'I’m the Only Person in Samara With Curly Hair'

This week at Tel Aviv Airport: An Israeli family living in Milan and a sports events manager who's contemplating a career change

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Anna Ansher.
Anna Ansher.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yael Benaya

Anna Ansher, 23; lives in Haifa, arriving from Moscow.

Hi, where are you coming from?

I was in St. Petersburg, then in Samara [Russia], where I was born, and then in Moscow.

Did you go for something special?

In St. Petersburg, I was working at a tennis tournament; I’ve been working there for five years, managing sports events. I coordinate transportation, we look after the players and the organizers, and get them from place to place. But besides that, we help them with whatever they need. It’s a big tournament and this year it became part of the ATP 500.

What’s that?

ATP is the international professional tennis players association, and 500 is the number of points that the winner of a tournament will receive. The fact that the tournament rose this year from 250 to 500 means that the players get more points for their ranking. That increase the tournament’s importance and everything is conducted more professionally.

Who won this year?

Andrey Rublev, a Russian. He’s ranked eighth in the word and he’s absolutely a super-player. It was thrilling to see it all happen. We had a lot of restrictions because of the coronavirus, and I wasn’t sure the tournament would take place. At first I couldn’t fly, because they announced they were closing the airport. I was really worried I would miss it. But it went well, with all the limitations. There weren’t many spectators, maybe 30 percent of the stadium was full; people sat at a social distance. There were also sterile areas, where everyone who entered had to do a coronavirus test, and I was tested every three days.

Do you yourself play tennis?

No, it’s funny, I’ve never played. I have a lot of friends who do, coaches and organizers who always invite me to play, but I never have time during the tournament. I started to enjoy watching tennis only after I began working in the field, until then I didn’t even understand the rules and thought it was really boring. Sometimes a match can last an hour and sometimes three-and-a-half hours, so you never know how long you’ll be working. It can last until 10 P.M., but also until 1 A.M.

Why did you choose to work in tennis?

I managed events in other sports, including boxing and fencing. Athletes in Russia usually don’t appreciate your help and don’t care about you, because they’re famous, but it’s not like that at all in tennis. I didn’t expect that kind of behavior from them, because tennis is considered a sport for rich people.

How did you get into it?

I volunteered at a boxing event – I had some spare time at university, so I thought, why not. I got there and I didn’t know English, but I was sociable and tried to help. One of the organizers saw that and told me I should hook up with one of the teams and help them, and that’s how I began speaking English. Slowly but surely. For two weeks I was with them and I learned English. After a year I already spoke the language.

What are you doing in Israel?

I made aliyah last November. I did the [Jewish Agency’s] Masa program after university. I didn’t like it and didn’t like the place, but I felt that I wanted to try something new and live somewhere different. I understood that Masa isn’t really like actually living here. So I moved to Haifa, I started going to an ulpan [Hebrew-language course] and really liked the city. There are still a lot of difficulties, such as finding a job. It’s hard because I’m alone, without family, and I also didn’t have friends at the start, but now it’s a little better. I don’t want to stay in Russia – the weather is bad, the money is bad and the quality of life is bad. So I decided I would stay here, I don’t know for how long. But I’m young, so I thought, why not?

What are you planning now?

I want to do a course in managing and producing events. I have a degree in psychology and took a course in Israel in management and marketing, but I didn’t enjoy it so much. I have new immigrants’ rights, so I though of studying something practical. Now everyone is asking me why I would want to study events management when there are no events. But I hope that after I finish the studies the events will return. But I don’t know where to work now, so if someone has offers, I’m open to everything.

By the way, is your curly hair considered unusual in Russia?

Very much. I’m the only person in Samara with curly hair. People used to be nasty and insulted me; they asked if I’d stuck my finger in an electric socket and all kinds of worse things. My father has curly hair, but my mother is the Jewish side and she has straight hair. I have a lot of questions for my father, because he doesn’t look Russian at all, and it seems to me that he has other roots. When I was younger, with all the comments I got, I would straighten my hair. But when I was in Italy I understood that I like it as it is and I don’t care what people think. That changed my life. Now I get a lot of comments from people telling me how much they like my hair. People remember me because of it.

Ron Avni, 50, and Billie, 2; live in Milan and flying there.

Hi, what are you going to do in Milan?

We live there – my wife and I and the children. We moved in September and now I’ve come to take our dog, Billie.

Ron Avni and 
Billie.
Ron Avni and 
Billie.Credit: תומר אפלבאום

Why did you move?

My wife began working in the fashion business and we wanted a little change of atmosphere. To live in a different country, to experience a different way of life. The coronavirus is making people look at life differently. We were at home a lot during the lockdown, and we said we wanted a change. We have two young daughters and we wanted them to have the experience, too, and to learn another language. Even before we moved to Italy, we had made long trips of a month or so with the girls. We were in South America, in Guatemala and in Mexico. Every vacation we would pack everything up and travel to some destination. But this isn’t like flying for a visit, this is different, because you live there.

How do you make such a huge decision?

It’s something that was simmering for a long time, something we always dreamed about. We thought we would do a two-year trip abroad or that we would move somewhere. We’d always thought about the United States or Canada, but they’re far away and we have European passports, so it’s easier to move there. You have a school and a health system, so it’s easier to integrate. The question is what you do there, and today a lot of possibilities have developed for doing things online, remotely. If you’re working from home anyway, then why not in style, from Italy?

So what do you do there?

I’m in computerization. And my wife is pleased, she’s really enjoying it there. Just a minute, it’s Keren – my wife – on the phone. Can she join the interview?

Sure. Hi, Keren. How’s it going for you in the fashion industry in Milan?

Keren: I’m a lawyer, so I came from a completely different field. I would call it a dramatic change. It’s a field that, if you dig into its history, is very interesting and exciting. The sales aspect gives you satisfaction, but so do the clothes themselves. I sell vintage and very special clothes.

How did the girls take the move?

Ron: They’re 13 and 12, they have strong roots in Israel, so it’s not so simple. It’s not easy for them, but I told them that after they integrate and learn the language, it’ll be easier for them. They’re in a Jewish school, where the languages are Hebrew and English. They’ll integrate gradually.

Keren: The older one already knew what she was getting into. She grasped the difficulty and she made things tough for us, especially from the emotional point of view. The younger one understood less, so she was pretty indifferent. But now that we’re there, the younger one asks every day to go back to Israel. The older one has a different personality and more confidence, so she is integrating better and complains less. They’re doing school by Zoom, because a lot of the students in their classes came down with COVID-19. Every day someone sends a message in the parents’ WhatsApp group that their child tested positive.

What’s it like in a WhatsApp group with Italian parents?

Keren: I do a lot of Google Translate – it’s not easy.

Ron: In Italy, it’s called WhatsApp Moms. They’re not worried about political correctness; they understood that most of the time it’s mothers, so I have an exemption.

How are you both doing with the language?

Ron: The language is amazing. I speak a little, but I’m aware that I sound funny in terms of grammar. You can also switch to English and add a little Italian style. It’s slow and it’s tough, but at nights we sit down and learn and practice.

What do you like about life in Milan?

Keren: There’s a lot of tranquility here – you won’t see people rushing anywhere, usually. Even though Milan is relatively similar to Tel Aviv, what defines the people here is not necessarily their career but more their leisure-time activities. People aren’t evaluated by way of the work they do, but for their hobbies. And the more leisure time you have and the more you spend time with the family, the more valued it is. We came from a completely different place, and at first it was hard, but it’s an attitude I’m really thinking of adopting.

What was it like leaving Billie here?

Ron: During the Jewish holidays she was at my mother’s and afterward she was with the other grandmother. They babysat her.

Keren: I’m really waiting for Ron to arrive with Billie. It’s very hard for us. She’s simply a very scared dog, like a helpless baby who has to be protected. And to send her in the hold, I can’t even think about that. But there’s no choice, she’ll get through it.

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