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(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Rafel Richman, 39 - From Vancouver to Jerusalem
When Dr. Rafael Richman was 10 years old, growing up in a secular family in Calgary, Canada, he had three specific goals: "I wanted to live on a kibbutz, I wanted an Israeli wife, and I'd be a Socialist," he says, laughing, noting his progress: "I visited Israel when I was 23, and spent time on a kibbutz. My politics? They've changed some, but not entirely. What I'm really working on right now is finding the Israeli wife."
The clinical psychologist is an extremely eligible bachelor living in Jerusalem's Katamon district, so Richman isn't having any problems meeting women - it's just finding the right one that's taking a while.
"I meet a lot of interesting, eligible women in my work, through friends and family, through some organized singles places. I've made a lot of friends. But the older you get, the harder it gets."
One of the reasons for his coming to Israel in June 2004 and officially making aliya six months later was specifically that - to find an Israeli wife.
"The odds are a whole lot better here than they were in Vancouver," he says. "But another reason for aliya was that I felt the need to be with my family, my Jewish family.
"There I was, in Vancouver. I had a cozy, high-paying job, I was a part of a great Jewish community, everything was fine. But I was troubled by what was going on here in Israel. People react in two different ways to the violence. Some say, 'How awful. It's terrible,' but they want to stay as far away from the danger as possible. The rest of us said, 'That's my family, my people. If there's trouble, I need to be there.' That was me - I had to come."
"My mother is a professional artist, my father is a financial consultant, both live in Vancouver. My brother Nathaniel is married and lives in Courtney, in the exquisite Vancouver Islands. I doubt any of them will join me here - but they weren't surprised by my decision to make aliya. They always expected it.
"Half of my family is long-time Canadian, fourth generation - with all that implies," Richman says. "The other half came from Russia and Poland, all before the war.
"But it was difficult. My family and I are very close - I didn't want my aliya to be a selfish decision. When I came this time, we all knew it was for real. It was a tough decision."
Richman was born in Winnipeg, grew up in Calgary, then went east to attend the University of Toronto. After his first degree, he took a year off.
"I had a girlfriend at that time, and we took a tour. This was going to be a test trip for us. I lived on Kfar Hanassi, up north, and loved it. I wrote the songs for a Purim play - in Hebrew, with a little help - and felt I fit in well. But I wanted to go to graduate school, as did my girlfriend, so we were both applying. She was accepted at the University of Arizona, I was accepted at Vancouver. We drifted apart.
"For almost the next decade, I dated non-Jewish women, but all those relationships ended when it got serious. When I broke up with the last one, I finally had to ask myself, 'What am I doing?' Obviously it wasn't working. So I walked into the Jewish Student Center at the University of Ottawa and asked to speak with the director. She was great - she invited me to start coming to their Friday night celebrations, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The singing and music drew me in. So that was my start - my start of living as a Jew, and the start of aliya as well."
There was a religious element to Richman's decision, too.
"In Vancouver, I was gradually becoming more observant. I'd always driven to see my mother on Shabbat, but then I reached the point where that didn't seem right. And keeping kosher put up barriers, too. The whole thing was getting more and more difficult.
"About three years ago I came on a pilot trip and studied at Pardes, but then I went back to Vancouver and started dating again. When that relationship ended, that was it. I was coming to Israel."
Richman and a roommate shared a rented coach house.
"It was sort of a loose arrangement - he could use my furniture, and I wouldn't pay storage. I sold my car. I left my really nice piano. I took two crammed suitcases and my special water filter. That's it.
"My father took me to the airport. We were both crying."
"My plane got in at 5 a.m., too early for anyone to meet me. My first three months were absolutely horrible. I'd found a flat on a Web site, but when I saw it, it was really disgusting. I'm not 17 anymore, and I just couldn't do it. So I stayed with one friend after another - two weeks here, a month there.
"To travel so far and not be able to settle down was hard. I didn't have anything - not even a cell phone, so I didn't have a phone number. I started looking for an apartment, and finally got lucky. A guy was leaving for India for six months. We agreed I'd live in his apartment while he was gone. A week later, he reconsidered, and I took over the lease. It's a perfect place for me now, a real blessing."
Richman found exactly what he wanted - a small apartment on a quiet street in Katamon, "the heart of the Jewish singles scene," Richman says. "It's a bachelor apartment, a studio." The apartment is one large room with high ceilings, with a permanent wall dividing off a section for a bedroom.
"I'm renting a piano," he says. "When I get married, I'll either bring my piano from Vancouver, or sell it and buy a good one."
A large balcony for a succa fronts one side, while inside, the main floor space is arranged to accommodate Richman's pscyhological counseling business, with chairs and a sofa in strategic positions.
"I don't have an alarm clock, so I make either the 6:15 or 7:00 minyan right across the street," Richman says. "Three days a week I work with patients at Herzog Hospital, so that's where I spend mornings. I see private clients, too - I'm working very hard to build my business. In the afternoons, I take a break, nap or meditate. It makes me much more productive."
Evenings are filled with music, classes or dating.
"One or two evenings a week, I spend on the phone with everyone in Vancouver."
"There's a gang of us here from Vancouver, and we're close. I have friends from work. I'm working to have non-English speakers as friends, too, but it seems inevitable that English-speakers gravitate toward each other. I've accepted that."
"I'm struggling like everyone else. Savings? I had some to get started here, and some I won't touch. The only tough part is when I'm dating. It's not easy to have to watch what I spend. But that's my decision. I want to build my own business, so I'm willing to sacrifice now to do that."
"I'm proudly both a Canadian and an Israeli. I don't miss Canada anymore, except when I get frustrated here. But I'm very comfortable. I'm home."
"I like what Dennis Prager said: 'I'm a serious Jew.' I don't like labels, but that will do for me, too."
"I went to Jewish Day School and had fun. I studied Hebrew in high school and had fun. I didn't learn much Hebrew, but I got the basics. On the kibbutz we had an ulpan. Now, I'm in the ulpan of life - I read Sha'ar Lamathil. I listen to Hebrew radio, and most of my work is in Hebrew. I'm making progress."
"The focus of my work is the connection between food and mood. I want to serve as a bridge between the traditional establishment and natural healing.
"And of course I plan to find 'her' - and to have kids. I love kids, and want lots of my own."
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