Arrivals: Finding their comfort zone

Both born in 1975 and raised in New Jersey, Shai Jaskoll (Teaneck) and Shoshanna Keats (Lakewood) first crossed paths here.

By ABIGAIL KLEIN
November 26, 2010 16:21
Shai and Shoshanna Jaskoll

Shai and Shoshanna Jaskoll 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Both born in 1975 and raised in New Jersey, Shai Jaskoll (Teaneck) and Shoshanna Keats (Lakewood) first crossed paths here. Their benchmark events have see-sawed between the two – an American wedding, two Israeli births, two American births and a house in New Jersey for which they still hold the deed. Today, their feet are planted firmly in Israeli soil.

BEGINNINGS

“I went on the March of the Living when I was 16,” said Shoshanna. “Going from Poland to Israel was one of the most powerful experiences I ever had. From then on, I thought there was no place else I could possibly be. That was my goal. But knew I had to finish school first.”

While earning a degree in environmental studies at Rutgers University, Shoshanna spent a semester in Tel Aviv. Afterward, she began a master’s at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1997. She met Shai, then a Yeshiva University student, when he joined her program for a mini-course in marine biology in Eilat.

“During those 11 days, we formed a close friendship and knew there was something between us, but Shai still had another semester of school,” said Shoshanna. She clearly articulated her intention to remain in Israel.

Capping a mostly long-distance courtship, the couple got engaged in New Jersey the following spring and wed in September. Two weeks later, they made aliya and moved into Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. “Shai knew people there, and I didn’t care where we lived as long as we were in Israel,” said Shoshanna.

ISRAEL, PART 1

Shoshanna was the more committed Zionist of the pair, although she’d had little childhood exposure to the concept. Shai had attended Zionistic Modern Orthodox camps and schools, and recalls time here during and after high school as positive experiences. Yet, he said, “Until the moment I met Shoshanna, aliya was not in my plans.”

Once in Jerusalem, Shai worked for Yeshiva University and volunteered with Magen David Adom. Shoshanna attended ulpan, helped run an outreach student center, tutored English and did some translating.

“Getting here was definitely a culture shock with a lot of changes in a short period of time,” said Shai. “It was just part of the journey we had to take.”

In 1999, their son Hillel was born. “It was the first grandchild for both sides, and we experienced the pain of being apart from our immediate families,” said Shai.

SIX YEARS IN NEW JERSEY

By 2001, they made the difficult choice to leave. Shoshanna had made a pledge to Shai before their marriage that this would remain an option.

“When he came to me and said, ‘We need to go back,’ I was devastated. But I always believed we would return to Israel.”

“I was in need of being in America,” he explained. Over the next few years, he began a master’s degree program and didn’t have a definite plan to return. “But it was in the back of my mind because I knew it was what Shoshanna wanted.”

The Jaskolls bought a house in suburban Bergenfield and welcomed daughter Riva in 2002. Arriving unexpectedly during a visit with the Keatses, Riva was delivered via emergency caesarean section at the small Lakewood hospital where Shoshanna had been born 27 years earlier. Despite early medical difficulties, this “miracle baby” is now a normal eight-year-old. Her sister Noa followed in 2005.

Two years later, the Jaskolls were ready to make another go of living in Israel.

ISRAEL, PART 2

Several pieces fell into place around that time.

One of Shoshanna’s two sisters had made aliya, and Shai accepted an attractive job offer to handle training and after-sales service for a medical equipment importer.

“Every day, I drive around the country training staff at health funds and hospitals, companies, health clubs and ambulance corps that purchase defibrillators and cardiac monitors. I’m blessed because I don’t have to go overseas to make a living,” he said.

Shoshanna explored a new career in nonprofit development. This led to a venture she founded with her two sisters, REACH3K.com, a marketing and development source for nonprofit organizations.

“I needed my own hours and my own style,” said Shoshanna, who gave birth to son Yehoshua in 2009. “It’s thrilling for me to be able to work with my sisters. It means so much more to be doing it here because in Israel you feel very alive and want to make every minute count. I’m thinking bigger than I ever thought before and want to utilize everything I’ve learned.”

LIFESTYLE

The Jaskolls live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, which has a sizable English-speaking community.

“We felt this was the best way to acclimate ourselves and the children quickly,” said Shai. “We wanted them to have a comfort zone.”

The older children attend a school based on the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Kook. The Jaskolls are pleased with this choice and with their “fabulous shul,” Ahavat Tzion, whose members include both immigrants and Sabras. The Torah ark was brought over from Ireland, the birthplace of the congregation’s rabbi, Menahem Cooperman.

LANGUAGE

“I’ve been speaking Hebrew daily for three years because of the work I do,” said Shai. “It’s functional because it has to be. It’s like a chick about to be hatched. If the mother hen cracks the shell for the chick, the baby dies; but if the chick struggles and pushes itself through, it will survive. That’s part of the experience of being here.”

WORST ASPECT OF BEING IN ISRAEL

“For people like us who have warm and close families, we cause pain to ourselves and to them every moment our kids aren’t with their American grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.,” said Shoshanna.

Shai is appalled at the human toll exacted by auto accidents here, and both Jaskolls expressed their dismay at religious strife. “I didn’t come to Israel to see Jews fight,” said Shai. “I could have stayed in America for that.”

BEST ASPECT OF BEING IN ISRAEL

“Even with bumps in the road over 12-plus years, I know this is the place we and our children are supposed to be,” said Shai. “You are continuing the path of your parents and ultimately of your forefathers by bringing up children in Israel. Coming back solidified that feeling for me.”

“The need and desire to be here is something physical for me,” added Shoshanna. “Connecting to the land and our history – this is the core of who we are. If I have a bad day, I don’t chalk it up to being here. I don’t think the answer is to leave the country. Instead, I analyze what went wrong and what we can do differently tomorrow to meet this challenge.”

ADVICE

“You just have to do it,” Shai would tell would-be olim. “It’s better to try it and go back than not to try at all.”

“Don’t listen to the garbage other people say about living in Israel,” is Shoshanna’s advice.

“Believe in God and in your own efforts and abilities.”


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