Yvette Nahmia-Messinas left her Greek homeland for Israel in 1995 and made aliya three years later, but not until she and her husband Elias spent five years back on the Greek island of Aegina did they develop a newfound sense of purpose in returning to Israel. Today the family is helping create EcoVillage Keramim, an ecological project in the Negev.
“We’d been living and working in Jerusalem for several years when, in 2003, we took our baby daughter, Maya, to Aegina for summer vacation,” Nahmia-Messinas says. “At the end of the summer, we decided we liked it so much we wanted to stay. I was independent, my husband was working by himself and so we stayed. My parents, brother and sister were all there, and it felt right to be so close to them at that point.
“We built our own unique home in Plakakia, designed by my husband to be an example of ‘green’ architecture that combined elegance with ecological living. On the island, we became conscious of ecology in all its forms, worked to bring Al Gore to Greece, organized recycling projects for the entire island and knew this was how we wanted to live in the future. When Maya was old enough to start school, we wanted to come back to Israel to give both her and our two newest daughters a Jewish education, so we started looking for somewhere to live in Israel that would give us the same environmentally conscious lifestyle we’d enjoyed in Aegina.
“Before, we’d lived in an apartment, but now for the children, we wanted a more open community where the children could run, play and develop a connection to the land. We visited many sites, considered several different communities, then settled on Kibbutz Keramim, which the founders are working to develop into an ecovillage with a pluralistic community.”
“My uncle and several other family members had made aliya. When my older sister turned 18, she came to Israel to study, so when I was 18 I came as a student to Israel, studying economics at Hebrew University. My father has a textile business, and I’d been thinking of joining that, but after a year and a half, decided economics wasn’t for me. The Gulf War had just started, and I felt that since the first circle of my belonging was my family in Greece, I should return.
“Back in Greece, I enrolled in the American College where I earned a BA in psychology. But having been in Israel, my Jewish identity had strengthened, so I became very active in the Jewish Youth of Greece, and went to work as an administrative assistant for the Jewish Museum in Athens. I found that the more I was exposed to Jewish students, the more connected to Judaism I felt. But at the same time, I didn’t have enough knowledge, so I wanted to return to Jerusalem to study.
“Just at that time, I met Elias at a party in Athens. I had a ‘wish list’ for a husband: I wanted a Greek Jew who was open to Israel, who spoke Hebrew and English, was educated and was an international person. Elias had just finished his master’s in architecture at Yale. He was perfect.”
“By 1995, I’d decided to come back to Israel to study at Pardes [Institute of Jewish Studies]. Elias said he’d come along. He was engaged in research at Sde Boker on solar architecture, so he lived half the week there and half in Jerusalem. I finished a year at Pardes and moved on to another program, but still, neither of us had made aliya. We were open to either option, staying in Israel or returning to Greece. In the end, we didn’t decide. Life did. I think if the Jewish leadership in Greece had offered us positions, we would have responded, but in Jerusalem, life was good. There I felt I could express my Jewishness openly and freely without being seen as strange. Nowhere in Greece was there that kind of community. We decided to stay and make aliya.”
“The Holocaust had always been important to me. I’d heard stories from my grandmother, studied what had happened in the camps. It had become part of my identity, so I went to work for Yad Vashem. Through all of that, I’d also began wanting to know more about healing. I’d also lost a baby and was suffering through that, when one of my students in a Greek-language class I was teaching suggested I should try Reiki for myself. I tried it, and was so impressed I wanted to study it myself. That’s when I seriously began the healing path, learning different healing modalities.”
“Since 1995, I’d been involved with a co-counseling group and had founded a women’s support circle in Jerusalem. With their support, I finally decided to leave the security of working for Yad Vashem – all the benefits of working for someone else – and go out on my own. I taught Greek, I became a Reiki master and therapist, I offered Reiki treatments and Grinberg method body treatments. I was doing just fine – that’s when we decided to take the summer vacation in Aegina, the summer that lasted five years.”
CHALLENGES OF REENTRY
“In looking for an ecological kibbutz in Israel, we were introduced to another couple who were looking for the same thing – they’d become leaders in the renewal of Kibbutz Keramim. Today there are 30 families and still more in the process of joining. Living on the kibbutz was a big change from how we’d lived in Aegina, where we’d owned our own big home. Here, we’re still living in an 80-square-meter caravan – even so, it’s an improvement over the 40-sq.m. guest room we had at first. The changed circumstances were a real shock for the kids. ‘Are we poor?’ they asked. ‘What happened?’ Now they’ve settled in very nicely.”
“Kibbutz Keramim is an amazing community, exactly what we wanted. It isn’t necessary for us to have luxury right now – that will come, homes will be built. This is what we dreamed of when we decided to come back: to be part of an ecological community, and to share it with others. In Keramim, we’ve created the ‘Synergy Clinic,’ open to the public, where we offer Reiki, shiatsu, Chinese medicine and many other forms of healing. The clinic is open every day, with various therapists on call. Maya goes to a wonderful school – it’s so easy to be a mother here. I never need to drive my children to play with anyone else – all their friends are right here. I love the desert, the quiet, the energy it offers. At night when we walk in the desert, we feel the same vastness we felt about the sea in Aegina.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
“Elias works as a green architect and teaches at Ariel College. I’ve
become a social engineer and a spiritual entrepreneur. I’m active in
the Joint Venture for Peace, a program of the Negev Institute for
Strategies of Peace and Development, composed of 40 women, 20 Jewish
and 20 Arab, who engage in joint activities and promote peace. When I
came home from one of the conferences last year, I was so inspired I
sat down and wrote several poems. A month later I decided to publish
them. The collection, They All Sound Like Love Songs, Women Healing
Israeli-Palestinian Relations is now in print in English and my
Palestinian partner, Antoinette Knesevich, is translating them into
Arabic. I hope the poems will empower both Jewish and Arab women to
help heal their respective communities, and that I can use my healing
and artistic abilities to help bring forth peace.”