Benjamin Laskin, 52
From Japan to Ariel, 2008
Writer Benjamin Laskin had been living in Japan for 18 years before he decided
to make aliya in 2008.
“I was turning 50 and had traveled the world,
loved living in Japan where I taught English, but felt I was getting older and I
had one big adventure left in me,” says the Phoenix, Arizona, native who has
published three books and is working on a fourth.
That last big adventure
would be settling in Israel. Growing up as a Jew in the US, he had always been
interested in what was going on here, following the news in Hamamatsu, the
Japanese town where he lived and worked.
Although the Japanese barely
know what a Jew is, he hung out with a mixed group of other expatriates, and
began to notice that from being totally apolitical, they were beginning to spout
anti-American views which astounded him.
“Then I began to hear things
that verged on anti-Semitism,” he recalls. “It started me thinking – perhaps the
best place to be Jewish was in Israel. Also, if I had any hope of finally
settling down with a Jewish girl, it was not going to happen in
FAMILY BACKGROUND Both sets of grandparents came originally from
Poland but settled in the US many years ago. He is the third of four brothers
who all live still in America.
BEFORE ARRIVAL He graduated with a
bachelor’s in English literature from Tucson, Arizona, and began a master’s
which he never finished, realizing that having another degree was not going to
help him in his ambition to be a writer. After graduation, he worked in various
menial jobs until he saw a small ad in the morning newspaper, asking for English
teachers in Japan. Initially rejected for the job, another candidate dropped out
and he was accepted.
“The original contract was for a year and I ended up
staying 18,” he says. He taught himself Japanese well enough to have a
conversation and read a menu or billboards.
“Japan is very beautiful, and
especially for me, coming from Arizona, very green,” he says. “The people are
really nice and I never encountered any discrimination.”
UPON ARRIVAL He
arrived in Israel in October 2008 and, with no family or friends here, was
pleasantly surprised to be met at the airport by a representative of the Ariel
“I’d written to several places about starting an ulpan,
but Ariel was the only one which responded,” he says. “I liked the idea of being
in a small town rather than being swallowed up in a big city in my first
The Ariel authorities were wonderfully helpful, and within two
weeks he had a place to live and had been through all the
ROUTINE One of the first things he did was to put a kippa on
and start to learn about Judaism. For the entire first year, he would take a
two-hour bus ride to Jerusalem to attend classes in Yeshivat Machon Meir almost
every day and study in its English program.
“It was a great experience,”
he says. “There were great rabbis, and the lectures were amazing.
studied philosophy all my life, and I was a typical secular Jew in search of
meaning in life, even spending time in a Buddhist monastery. None of it really
struck me as the real thing. But this was fascinating. This was Judaism? I had
no idea it was so deep.”
After the year, he began studying Hebrew in
ulpan and today he studies half a day and works on his novel in the afternoons.
His first three books, Stormer’s Pass, Say Uncle and The Will can be bought from
Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
LIVING ENVIRONMENT Home at the moment is a
very small rented apartment attached to a villa. There’s barely a kitchen, which
is fine because he gets invited out regularly to Shabbat meals, and as long as
he has his computer, he doesn’t need too much other furniture or
CIRCLE Ariel, with a population of 18,000, has a small but vibrant
Anglo community. “There’s lots going on and they are very good at helping
newcomers,” he says.
FINANCES For now he’s living on savings and is
starting to think about getting a job. He has considered teaching English, or
writing of some sort. The books sell and he almost signed a deal with Hollywood
for a movie script of his last book, The Will.
“I even went to Hollywood
from Japan to discuss it, and it was optioned three times. I had to write and
rewrite until I barely recognized it as my original work. It was very
frustrating and in the end I published them myself.”
a proud Jew and a proud Israeli. I stopped feeling American about 10 years
PLANS He loves Ariel but would be prepared to leave if a job came
up somewhere else. Meanwhile he continues to write, wants to start looking for a
job and perhaps, some time in the future he will find the woman of his dreams.