. He’s stranded now outside Israel, and for four months they’ve been refusing to let him enter. He’s Jewish, we’re married, and that’s still not enough.

Would you have returned even if there were no coronavirus?

I came for my mother and father, I knew I had to. It was a hard decision, and the crisis actually made it easier, because there was chaos in New York. Leah’s school is very democratic, so everyone supported Black Lives Matter.

Leah: I also supported them very much.

Oshrit: In New York you can’t say you don’t support BLM or that you support Trump. I support Trump. In her school if you like Trump, people won’t talk to you.

Leah: I hate Trump, I despise him.

What’s it like when there are those kinds of differences between mother and daughter?

Leah: All my friends follow what their parents say – “My mom doesn’t like that, so I don’t, either.” But I have my own opinions.

Oshrit: She’s a kid, so I think she’s judging him [Trump] according to his persona.

Leah: No, I watch the news, I read articles, and that’s my opinion. And it’s not comfortable for me to talk about politics.

Oshrit: New Yorkers don’t feel comfortable talking about politics. I thought that Israel would help develop her a little, because Israelis are more open to talking about politics. I wanted her to get something of that Israeli approach.

Leah, what’s so special about your school?

It’s called LaGuardia, and it’s an arts school. I’ve sung since I was very young. I like to sing pop, but I was accepted at the school to sing opera.

Who do you like listening to?

I used to be into Selena Gomez, but not any more.

Would you like to be a singer?

The truth is I would really like to be a fashion designer. If I learn how to sew, I think I could be really good at that.

Oshrit: She’s changed. She was really locked into singing and acting, and she matured and came out of it.

Leah: I didn’t come out of it, but I feel that it’s a childhood dream and that it’s really hard to do it.

George and Judith Eshed.
George and Judith Eshed.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

George and Judith Eshed, 72 and 65; live in Ramat Hasharon, arriving from Thessaloniki

Hello, where are you coming from?

George: We were at an amazing resort in Greece, whose name we’re not divulging, so people won’t go there. It’s a place we’ve known for a long time.

Judith: We work hard during the year, and we saw that it was possible to go to Greece. The service there is incredible. They really spoil you and there are five gourmet restaurants. You sit by the sea with a towel and a book, and someone comes to ask which cocktail or coffee you want.

Amazing. And what do you do?

Judith: I’m a lawyer. I have my own firm and I deal with all areas of civil and commercial law. These days I’m doing a lot of arbitration and mediation.

George: I’m also a lawyer originally, but I hardly engage in practice because of my advanced age. These days I’m in the sports business. I was Israeli champion in full-contact karate for many years. That’s the most physical type of karate – in the major championships you lose by a knockout.

What does a fight like that look like?

George: I’m quiet in fights, cool and calm, I don’t get agitated. On a competition day, you might do six fights in a row, and there’s serious pressure.

Judith: But unlike some people, who shout, he never utters a sound in fights.

What’s the secret of winning?

George: Focus and self-discipline. The secret of life is self-discipline.

How did you get started in karate?

George: I’m an athlete from birth. I was into soccer – I played for Hapoel Ramat Gan when they were at the height of their glory. I wasn’t an outstanding player, but I was in the first five for a good few years. When I was young I also swam; today I’m an enthusiastic mountain bike rider.

Judith: George is a killer and a healer. He also does acupuncture. He’s a very strong and supportive person.

Isn’t there a contradiction between violence and gentleness?

George: I don’t think there is. Karate in itself is not violent. As a boy, I got into fights every day, in an immigrants neighborhood, but over the past 30 years I don’t think I’ve been in one.

What’s your specialty in Chinese medicine?

George: I have a first degree and a second degree in Chinese medicine. I engage in something very specific: in treating side effects of chemotherapy. I had experience in it because of a relative who fell ill with cancer. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, I’m hardly doing it, because it involves close contact with people who have a weak immune system. People like that don’t easily leave the house.

Can I ask how you met?

George: We met on a plane. I was a security guard for El Al, and Judith was a flight attendant.

Did you enjoy being a flight attendant?

Judith: It was very hard to be accepted then; it was a great honor. The trips abroad were like winning the lottery, it was glamorous, fun, and we also made a lot of money. The flights were very pampering because they involved layovers – flights to South Africa for a week, to New York for five days. I was a law student at the time, so it suited me. But it was temporary, I never thought I would stay on as a flight attendant.

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to slow down anytime?

Judith: I think work helps to preserve vitality. Coping with work is anti-aging, anti-stagnation. But the dosage has to be different. When I was young, I worked very hard, and today I am looking for a situation where I do what I need to at work, but also don’t knock myself out. But I don’t see myself sitting around and only cooking meals for the grandchildren. That doesn’t suit me.

George: I’m in favor of retirement, but I don’t think that mean having to stop being active. There’s a great deal to do and much to contribute, including volunteer work. For 15 years I taught anatomy for high school dance majors, and I will go on being active. I have no doubt of that, but you need more leisure time.

Judith: We’re planning to travel, to visit the airport a lot.

George and Judith Eshed, 72 and 65; live in Ramat Hasharon, arriving from Thessaloniki

Hello, where are you coming from?

George: We were at an amazing resort in Greece, whose name we’re not divulging, so people won’t go there. It’s a place we’ve known for a long time.

Judith: We work hard during the year, and we saw that it was possible to go to Greece. The service there is incredible. They really spoil you and there are five gourmet restaurants. You sit by the sea with a towel and a book, and someone comes to ask which cocktail or coffee you want.

Amazing. And what do you do?

Judith: I’m a lawyer. I have my own firm and I deal with all areas of civil and commercial law. These days I’m doing a lot of arbitration and mediation.

George: I’m also a lawyer originally, but I hardly engage in practice because of my advanced age. These days I’m in the sports business. I was Israeli champion in full-contact karate for many years. That’s the most physical type of karate – in the major championships you lose by a knockout.

What does a fight like that look like?

George: I’m quiet in fights, cool and calm, I don’t get agitated. On a competition day, you might do six fights in a row, and there’s serious pressure.

Judith: But unlike some people, who shout, he never utters a sound in fights.

What’s the secret of winning?

George: Focus and self-discipline. The secret of life is self-discipline.

How did you get started in karate?

George: I’m an athlete from birth. I was into soccer – I played for Hapoel Ramat Gan when they were at the height of their glory. I wasn’t an outstanding player, but I was in the first five for a good few years. When I was young I also swam; today I’m an enthusiastic mountain bike rider.

Judith: George is a killer and a healer. He also does acupuncture. He’s a very strong and supportive person.

Isn’t there a contradiction between violence and gentleness?

George: I don’t think there is. Karate in itself is not violent. As a boy, I got into fights every day, in an immigrants neighborhood, but over the past 30 years I don’t think I’ve been in one.

What’s your specialty in Chinese medicine?

George: I have a first degree and a second degree in Chinese medicine. I engage in something very specific: in treating side effects of chemotherapy. I had experience in it because of a relative who fell ill with cancer. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, I’m hardly doing it, because it involves close contact with people who have a weak immune system. People like that don’t easily leave the house.

Can I ask how you met?

George: We met on a plane. I was a security guard for El Al, and Judith was a flight attendant.

Did you enjoy being a flight attendant?

Judith: It was very hard to be accepted then; it was a great honor. The trips abroad were like winning the lottery, it was glamorous, fun, and we also made a lot of money. The flights were very pampering because they involved layovers – flights to South Africa for a week, to New York for five days. I was a law student at the time, so it suited me. But it was temporary, I never thought I would stay on as a flight attendant.

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to slow down anytime?

Judith: I think work helps to preserve vitality. Coping with work is anti-aging, anti-stagnation. But the dosage has to be different. When I was young, I worked very hard, and today I am looking for a situation where I do what I need to at work, but also don’t knock myself out. But I don’t see myself sitting around and only cooking meals for the grandchildren. That doesn’t suit me.

George: I’m in favor of retirement, but I don’t think that mean having to stop being active. There’s a great deal to do and much to contribute, including volunteer work. For 15 years I taught anatomy for high school dance majors, and I will go on being active. I have no doubt of that, but you need more leisure time.

Judith: We’re planning to travel, to visit the airport a lot.

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