What inspired the writer of the racy blog “Love, Life and Everything In-Between” – nominated in 2012 and 2014 for a Cosmo Blog Award in the sex and relationship category – to move to Tel Aviv from northwest London in 2013?
“I moved because I was bored of London,” confides Ilana “Lala” Vaknine. “I know that sounds strange to a lot of people, but I suppose it’s like asking someone from Ra’anana why they moved to Tel Aviv. From where I lived, it took a long time to get into [downtown] London.”
Though Vaknine could have moved to any vibrant city, she chose Tel Aviv because the White City was already entwined in her genes and her soul. Her Moroccan- born father had immigrated with his family to Israel in his teens, fought in three wars and moved to London in the 1970s.
“He met my mom first in Israel and then by chance, bumped into her again in London. When I was a kid, my sister and I came here once or twice a year to stay with family, sometimes for a whole month in the summers.”
Consequently, says the 26 year old, “I always loved Israel. My first favorite foods were olives, felafel and tehina. I loved the people and the weather, and I knew the mentality. I had family and friends here, and always in my heart I felt that Israel was the place for me.”
She and one of her best friends made aliya together in 2013, and they room with another close friend Vaknine met at age 16 on a Federation of Zionist Youth trip to Israel. Vaknine works as office manager for Ladbrokes, a British gaming company, and she writes not just one blog, but two.
“In 2014 I started a new blog called ‘Knowing Me Knowing Food’ to document what it is like for a curvy girl in her mid-20s trying to diet and keep healthy, with many struggles along the way,” she explains.
Vegan journey Before living in Israel, Vaknine never had to do her own laundry, let alone cook for herself. “I was fortunate to have a mum who did so much for me,” she says. “But now I do all my own cooking, baking, washing and ironing. I’m loving my independence.”
Since the end of April, her cooking and baking have been entirely free of animal products.
“I’ve always been a massive animal lover and I had stopped eating red meat, but I ate chicken and fish.
Then I saw an item about a 30-day vegan challenge on the PETA website, and while doing it I watched many videos and read so much, and I can’t go back to eating animals again,” she says. “After seeing this horrible stuff, I physically can’t do it anymore.”
Going out to eat with friends is difficult because they don’t want to go to vegan restaurants, so she favors Café Landwer for its many vegan menu alternatives.
For Friday night dinners out, she brings a dish of her own. And for culinary experimentation in her own kitchen, she expends extra effort to find vegan recipes and special ingredients such as almond butter, cacao paste and nutritional yeast.
“Cooking vegan is a lot more time-consuming and more expensive as well – soy milk is more than double the cost of dairy milk, for example – but it’s worth it. On Shavuot, I made vegan cheesecake and all my friends loved it,” she reports.
The blog enables a flow of information between Vaknine and her readers. “When I was looking for blogs about healthy eating, I was finding a lot of people who preach, and that’s not me. I love my food and love to eat; I struggle with going to the gym and keeping healthy and fit. I figured there must be many people like me, and I wanted to share my experiences in a fun and humorous way,” she explains.
“I will never judge anyone about what they want to do, but if someone asks me why I don’t eat meat, I say, ‘If you’re going to eat a cow, why don’t you eat your pet dog?’” Welcomed and loved Vaknine attended Jewish schools and then went on to study beauty therapy. She worked in a London hotel spa for a year and a half, and also had jobs as an office manager, personal assistant and nanny, earning her qualification in childcare.
This variety of marketable skills stood her in good stead after making aliya. Though she sometimes needs assistance dealing with tasks such as bills, banking and customer service, as many new immigrants do, she has a better-than-average familiarity with Hebrew. “I understand it better than I speak it, because my dad always spoke to me in Hebrew,” she explains.
One goal she has yet to conquer is finding a husband.
“I’m looking for love here, and I thought it would be a lot easier,” Vaknine admits candidly.
She jokes that she is seeking “a mix of David Beckham and Enrique Iglesias, with a bit of Channing Tatum in there as well,” but in reality her perfect mate will be kind and caring with a strong sense of humor.
“Honestly, I need someone who can make me laugh. It’s all about humor and great personality.”
Despite not yet finding Mr. Right, Vaknine says she loves the social side of Tel Aviv. “It doesn’t matter the time of day; people are always out and about, walking everywhere,” she says. She has no regrets for having “swapped a cold big city for a sunny smaller one that has a beach.”
‘I am home’
Of course, living in Tel Aviv during Operation Protective Edge has not been a day at the beach.
“Coping with sirens is a surreal feeling, and running to a shelter is scary,” she says.
“But already in London in 2012, part of me felt I wanted to be here already and stand with my country.
I was so proud to be half-Israeli, and to be Jewish. It’s not so much about the religion and traditions, though they mean a lot to me. And now that I am here, I still have that same feeling. When my mum asked if I wanted her to book me a flight home [during the conflict], I said I am home.”
Vaknine’s sister and parents still live in London, but she has aunts, uncles and cousins in Israel. “I’m lucky to have a great group of friends, and my work people have become family as well,” she says.
She has received several vicious messages on Twitter and Instagram in response to some of her posts about Israel.
“I see there is so much hate in this world, and that’s why I feel being here is so important. I feel how everyone comes together as a country. You feel welcomed and loved. For me it’s just about living a happy, peaceful life and spreading love and light, trying to get rid of as much hate as I can.”