Making “Aliyah”: Americans Immigrant in Other Lands
When I was in my teens growing up in “La Nouvelle Orléans,” I was part of a Zionist youth organization that did a good job of indoctrinating us to think that making “Aliyah” (emigrating to Israel) was the most important thing one could do in his/her life. Hence, my close entourage of girlfriends and I all ended up there our third year of college — them to study at Tel Aviv University and me to volunteer at a kibbutz in the Jordan Valley where I studied Hebrew half the day and worked the other half.
My two roommates on the kibbutz were both French (was this a sign of my future?) and in keeping with the stereotype, they smoked “Gauloise” cigarettes they had brought from France, while I was smoking Marlboro Lights. My New Orleans girlfriends almost all met their future husbands that year and as a result, I was almost the only one to end up living outside of Israel. Still, we all remained close and celebrated our 50th birthdays together in Saint Tropez.
A couple weeks ago, my longest-standing friend of the group, Kathy, called to give me the news that one of our friends was in the hospice part of the Tel HaShomer hospital, after battling various inflictions the last several years. That was all I needed to know before I booked a last-minute flight to Tel Aviv in order to visit our friend in hospice and reconnect with the others. She had been married for a long time to a French Moroccan Jew who had died a year ago and subsequently she had strong ties to France, but chose to retire to Tel Aviv and be surrounded by her closest friends instead.
Last Wednesday I boarded an easyJet® to Tel Aviv — a no frills five-hour trip, after five-and-a-half years of no visits. The observation I made at the airport was how different the passengers headed to Tel Aviv were to those on flights to other destinations. I imagined that most were Jewish and while also French, weren’t very different from Jews all over the world. I silently chuckled at their openly brazen comportement, talking loudly among themselves and hanging out in the aisles as if they were at home. “Oy vay.” (No, the French don’t normally behave that way.)
The trip over was preparation for the days to come surrounded by similar people, many of whom look like relatives! There is comfort in that — as the Israelis treat everyone as if they are family. Tel Aviv could easily feel like home for this reason. The city has grown up so much since I lived there last in 1980. The sea of skyscrapers didn’t exist then. My oldest friend and her husband live in a contemporary and elegant apartment complex just outside the official city limits with a beautiful view of the Tel Aviv skyline, growing denser by the minute, dotted by the cranes of construction.
Three of the new towers intrigued me more than the others — the Azrieli Center — made up of three geometric shapes: one cylindrical, one triangular and the third square, built on what was at one time on Tel Aviv’s dumpster-truck parking garage. Each is a different height, but from certain vantage points, they appear to be of the same height. Sometimes they appear to be joined and at other points, completely separate. Designed by Israeli-American architect Eli Attia for developer David Azrieli, I was quite fascinated by their simplicity and their brilliance in that.
Tel HaShomer is a major Israel Defense Forces base and houses the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, the largest hospital in Israel. Located on what was at one time a “moshav” (a type of cooperative settlement), it was founded by Jewish immigrants from Germany and Poland in the area of Tel Aviv known as Ramat Gan. On Saturday, seven of us from New Orleans made up of the original group of friends gathered there with our friend in hospice for a pot-luck lunch of New Orleans goodies such as Jambalaya and stuffed artichokes. I brought foie gras with truffles for a touch of France knowing she would enjoy that just as much.
We set up a “pop-up” lunch of an array of goodies in the quasi dining room on that wing and reminisced about our inability to get New Orleans out of our bones. One might say, “You can take the people out of New Orleans, but you can’t take the New Orleans out of the people.” In keeping with this idea, in July of 2012, Kathy’s daughter, Talya, opened an American bakery and café appropriately called NOLA (as in “New Orleans, LA”) on the famous shopping street Rechov (Hebrew for “street”) Dizengoff at number 197. When I was in Tel Aviv last, just the year before that, I introduced her to Hat (Harriet) Sternstein of Mon Bon Chien fame — an American woman who had a gourmet pet bakery in Paris for many years. (You may remember some past Nouvellettres® about her?) Together they developed their special American-style baked goods and it took off from the beginning with huge success. I never had the opportunity to try it myself until this past weekend and I can tell you that the baked goods and general lunch fare there is just as exceptional as anywhere in New Orleans. The old-world style is one of a kind and everything is absolutely fresh and homemade. Don’t miss it if you’re in the “neighborhood.”
One morning Kathy showed me around the new Sarona Market and Gardens in an area that was once a German Templer colony dating back to 1871 at the time of Palestine. One of the earliest European villages, the British mandate authorities deported 188 of its residents in 1941 who were considered Nazi sympathizers. Today the district has been preserved and restored, having transformed the old homes into luxury retail establishments and the immediate area adjacent to the market converted into a park and community center of activity. The old homes are juxtaposed against the glass and steel skyscrapers that line the borders. The market is filled with upper crust suppliers of food and culinary arts. It’s all very, very sophisticated. Tel Aviv NOW is definitely not the Tel Aviv I lived in 35 years ago!
That afternoon we drove up to the Golan Heights to visit Kathy’s son and his three young children who all live on a kibbutz overlooking Lake Kineret, a.k.a. Sea of Galilee. The last time I had seen them was at their wedding in 2011 with the lake below us as the stunning backdrop to the ceremony. On route in the Beit She’an Valley, along the River Jordan, we passed the kibbutz where I once worked and studied just after college: Ashdot Ya’akov Meuhad, stopping long enough to take a photo, but not to enter as I had done during my last visit. The valleys through which we drove are lined by kibbutzim brimming with the bright green color of fresh crops of all kinds: groves of palm, citrus and avocado trees, fields of various vegetables and berries. The lush landscape is in stark contrast against the barren hills of Jordan on the other side of the river.
Since landing Wednesday evening, we’ve eaten exceptionally well in some of Tel Aviv’s youngest, hippest, but unpretentious restaurants, including NOLA. I’d recommend any and all of them:
While the flight I was on was filled with French traveling to Israel, recent media reported that French Jews immigrating to Israel has dropped by up to 40% after a three-year boom, Israel being the place of choice over the United States. Available jobs seems to be the big culprit for the lack of immigration. On the other hand, Israel may have a new wave of Jews from the U.S., thanks to the new U.S. administration’s policies, particularly related to immigration that was announced on Saturday — banning immigration from a large group of muslim countries, including those who already hold green cards to the U.S.
Is this history repeating itself? For an interesting Op Ed, see HaAretz’ Chemi Shalev’s opinion piece “A Stain on America’s Conscience That Can Never Be Erased – and Should Never Be Forgotten — With Trump’s barring refugees and immigrants, a look back at the bigotry that caused the U.S. to turn away thousands of Jews that escaped Nazi death camps.
With news like that, I can certainly understand why so many of my friends are living where they appreciate immigrants. I am an immigrant in France. They were immigrants to Israel. No doubt, other Americans will become immigrants in other lands, too.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. I’ll be in Los Angeles next month and offering personal two-hour consultations between February 20th and 24th. The cost is $330, but the fee applies toward our search services, so not a penny is lost! If you are thinking of making an investment in France, you are sure to find the time with me very valuable. To schedule your meeting with me, email me at [email protected]?subject=L.A._Consultation