‘The shoe is starting to fit’

Influenced by her father’s support for Israel Zoldan abandoned the spectacular settings of Ecuador, Mexico and Switzerland for the land that was calling her heart.

By LOREN MINSKY
July 30, 2010 15:50
‘I FEEL a sense of belonging in Israel that I’ve never felt in any other place’

Ronny Zoldan 311. (photo credit: LOREN MINSKY)

 
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Proactivity runs in the family for Ronny Zoldan, whose grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, started the March of the Living trips to Poland. Though she only made aliya last year, this independent, determined and inspiring young woman is already involved in dynamic projects focused on encouraging and creating work opportunities for immigrants in Jerusalem.

BACKGROUND
Zoldan’s Israeli-born mother, daughter of Holocaust survivors, met her Ecuadorian dad while backpacking in South America after the army. The couple decided to remain in Ecuador, where Ronny, her older sister and younger brother were born. Her mom was intent on keeping a connection to Israel alive – she spoke in Hebrew and the family visited every two years. Ronny was also influenced by her father’s support for the country.

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For Zoldan, Israel was a “wow place” where she recalls long summer days swimming, playing at her grandparents’ home in Tel Aviv and visiting family on kibbutz.

“Growing up, the Zionist movement in Ecuador was flagging and it wasn’t until an inspirational machon program in Mexico with other young Latin American Jews that I thought of spending a gap year in Israel.”

Instead she decided to go off to Switzerland to hotel school but after year one of three, she had enough. “It was a spectacular setting, but I couldn’t handle the superficiality of the hotel world – uniforms, perfection, formality. What I loved most was the contact with people, and I began to recognize this was my gift.”

In love with her sister’s lifestyle in Mexico, she then went to live there, and studied educational sciences. After completing the degree, she began investigating Masa programs. “Something was screaming inside of me that Mexico was no longer the place to be.”

THE DECISION
“I’d been away from Ecuador for seven years, and decided to return. I needed to reconnect with my parents; I’d left as a child and become a woman.”



Zoldan spent a fulfilling year there doing a degree in project management and working in emotional intelligence coaching. Then out of the blue, she received a phone call from a Chilean friend living in Israel, who casually asked her when she’d be coming.

With little thought and deep conviction, she said that she’d be there in July. “I have an interesting relationship with the number seven – it comes up recurrently – so it was no surprise that I submitted my aliya papers on March 7 last year. The idea had matured inside of me over the years and it was clear.

I feel a sense of belonging in Israel that I’ve never felt in any other place.”

LIFE IN ISRAEL
She arrived in July and moved to Beit Canada absorption center in Armon Hanatziv, Jerusalem, where she studied at Ulpan Etzion for young graduates.

Toward the end of November, she moved into an apartment in Arnona and by the first week of December, got a job in Modi’in. At the end of January, she was head-hunted to be coordinator of a project “Internships for Olim.” Tired of traveling to Modi’in, she looked for a job in Jerusalem and by March, accepted work with the Jewish Agency.

INTERNSHIPS FOR OLIM
“I’ve been an immigrant so many times in so many places, enabling me to understand what olim go through. And as an olah myself, I know what our needs are; I am working for all of us.”

The project is the brainchild and coming together of two innovative NGOs, Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) and Tzei’irim Bamercaz, which support the restructuring and rejuvenating of Jerusalem.

Zoldan is dedicated to setting up internship placements for olim. The hope is that this is then transformed into long-term work, giving young adults the opportunity to remain in Jerusalem and not be forced to seek work elsewhere.

“There’s something magical in this city if you dare to see it; so much potential for the religious and non-religious.”

LANGUAGE
“I grew up speaking four languages and though I rebelled at one point and spoke only Spanish, I am now so grateful to my mom for giving me a head start. Though I battle to read and write high-level Hebrew, I believe it will come with time.”

FAMILY
“I’m very independent but it’s great getting to know my mother’s family better and being close to my 86-year-old grandfather, who spends six months in Israel and six months in Poland leading private trips to concentration camps. My 20 yearold brother made aliya a month after me and is now in the army. We don’t get to speak as often as we’d like, but there’s a trust and special bond between us.”

ADVICE
“You need to come here with an open mind, be ready to accept and embrace change and allow this place to teach you. Don’t be ashamed of the language or cultural barrier. Share and be proud of what you bring and be true to things that are important to you, like manners – perhaps it’ll become contagious. Don’t sit down and wait to be spoon-fed or for things to happen – grab every opportunity. Aim high but start slowly as you build something new and unknown. This is a country of immigrants – so it’s important to remind Israelis we’ve all been through the same thing, and we’re all Jewish.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Career-wise, Zoldan would like to continue with educationally-oriented projects. On a personal level, she’s hoping for more balance between work and play and would love to find more time for nature, trips, photography, piano and singing. She compares the aliya process to the wearing of a shoe.

“At the beginning, the shoe felt big – things were overwhelming. As time progressed, the shoe felt tight and I longed to throw it off. Recently on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was privileged to be at Yad Vashem with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, and as I stood there with tears streaming down my face, I felt the shoe is starting to fit beautifully.”

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