When Chana, 55, and David Rubin, 55, moved to Israel from Milwaukee in 2003, their company, Negev Direct Marketing, Inc., made aliya as well.
"We had a successful direct mail and marketing business incorporated in the US," David says. "But when we became Israelis, it was important that our business become Israeli, too, so we incorporated it here. We want to be an Israeli company, we want our revenues to flow through Israel. We hire local writers, artists and technicians, and do what we can to boost the economy."
"It's been good for us, too," he adds, noting their business lists have about tripled since moving to the Negev. "We work with both North American and Israeli organizations - there's been no resistance at all from our American clients. The only problem is the time zone factor, which means I sometimes work late into the night."
The Rubins are a blended family, having a total of seven grown children between them from previous marriages. Both come from US-born parents.
"My grandmother was born in Duluth, Minnesota," says Chana. "Her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, and mine moved to California, the San Francisco Bay area. I actually made aliya in 1970 - I lived on a kibbutz for a year and loved it. I met my first husband and we moved to Netanya, but when I was four months pregnant, he passed away very suddenly. I didn't have a good support system here, so I decided to go back to the States until the baby was born.
"My son was born in September, 1973, but then the war started in October. The thought of being here alone as a single mother with a newborn was overwhelming. It wasn't until I came back to Israel with my second husband for a bar mitzva that I realized how homesick I was for Israel. After we divorced, coming back to Israel to live became a priority."
"I'm a Milwaukee kid, born and bred," says David. "I was interested in television production, so I first went to Milwaukee Technical College, then got a BA in communications. After that, I got a Master's in library science," he says laughing. "At the time, it made perfect sense.
"Growing up, I learned very little about Judaism, "David says."But I was one of those 'when you see it, you see it all' people. My first wife and I became Orthodox, and recognized that the only place for Jews to live is in Israel, so in 1976, we packed up and made aliya. We started in the absorption center at Mevaseret Zion, moved to Kiryat Arba, and then moved to Jerusalem when the commute started to take an hour and a half. Then, back in Milwaukee, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, so we went back to care for her. She passed away very unexpectedly, but there we were, with everything back in the States, and our four kids in school. By that time, it was clear my marriage was over, so we divorced. I set about making plans to move back to Israel."
Chand and David met through their respective businesses. "I had my own company, too," Chana says. "The Kosher Connection, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. We were a mail order house, shipping gourmet foods and gift baskets all over the world."
"The Kosher Connection was on my list of businesses to call, to solicit business," David says. "'Why don't you do a direct mail ad?' I asked Chana. She told me she thought she was going to close the business, saying it was overwhelming and she was exhausted. I said, 'Don't do that. Let's make some money instead.'"
After a long-distance (Milwaukee to Portland) courtship, the two married in 1998. David's four children and Chana's three were all grown by the time their parents made aliya.
"I had an actual list of what I wanted in a wife," David says. "At the top was that she had to want to live in Israel."
"That was my objective, too," Chana says. "We were living in Milwaukee, and I hated the weather."
"We made an old-fashioned Soviet Five-Year Plan," David says. "We calculated how much money we'd need, then began saving every cent, hoping to come in five years. We reached our goal in four years, so we came."
"We made several trips and finally settled on Beersheba to live, mostly because of the wonderful community here," Chana says.
"We bought a home, and leased it back to the owners until we could make the move. As I was packing, I kept repeating to myself, '100 square meters, 100 square meters. Where will you put it?' We took only a half-lift, and most of that was books. We sold the house in Milwaukee, and we spent the last two weeks living with neighbors."
"We were allotted 3 bags each," David says. "So we each carried an inflatable mattress. But when we arrived, we had a nasty surprise."
"In the few months since we bought the house, everything had been trashed," Chana says. "Not a single thing worked - it leaked, the plumbing was broken, there was no electricity, nothing worked. It was just horrible."
"We'd planned on redoing the place gradually, but that changed," David says. "We hired a contractor, and asked him to do the office first - I had to be up and running, for clients. So they did - for a long time I worked with sawing, drilling and pounding all around me."
Chana goes to exercise classes twice a week, so she rises first, and until very recently, spent the morning writing. "My book on healthy kosher eating - which will probably be titled, Food for the Soul: A Jewish Perspective on Nutrition - has just been accepted by Q & A Publishers. Now I'll be editing instead of writing."
David works late into the night, matching his hours to his North American clients. "I sleep later in the mornings," he says.
They frequently lunch out. "We both work out of the home, so we need to get out once a day - usually it's lunch," David says. "We can sometimes time our dinner to lunch time in New York, so we can eat together."
"Everyone should know that it's perfectly possible to make a living in Israel," David says. "Technology is now such that an amazing amount of work can be done via computer, with a VOIP phone, plus the Internet. There was no reason why I couldn't run my business as usual, from Beersheba. It's worked out very well. Now? Let's just say, we're comfortable."
The Rubins' completely remodeled home is modern, sleek and open. It features a large kitchen for Chana, who occasionally teaches cooking and nutrition classes for students in the home. Both the hallways and living room feature built-in display slots to hold rotating displays of David's own photographs, black and white studies of architecturally interesting shapes and forms.
"Photography has been my hobby," he says. "I've usually had my own darkroom, but went digital here because there was just no place for the darkroom. I had photography shows in Milwaukee, and have just scheduled one here for Omer. It's something I enjoy."
"We have friends from all over, Israel and the US, many from our previous lives all over," David says. "Now we have family, here too - Chana's son, Yoav Kaufman, just got married, made aliya, and has now joined the company as list manager. Some of the other kids are exploring the idea. We'll see."
"We are Israelis," David says. "Our company is Israeli. Except when we go to the US, we travel on Israeli passports."
"I was 'kidnapped' by the Moroccans in Kiryat Arba and made vice president of the shul," David says, laughing. "We're members of the modern Orthodox 'kippa' shul, here, but I daven the text from a Sephardic siddur. It's my one remaining form of social rebellion."
"My street Hebrew is pretty good," Chana says. "I take classes in Hebrew, both at the university and in Torah studies. But in terms of reading and writing, I'm more comfortable in English."
"I'm reasonably fluent in Hebrew," David says. "I'm also reasonably fluent in English."
"We plan to grow old gracefully," Chana says. "We want to keep the business going," David adds. "I can't see retiring. Maybe one day we can pass it along to the next generation."
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