Readers in Haifa and the North who think Maya looks familiar will probably have seen her recently on stage with the Haifa English Theater in the latest production of Just Say Yes, by Tom and Jack Sharkey. Like many artists, she identifies herself only with her first name.
Maya, who immigrated with her Israeli-born husband, claims that this theater group was her best aid to feeling at home and making friends.
Maya grew up on a farm. It was not a Zionist childhood. “We were far off the radar,” she says. But although the family was secular, they were strongly connected to Judaism. “I had ancestors who came to Israel to die and be buried here,” she says.
In college, Maya saw posters about Birthright. “I came just for the trip, for the adventure, but it changed my life.” She describes how this experience took her close to Judaism, and got her involved in her local community where she met her husband. He had left Israel for the US with his family when he was 15, and he was ready to return. Meeting his family and reliving her experiences of that trip to Israel awoke in her a real desire to make aliya.
“We both loved the culture and the food,” she says.
Maya’s uncle gave the couple accommodation and helped them look for an apartment to rent in Haifa’s bayside suburbs. Maya works from home and resumed her Hebrew studies, convinced that knowing the language eases the transition to a new country.
The couple came with their cat, Zeus, then adopted an abandoned kitten left outside the vet’s office they named Pixel.
“The American cat is a true freier
,” she jokes. “He lets anyone do anything to him. But the Israeli kitten is a sabra, all elbows and claws.”FAMILY
“I miss the farm, the family and the weather,” says Maya. She is particularly attached to her mother and mother-in-law, who are both still living in the US. “My mother is a role model of positive thinking and self-education,” she says. “She has learned to read Hebrew so that she is prepared to read stories to the future grandchildren.”
Maya admires her mother-in-law as a model of Israeli womanhood. She learned Israeli cooking from her before her aliya. “She is loving and nonjudgmental, not a stereotypical mother-in-law.”
Both families were extremely supportive of their aliya decision. “They all visit and are enthusiastic about our lifestyle here. Of course I miss them.” She is also very connected to her two brothers and sister and her grandmother, an immigrant from Brazil to the US in her youth.
Much as the couple miss their family in the US, they have many relatives here.LANGUAGE
Maya’s husband is of course fluent in Hebrew. “That is a great help when reading the small print,” she says. But she does try to take her share of the errands and bureaucracy. She studied Hebrew before her aliya and is now continuing seriously, reading the beginner’s newspaper and conversing with Israelis. “We did plan Hebrew-only days,” she says, “but it didn’t work out.”WORK
Maya’s husband is a computer scientist and has worked since his arrival. He commutes by scooter. Maya teaches English literature and writing on-line to American home-schooled students. She herself was home-schooled. “I love my work, but I wouldn’t do this for my kids in Israel.”
She explains that there is an emerging home-schooling movement here. “Children here need the networking, Scouts, enrichment groups; it is part of the community experience.” Her long-term goal is a novel, which she writes when she has time.SOCIAL LIFE
Maya has been very busy with rehearsals for the Haifa English Theater and this is the second play in which she has acted. “I always enjoyed theater but never had time in the US for amateur dramatics. I had no acting experience,” she says. But she saw an advertisement for an actor of her age. “Of course I get nervous, but then I forget myself when I am on the stage and want the audience to enjoy themselves.”
The HET runs several performances over a period of a couple of weeks in the theater of Beit Hagefen in Haifa. In a small theater she feels close to the audience. “I hear someone laugh and recognize them from my synagogue,” she says.
Maya has made a lot of friends from the group, which gives her much more than just an opportunity to act on stage. “They are of mixed ages and have all gone through the aliya process. They have helped me find my way around.”
This summer Maya also enrolled in yoga and aerobics classes, one of the list of goals she had set for herself in this second year here.ACCOMMODATION
Maya hopes that they can stay in the North. “We have just bought an apartment in Kiryat Bialik. We prefer a small community and enjoy living so near to nature.”REFLECTIONS
Maya has no regrets. “There have been difficult moments but in general people say I look happier here, am growing into myself.”
Her advice is to find high-quality ways of linking
with other immigrants with a similar background and language. “But it is important to get out and meet people, be Israeli. This is where we live.”
Maya says that she looks at politics very differently now. She was exposed to a Diaspora community that supported Israel so much that “Israel can do no wrong. But when you live here you see the complexity of the situation.”
Maya is enthusiastic about sharing her experiences and runs a blog:
howtobeisraeli.blogspot.com. She publishes a disclaimer: “I can’t
actually tell you how to be Israeli because I’m still working on it
myself.” But she manages to describe perfectly the body language of
drivers using their cellphones and sales clerks trying to convince a
customer to make a purchase.
Maya may have had no stage experiences when she auditioned for the
Haifa English Theater, but she is certainly observant and captures
perfectly the gestures and the speech mannerisms that are as alien to
Western immigrants as the Hebrew words and grammatical structure.