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(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Not many immigrants have succeeded in becoming writers in Hebrew after only a few years in the country. Ephraim Kishon was one - and Tel Aviv University student Lauren Acton, 25, aims to be another.
Now in her second year of cinema studies, she plumped for the screenwriting option over the other choices - practical filmmaking or academic research - and hopes to make it in the competitive world of Hebrew-language screenwriting. If enthusiasm and hard work have anything to do with it, she certainly will.
After finishing her schooling at the City of London School for Girls, she set off on an eight-month trip to Australia and the Far East. At 20 she made aliya but was no stranger to Israel.
"I used to come very often as a child as I have an uncle and aunt living in Ra'anana," she says. "One day, when I was about 11 or 12, I met a group of four boys my age and we began talking, as everyone spoke English. We became good friends and stayed in touch over the years." Today one of the four, Ilan, a psychology student, is her boyfriend with whom she shares her life in Tel Aviv.
"I went to Kibbutz Yagur, studied Hebrew and looked after the animals," she recalls. "After that I wanted to stay so I volunteered to be in the army and I stayed in the kibbutz as a lone soldier during my year and a half of army service."
It was in the army that she developed an interest and worked in photography, which led to applying to the university to do cinema studies. She had wanted to be an actress in England, but after failing to get a place in any of the big drama schools in London, she gave up that ambition and now would much rather write lines for other actors.
Her father is a barrister and her mother is an academic with an interest in conservation and archeology. Both parents and all grandparents were born in England with roots going back to Poland and Russia.
She and Ilan share a rented apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv not far from Kikar Rabin. They managed to furnish it thanks to family donations and Ikea. When I visited, a small Christmas tree dominated the rather bohemian living room. Lauren explains it away with a laugh.
"I happened to say to him what a shame it was that there is no Christmas spirit in the Holy Land because I miss all the glitter and excitement of Christmas in England and he brought this tree home to cheer me up. But we have a hanukkia too."
"At the end of the first year, we had to choose between making movies and all that that involved, or writing for them. I'd always liked writing and had written in English at school, but it never occurred to me that I could do the same in Hebrew as I would be at a disadvantage. At the end of the first year, we had to hand in a script and I was delighted when I was offered a place in the screenwriting part of the degree course."
"I have a very intense timetable of lectures and study sessions, and I can be there from early in the morning until late at night, but on some days I don't go in at all. Then I'm at home, writing or often just thinking up plots and mulling over ideas."
Her Hebrew is near perfect, both written and spoken although she does speak with a slight accent. She made a conscious decision after the first ulpan course that unless she did something else her Hebrew would remain very basic. One of the reasons for volunteering in the army was to be in an environment in which she was forced to speak Hebrew. Before starting university she did another very intensive ulpan course, after which she was able to read a newspaper and even a book in Hebrew. Luckily for Lauren, all the theory work at university is in English, which she feels gives her a huge advantage.
"But when I'm writing a script, it takes me days," she says.
"If until then I was on the border between being English and Israeli, the army was the thing that finally pushed me over to the Israeli side," she says. "I met so many people from different walks of life, I saw the country and I even learned a skill - photography and video editing. So for me the army was a very positive experience."
"Ilan has friends he's known since he was five and I joined in with them at the age of 12, so we all go back a long way. I'm still in touch with army buddies and I'm friendly with people at the university, so we have a wide circle of friends and we often go out to listen to jazz or just sit in pubs together if there's time."
"I'm Jewish by birth and tradition. I just think people should have more faith in each other than in something they can't see, hear or touch. It's especially complicated living here, where the fact that there's no separation between religion and state causes problems. In my opinion, any fundamentalism is bad news."
"Although I was born and bred in England, I never felt English or truly at home there. I can't explain why. I had a good Jewish upbringing although we weren't Orthodox but very traditional. As to my feelings now that I've been here five years, I think I've got to the stage where less and less people notice and comment on my accent and this helps me to feel more Israeli and less British. Occasionally something will happen to remind me of my roots, but I definitely feel Israeli, no question. Coming here was definitely the right thing for me, a part of my personal ideology, but it isn't for everyone. Luckily my parents were always supportive and always encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy."
"The family helps quite a bit, but I also get some government grants - for instance my three years of undergraduate study fees are paid for by the government as I'm a new immigrant in the first five years of aliya, and that's a huge help. Also, as an ex-lone soldier I get my living expenses paid for the first year after I leave the army. I've also worked, as a waitress and in a bar, but now the studies take up much of my time."
"After I complete my bachelor's degree I'd like to do a master's, perhaps here or in some other, English-speaking country. But basically I'd just like to get into script-writing here, either in films or television."
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