Renee van Oostveen 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy )
By the time Renee van Oostveen was eight years old, the story of her grandfather's role in the Dutch resistance as a fighter and protector of Jews had stirred her curiosity. Gijs van Oostveen had allowed his home to be used as a safe house for escaping Jews, a choice that led to his execution. The Nazis shot him in the back and threw him into a freezing river with several other offenders just three months before the war ended.
In response to his legacy, the young Renee immersed herself in World War II and Holocaust literature and begged her parents to teach her about Israel and take her there throughout her teenage years.
Now 49, she is a convert and mother of twins living in Shoham.
Van Oostveen says her and her sister's "cosmopolitan upbringing" was spearheaded by her mother, a former Dutch resident of Indonesia who took the children on trips across Europe and ran a nontraditional Dutch kitchen that strayed far from the usual staples of meat and potatoes.
Gijs's murder left a scar on the family, creating a very anti-German air in the household.
"Some people just cannot put up with evil, but the natural thing to do is just hide and not do anything. My grandfather, and myself, we cannot be quiet," she says.
"From 10 I knew I wanted to come [to Israel]. I was fascinated by it, so by the time I landed here, it was a nine-year-old dream. I remember getting off the plane and smelling the air and thinking, 'I'm home.'"
On this first trip in 1978, Van Oostveen volunteered on Kibbutz Revadim, where she picked oranges and hoed cotton, living out her childhood dream for three months before returning to Holland. She traveled here for vacation several times, but pursued adventures elsewhere in the meantime, living in five countries and three US states.
Over that period she earned a degree in journalism and business at the University of Oregon, laying the groundwork for her later professional life in marketing and communications.
After seven years in the US and six more in London, she considered returning to Holland but decided to make the move to Israel instead. It was always the place where Van Oostveen could "clean out her head," she says, using a familiar Hebrew expression.
"I couldn't find myself in Holland," she says, using another common Israeli expression. "When you move and change so much it's hard to adjust back to your own culture."
So at 35, unable to get the Israel bug out of her system and "unlike normal people who take planes," Van Oostveen drove across Europe to the Holy Land, at one point celebrating Shabbat on the ferry from Athens to Haifa.
Van Oostveen arrived in Tel Aviv in 1994 with the idea that living here and converting went hand in hand. During that year, she says, working odd jobs brought her almost no money and caused her exhaustion from days that would include a shift at work, an evening conversion course and Hebrew lessons.
"It was a very lonely year," she says.
But her stubbornness kept her from returning to Holland. "I was bloody minded, stubborn almost to the point of stupidity."
By the end of her first year, she entered the mikve to cement her official conversion.
"The third time I went down, I tried to stay under as long as I could to savor the moment," she recalls, rubbing her arms from chills at the reminder of the experience.
Three years later, she made aliya, having refrained from doing so immediately for tax purposes.
THOUGHTS ON ALIYA
In 1999 Van Oostveen met Oren Meytes at a software company. She was 40 and he was divorced. He was also her boss, so they had to "dance around each other," Van Oostveen says, but within a month they were together.
"He made a huge difference. Suddenly I had a large extended family. If you don't get married, eventually you leave."
Although she's comfortable with having settled here, Van Oostveen said she still feels disillusioned at times. "When I came here, I was afraid my dreams would evaporate, and they did a little bit, but I'm very committed to here."
When Van Oostveen and Meytes decided they wanted children, they couldn't have guessed that decision would lead them across three continents and through much heartbreak.
"I always thought I would get pregnant. After going through all that effort to become Jewish and to live here, I thought I deserved it," she says.
But after almost six years of hormone therapy and 10 unsuccessful IVF procedures, including four miscarriages, the couple felt their only option was to use a surrogate carrier. They located an appropriate fertility clinic in Kiev, where the process of egg donation was far simpler than going through an Israeli system they describe as difficult and constricting.
Van Oostveen fished around the Internet for a surrogate before choosing a young woman, Jen. It was only after multiple trips to Jen's home in rural Montana, some 40 kilometers from Billings, two trips to Kiev and one trip to Israel, that the surrogate became pregnant. Jen gave birth to twins Gal and Ella two and a half years ago.
"And now, after all that, we're ordinary parents," Van Oostveen says.
A self-described Tel Avivi, Van Oostveen apartment hopped until moving with Meytes to an angular white stucco house on a leafy Shoham street. He built the home the same year she came to live here.
Van Oostveen is a "gourmet cook," her husband says. It was through food that she finally considered herself a true part of Meytes's family. "My real graduation was when Oren's Polish mother asked me for my chicken soup recipe," she says.
Van Oostveen also swims, sews, knits, paints and writes. "I'm like Martha Stewart, but not so rich," she says.
Earlier this year she published a book, Have Womb; Will Travel, in the hopes that her story of "intercontinental surrogacy" might help others in similar situations (www.havewombwilltravel.com).
She speaks German, Dutch, English, Hebrew and French. She speaks English with her husband and circle of friends, finding less time to use Hebrew, but still manages with the local language.
"I'm a Zionist, living in a bubble of Anglo-Saxons and a hi-tech international society."
Van Oostveen wants to go back to work again and try to balance motherhood with professional life. She also said she still has to officially adopt Gal and Ella, who will then have to undergo conversion.
She said she hopes to spend a few years abroad with the family so the kids can be exposed to other parts of the world and also to appreciate that "it's good to be Jewish in Israel."
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