'When I am on stage, I am home. No matter where I am," says Karine Koret, a professional actress who made aliya a little over three months ago.
The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Karine has used her artistic journey to explore her Jewish heritage and the human ability to survive under impossible circumstances. Her maternal grandmother's story of survival was Karine's inspiration for Lily, the one-woman show she wrote and performed all across the United States to rave reviews (www.karinekoret.com).
After surviving the Holocaust, Karine's paternal grandparents left Poland and came to Israel via Italy, where they had a friend working at the embassy. Her father grew up in both Milan and Jerusalem after her grandfather got a job working as the ambassador of foreign relations.
A member of the enormous Bukari family, Karine's maternal grandfather walked to Israel from Uzbekistan in 1931 at the age of six. Her maternal grandmother, Lily, who later changed her name to Edna, survived the Holocaust with her four best friends and later moved to Israel.
Karine's parents met in Jerusalem after her mother told a friend she wanted to date a doctor.
"My father was in medical school at the time, so that was good enough for my mother," laughs Karine.
After they married, Karine's parents first moved to Italy, where Karine's older brother, Guy, was born. Karine's father left medical school, and the family relocated to New York, where they lived for the next seven years.
Karine was born in New York, but her family soon moved to Texas, and she spent her teenage years in Houston.
"The trauma began in Texas when I was seven," says Karine, who remembers feeling alienated from her peers for not talking and looking like them.
"Texas builds character," laughs Karine, "but inside our house, even in Houston, it was always Israel. The smells of humous, the Persian rugs and the Hebrew language kept Israel with us."
Karine's sense of separation from her classmates helped her development as an artist, and in junior high school, she began stage training with a private tutor.
"I learned how to sing, how to perform a monologue, how to dance and how to take over the space," she says.
After attending a high school for the performing arts, she was accepted for Boston University's prestigious theater program. At the end of her sophomore year, she was one of only four women out of 18 asked to continue in the theater program, but while she enjoyed playing "ethnic" characters at the conservatory, she never got the lead roles.
She interviewed with NBC, Walt Disney Productions and other big production companies in Los Angeles after graduation, but she wasn't ready to begin her career there and decided to move to Chicago instead. She started writing her one-woman show, Lily, and committed much of her time to social work, teaching English at a refugee center and giving theater classes to women in prison and to people with developmental disabilities.
After four years in Chicago, she was offered a trial run with the San Francisco traveling Jewish theater, a position she accepted on the spot.
"Berkeley was what my soul needed after all of the work with refugees and trauma conferences I attended," says Karine. "I was cast in every show, I wrote two of my own, and I met my fianc , so while it was hard for me to leave Chicago, it turned out to be a great decision."
Karine and her fiance, Daniel Hoffman, a virtuoso violinist who plays in a band called The Klezmer Experience, decided to move to Israel in February of 2005, but it wasn't until June that they were able to tie up their loose ends and make the trip.
"The arrival was much smoother for me than for Daniel because I have an Israeli passport and I speak Hebrew fluently," says Karine.
Finding work as an actress in Israel is challenging, says Karine.
"I've always been planning to move to Israel, but it was scary to give up my career and begin again. But I'm going to do it, and I'm not going to give up being an actress to be here."
This fall she is working with a troupe in Haifa on a play about the Amazons and she hopes to perform the piece at the Acre Theater Festival next year.
"I am open to using the theater in projects with different communities in order to help people tell their stories, everything from religious women to prisoners," she says.
Karine and Daniel currently live on a shady avenue in Jerusalem's German Colony in a spacious ground-floor apartment with a small garden. Although they love Jerusalem, Karine feels there are more artistic opportunities for her in Tel Aviv.
"We're going to move into an apartment near the beach in Tel Aviv, and we're on the top floor so we'll have a roof and a nice terrace," she says.
When she wakes up in the morning, Karine first feeds her "dumpster cat," Leo, who waits patiently for her by the gate as the landlord forbids his presence in either the interior garden or their apartment. After breakfast with her fiance, Daniel, they both head to ulpan Milah in the center of Jerusalem. Most of the afternoon she spends setting up appointments with theater directors, fellow actors, or private tutors who hone her accent, voice and stage presence. In the evenings, Karine sets aside time for Ashtang yoga. She looks forward to Friday the most, when she and Daniel buy newspapers to read on Saturday, run errands, make dinner and clean the apartment before lighting Shabbat candles. Saturday afternoons are reserved for lunch with Karine's grandmother in Kiryat Hayovel and end with a long walk.
"I'm used to making my living in the theater, and although it will be tougher to do that here, I am determined to make it happen," says Karine.
"I'm starting over here, so I don't have many friends yet," explains Karine. "I have a few friends in Haifa through my work in the theater there, but I'm looking forward to making friends in the theater and yoga communities."
"When I'm in the US, I feel Israeli and I tell people I'm Israeli. God knows I don't say Texan!" laughs Karine. "But when I'm here in Israel, I feel mixed. I have a feeling that will change with time."
"I grew up in a Conservative home that bordered on the mystical," explains Karine. "I have always been interested in Jewish philosophy and religion, and I relax on Shabbat."
In Berkeley, Karine attended a modern Orthodox synagogue, but she says in Israel that is equivalent to Conservative Judaism.
"Texas watered down our religion," says Karine. "We went from planting knives and forks in the plants to purify them for the milk or meat, to having the occasional bacon bit," she laughs. "But I remember feeling a great loss. It comforted me to know that Israel was always here for me."
Karine grew up speaking only Hebrew at home and English at school and with friends. She also speaks "survivable" Spanish and dabbles in Italian and French. Of course, with her background in theater and vocal training, when she occasionally breaks into song in Yiddish, you would be hard-pressed to call her anything other than a native speaker of that language too.
"I look forward to having a successful acting career here," says Karine. She is in the process of translating Lily into Hebrew and hopes to be performing it for Israeli audiences by next April. She looks forward to raising a family in Israel with Daniel, while continuing on her artistic path.
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