Risking Everything to Become Lazy Jews

Eytan and Hilary Faverman almost forgot that today, December 28, is the one-year anniversary of their immigration to Israel. "It's been a long year," Hilary said. "We became Israelis, parents, my sister and Eytan's sister - who also came to Israel - had babies, and now my parents have decided to come and live here."

Eytan, who was born in New York, came with his family to live in Israel when he was 9 years old. After his army service he went back to the U.S., but he says he always knew he would come back.

The Favermans are two of the 3,000 North American immigrants who came to Israel in 2005, a 15 percent increase over last year's numbers. According to Jewish Agency figures released yesterday, 23,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel this year, a 4 percent increase over 2004.

For Hilary, who was a head-hunter in New York, Israel was not the promised land. "I had a real job in New York, she says. "To give that up and come to a place with a language barrier and without a clear path to promotion is scary." It is much harder to buy an apartment here, another thing that worried her, she said.

The Favermans are renting in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, and Hilary says she doesn't know where they will be in six months. Living on the edge of an Arab neighborhood does not bother her.

"I come from a very right-wing family, which is more worried about the traffic accidents than terror," she said.

The increase in immigration from North America is ascribed by many to the efforts of Nefesh B'Nefesh, an organization with the same goals as the Jewish Agency, but with the advantage of flexibility.

"They're Americans and they understand our mentality. In Israel if you tell someone your hesitations, they'll say, `come to Israel, it'll be okay.' But for Americans, that's not enough. They dealt with a lot of the bureaucracy for us, and also gave us a grant," she said.

The Favermans say they do not fit the profile of most immigrants. "We are secular. We didn't come because of Zionism or to become one with God," Hilary said, but for the culture. In the U.S. to be a Jew you have to be a member of the JCC and a synagogue. That wasn't them, she said.

"In Israel, being Jewish is everywhere. Here you can be a lazy Jew. When Maya goes to kindergarten, I know she'll come home with a picture of a Seder plate and not Santa Claus," she said.

Last week the Favermans attended a program where 200 immigrants were addressed by English representatives of the various political parties. Hilary has not decided who she will vote for. "The gentleman from the Likud talked only about corruption in other parties, the one from Kadima was too vague. The only one who spoke clearly was the guy from the National Union, but he was more extreme than Kach."

Hilary asks whether there is a non-Orthodox right-wing party in Israel. In the U.S., she voted Democratic. "There I was left and here I am right. I still haven't gotten used to that," she says.