Prior to making aliya, Faydra Shapiro had been to Israel many times. She distinctly remembers her first visit for her bat mitzva. After crying her way back to Canada after many subsequent visits, she has finally - after a long road of study and establishing a career - arrived with her Israeli-born husband Shaul Katzenstein, and their five young children.
When asked about her unusual name, Faydra explains that "Phaedra was a not-very-nice figure in Greek mythology. My mother swears she didn't know, and that I was named after she watched the 1962 movie with Melina Mercouri. My Yiddish name is Freidl."
Shapiro explains that she really fell in love with Israel after attending Livnot U'Lehibanot, a program in Safed. "After that I went back to Israel as often as possible. Any excuse would do! But aliya wasn't really practical at that time." Over the years she also became more observant.
Near to the end of her PhD work in religious studies, a new student entered the program, from Israel. "We became friends and I took it upon myself to find him a wife. So I married him."
The couple were married in Jerusalem, a decision that they felt "showed our commitment to Israel even though we were in Canada."
Shapiro had already started teaching in the Department of Religion and Culture at Wilfrid Laurier University. She completed her PhD in 2000, followed by the birth of their first child. Shapiro published a book that won a National Jewish Book Award in 2006, and got tenure from the university.
"Shaul had always wanted to return and I had the dream of living in Israel," says Shapiro. "But somewhere along the way I stopped being afraid - of what would happen to my career, of the adjustment, not making enough money. It was very liberating to be released from that fear."
The family took the opportunity of a sabbatical year in Jerusalem to look at several communities before landing at the idyllic community of Mitzpe Netofa in Galilee.
"Our arrival was incredible," enthuses Faydra. "We were welcomed by signs on the door, sheets on the bed, air-conditioner running, choco in the fridge and a stream of neighbors bringing food, helping with our luggage and playing with the kids."
She feels that they have been very fortunate in their choice. "We both grew up in big cities, so the decision to live in a village of 120 families was a big one. I don't know if all communities are so welcoming, but now when I go to into the city I wonder why people choose to live like that."
The family is renting a 90-sq.-m. caravilla while they settle in. Most of the time she assures me that it's more than adequate. But she admits that "on cold winter days, it's a bit like living in a cardboard box."
The five children range from eight down to one year. "Their adjustment has been amazing." Shapiro encourages anyone planning aliya to come while the children are young. "It's only been an adventure for them. The bigger ones already giggle at my Hebrew. They seem to know everyone in the community and are far better integrated than I am."
Her husband, of course, is fluent and Shapiro's Hebrew is basic. "It's very frustrating, especially for someone who really wants to talk about ideas and issues." She appreciates her husband's ability to deal with bureaucracy and read the small print, but says: "I can't always be the helpless one. I want to stay in the information loop, for example when communicating with the children's teachers."
The children of course are learning fast. "It's an amazing experience to be the mommy from the 'old country' who doesn't speak the language as well as her children do."
Shapiro's speciality is in contemporary evangelical-Jewish relations and she has published and researched the area of Christian Zionism. Her dream, she explains, is "to open an academic center for the study of Jewish-Christian relations at an Israeli university," a lack she finds "really surprising."
Meanwhile she is working on another passion, the Selah Workshop (www.selahworkshop.com), a forum for teaching Christian visitors about the land, people and culture of Israel. "The Israel fed to many Christians by the tourism industry is superficial and at best appropriate for a first-time visit only. But the question of how to connect visitors deeply with the land and the Jewish people, and the question of what to offer them for the second, third and fourth visits was not being answered. Through the seminars, hikes, meeting people, volunteering, nature experiences that we offer, we connect these visitors with the heart of Israel."
For want of a better label, Shapiro reluctantly agrees that she is modern Orthodox. "I'm just like everyone else - somewhere on the path, and hopefully going in the right direction. There is a synagogue in the community, but one of the delightful things about life in Israel is that the synagogue is not the center of Jewish life."
Social life / hobbies
Between the family, the research and the new business, Shapiro does not have much spare time. "I just need more time," she asserts.
Hopes for the future
Her wish list includes the hope that their aliya continues to be easy. She looks forward to the opportunity to reach more Christian visitors, the funds to open the center of her dreams, that there will be more hours in the day. "But I hope that we are never too busy to stop and wonder at this miracle taking place here."
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