blachman family 88 298.
(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Some people make aliya for the most Jewish of reasons. Like the piano/violin concert duo of Asher and Hannah Blachman.
"We're musicians," says Hannah, the "piano" half of the team. "We wanted to make our living by playing music - but we're religious, too, and wanted to keep Shabbat. In North America, doing both isn't easy; too much depends on Saturday work. Staying there would have meant changing our professions in order to eat, which we weren't willing to do. So we made aliya to keep Shabbat.
"A friend of ours says he's a musician because he can't do anything else," she adds. "For us, too, playing music is really all we can do. Why would a highly trained musician want to earn his living by driving a cab or working as a grocery clerk? For us, aliya was the best alternative."
They weren't exactly flying blind. Both were in Jerusalem in 1985, studying at the Jewish Learning Exchange. "We loved it, and planned to come back as soon as possible," Asher says. "It took until September 28, 1987."
Both Hannah and Asher came from musical but non-observant families.
"My mother is a musician and piano teacher," Asher says. "She was an only child, raised in the Bronx. Her family came from Poland, and most perished in the Shoah. My father was a physicist from Cleveland, the third American-born generation."
Hannah is from Canada. "My parents were both born in Winnipeg, from Russian ancestry. I grew up in Montreal with three older sisters: my eldest sister is a violinist in Mexico City; the next plays harpsichord in Vancouver; the third is a clinical therapist in Chicago. I'm the only one who wanted to live in Israel."
The couple met at a friend's apartment in Manhattan while both were in the process of becoming religious.
"I was studying music, and getting frustrated," Asher says. "I wanted to delve into the deeper aspects of music, the inner sources, but hardly anyone was interested. About the same time, I realized that Torah also is concerned with depth and inner meaning. At some point it all fused - music and Torah."
"My path back was more contemporary," Hannah laughs. "I met a guy wearing a kippa, and mentioned that I was a musician. 'Oh, I know someone else who's both religious and a musician,' he said - it was Reb Shlomo Carlebach! I found the Carlebach shul, and that was my beginning."
The two had different ideas about timing. "My thought was that I'd find my partner first, and then make aliya," Hannah says. "So Asher and I were engaged, and by that time, we couldn't tolerate working on Shabbat. I thought we'd make aliya at the earliest possible moment after we married - like within a month or two."
"My idea was different," Asher says. "I wanted to have a job here first. So we married, Natan was born, and then it was even more critical that I have a job, so I could support my family. I began sending audition tapes to the Symphonietta in Beersheba, the only ones hiring at the time."
For months, the Blachmans played a waiting game. "I remember the day the phone call came," Hannah says. "It was August 24, and the personnel manager from the Symphonietta called. He asked to speak to Asher, and wouldn't tell me what it was about. But Asher wasn't home, and there were no cell phones - I could hardly wait."
"They offered me a job," Asher says. "But the catch was, I had to be here by October 1 - which gave us five weeks to pack and leave."
"We didn't have much to take," Hannah says. "We were in a rented apartment with hardly any furniture. We sent a lift, but it was just our books, our music, a stereo - which promptly stopped working - and an ironing board we replaced just last month. The Jewish Agency paid for the tickets, but we had to borrow money for the lift.
"A friend drove us to the airport, and there wasn't anyone to see us off. But remember, we were a family ourselves. We had a toddler."
"I was terrified no one would be there to meet us, so I called a distant relative and asked her to come," Hannah says. "But when we arrived, the Symphonietta had sent someone, and AACI sent someone, so I had to call my relative and tell her not to come. 'But I took off work to meet you!' she said. I was sorry about that."
They started out at an absorption center, with all the arrangements made by the Symphonietta. "It was a nice, big, two-bedroom apartment," Hannah says. "We even had a kitchen table and three chairs - which is more than we had in the US. We stayed there for just under six months, then rented an apartment of our own."
"Asher was working full-time from the first day, so an ulpan teacher came to our apartment for about six weeks," Hannah says. "Asher learned quickly, but for me, I was home all the time with Natan, so I forgot most of it, and had to relearn it later."
Now, Asher's Hebrew is excellent and Hannah's is "very good."
The parents are up by 6 a.m., and by 6:30 Asher is at a daily minyan. Hannah makes breakfast and gets the kids out the door. The daily routine varies according to performance schedules. Some mornings Asher has rehearsals or teaches private violin students, other mornings he learns at the Beit Mariah Kollel.
During the day, Hannah teaches cello and piano, and also has voice-coaching students.
Lunch is late, at 1:30 or 2:00.
"Asher is always home, and some of the kids usually are," Hannah says. "We eat late to use as much time for music as we can. Quiet hours are from two to four, so that's a good time to break for lunch."
Dinner is also late.
"There are so many variables - sometimes there are concerts, and for those that are out of town, Asher doesn't come home until after midnight. Our evenings are taken up with rehearsals, concerts or resting."
Income derives from a variety of sources. Asher works full-time with the Symphonietta, but also gives private lessons. Hannah has private pupils, works freelance compiling music listings, and both perform in concerts and recitals in many different venues all over the country.
"Every year is different," Hannah says. "There's a level of uncertainty in our income, that's for sure."
The Blachmans have the best-tended garden since Gan Eden.
In 2004, they purchased a large, modern split-level home in the heart of Beersheba's misholim - "alleys" - a prime Anglo residential area.
"Before, we lived in a small 3rd-floor walk-up," Hannah says. "So it's wonderful to have a garden again. I hadn't been able to grow things since I left my parents' home when I was 18. At first, some of the neighbors thought I was a little nuts - I ran around, collecting empty boxes, filling them with plants."
The Blachmans' garden is small, but already produces their own kale, herbs and other plants, all watered by a newly installed drip irrigation system.
"Our life revolves around Shabbat," Hannah says. "We're too busy during the week to socialize, so on Shabbat, we love to be with friends, most of whom are either artsy people, or involved with one of the shuls in the area."
"We are Israelis of Anglo extraction. From the minute we arrived, we knew we were here to stay."
The family is active in the "Kippa" shul, a recently-expanded Modern Orthodox congregation "about 30 seconds from our front door," Asher notes. He is also one of the founders of the Carlebach minyan that meets for Kabbalat Shabbat in the nearby absorption center.
"In the long term," Hannah says, "we plan to learn Torah, play music, and be around to play with our grandchildren.
"In the short term, we aren't planning much beyond November 26, when we'll present one of the Etta Kossowsky Fund concerts in Beit Shemesh. We're practicing very hard - I'm playing a very difficult jazz piano piece written by a New York pianist, Alan Rosenthal, called 'So Not a Sonata.' Until that concert is over, I'm not making other plans."