David Walles acknowledges that it took a huge leap of faith to leave Melbourne.
His native Australia, he observes, is “a golden cage” for Jews, offering a beautiful lifestyle in a remote and peaceful country.
But in 2008, with their oldest son about to enter seventh grade and their fourth child on the way, David and Chana Walles decided it was time to plan the move they’d discussed since their engagement.
“We realized this was our last window of opportunity,” David says.
Like many potential immigrants, the big question for them was how they’d earn a living.
In Australia, both had parlayed their economics and business marketing degrees from Monash University into successful ventures. David had an exclusive contract to import, manufacture and distribute Trellidor security gates from South Africa. Chana was a real estate agent prior to devoting full time to the couple’s side venture since 2001, Oz Kosher Getaways Passover on Australia’s Gold Coast, which drew hundreds of travelers from all over the world.
Travel and people have long been two of the couple’s fortes; they both have certificates in events management. In 1993, two years after their wedding, they were asked to lead a six-week study-and-tour group to Israel for the Jerusalem Fellowships Program. They continued doing so for five summers.
Later on, they served as weekend youth directors at various Melbourne synagogues.
So it was fortuitous that during their 10-day pilot trip to Israel, a Shabbat walk with their host in Modi’in led David to meet the son-in-law of Eddie Freudmann, founder of Eddie’s Kosher Travel. Freudmann had died several months earlier, and the family was looking for someone to purchase his well-established business. It took some time to seal the deal, but the result was that the Walles family arrived in March 2008 to a rented house in Modi’in and a new business that fit them like a glove.
DAVID IS general manager and CEO, while Chana manages marketing and Passover programs. They work out of a home office and employ a staff of six.
“I don’t believe many others make aliya and jump in and buy a business,” says David. “We really sacrificed everything for it and we are very passionate about what we do.”
Though luxury travel took a big hit during the global financial crisis not long after they arrived, the couple stuck it out by applying prudent business practices including building a new user-friendly website (www.koshertravelers.
“We streamlined and developed the business in ways the original owner wouldn’t recognize,” says David. “We’re constantly challenging ourselves with new limits and new adventures.”
In addition to Passover and Succot programs for English-speaking families at Israeli hotels, the Walles family, along with David’s sister and brother-in-law, Sharona and Ari Bick of Ra’anana, began conducting kosher trips based at two hotels in the Italian Alps last summer that welcomed 800 guests (from Hassidic to modern Orthodox) over a six-week period.
They have launched Jewish heritage tours to Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus; Morocco, Spain and Portugal; innovated a five-day kosher whisky tour to Scotland; and have planned exotic tours in 2017 to places including Japan, the Galapagos Islands, China, Sicily, South Africa and Tanzania, as well as kosher cruises to Alaska, the Panama Canal and the Caribbean.
“The travel and tour operation business is hard work, but it’s gratifying to see that we have enabled people from all over the world – families who don’t live near one another – to come to our Passover hotels and spend time together,” says Chana.
A few marriages have ensued among the singles on Eddie’s Kosher Travel trips as well, she adds. The most recent was a match between a man from Pittsburgh and a woman from London who met on Passover.
The Walleses rely mostly on word of mouth and don’t want the business to get so big that it loses its personal touch.
“A wise family friend of ours in Australia once told me that if you have a good name you never need to advertise, and I try to keep that in mind,” says David.
DAVID AND Chana, products of the Jewish day school system in Melbourne, met and married in university and recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. David had spent time in Israel on a Bnei Akiva a post-high school study-work-kibbutz program and another year of study at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
Aliya was a high priority for both families. Two of Chana’s siblings and one of David’s siblings moved to Israel before they did, and since then they’ve been joined by David’s parents; two more siblings of Chana’s; and another sister of David’s. Each has a sibling living close to them in Hashmonaim, to which David and Chana moved from Modi’in three years ago.
“It’s wonderful for the kids to have their cousins nearby,” says Chana.
“We’re one big hamula.”
The Walles children are Ariel, 20, now serving in an elite Givati unit; Yona, a high school senior; Netanel, 12; and Atida, nine. David explains that their only daughter was born six weeks before the family’s aliya and they chose her unusual name (atid means “future”) “because she represented our future.”
If dismantling 17 years of life and starting over in a new country with three young children and an infant wasn’t daunting enough, Chana discovered that she had to get used to a whole new way of driving and cooking.
“In Australia we drive on the other side of the road, and I had never driven in Israel,” she explains. “And I had to relearn all my cooking. The ingredients and the cuts of meat are all different here than in Australia.”
Perfecting their day school Hebrew was another challenge. David took a business course in Hebrew through the MATI Business Development Center, and Chana took ulpan. But perhaps their greatest teacher has been the necessity of conducting business in Hebrew.
“It’s a tough place to live, but on the other hand – as the old adage goes – where there’s an effort there’s a reward,” David says.
“We are just grateful to be here and don’t take it for granted ever. We are in a position to enrich a lot of people’s lives and spread the ideal of Zionism and family time. It’s a very satisfying thing to be able to do this in Israel.”
Chana relates that her biggest joy is seeing all four children happy and flourishing in Israel.
“If we hadn’t come when we did, we would have never left Australia. We haven’t looked back,” she says.
She loves the Jewish rhythm of life in Israel, especially the focus on holidays and Shabbat. “Even the dry cleaner wishes you Shabbat shalom,” she notes.
In fact, although the Walleses frequently travel, their favorite weekly “vacation” is simply being home on Shabbat, catching up with family and friends.