VETERANS: ‘Just come’

“But only when I made sure she would potentially make aliyah did I take her phone number,” he says, underlining the importance he placed on moving to Israel.

August 21, 2019 19:48
VETERANS: ‘Just come’

LEVY AND family.. (photo credit: ARY BRAMI)

Arié Levy met Ruth Benyayer at a Purim party in Montreal and he wanted to ask her out.

“But only when I made sure she would potentially make aliyah did I take her phone number,” he says, underlining the importance he placed on moving to Israel.

Fortunately, Ruth shared his values and they left Montreal for Israel two months after their marriage in 2003. They did not leave alone; they were part of the first 14-person garin formed through a grassroots organization called Magshimim that Levy had co-founded to encourage group aliyah from Montreal.

The first Magshimim cohort decided to settle in Beersheba because this southern city is paired with Montreal through the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2gether program.

“We all did ulpan together and stayed together for the first six months,” he says.

He and Ruth, a dietician, found they liked living in the Negev and have made their home in the Beersheba suburb of Meitar since 2004.

They speak mostly Hebrew to their five daughters, aged six to 14 and a half, with “a lot of English and a bit of French” in the mix.
Levy was born in Casablanca, Morocco. The family moved to Montreal when he was two years old, and his father opened the first kosher grocery store in Montreal, called Kolvo.

Because of a Quebec law requiring immigrants to attend a French-speaking school, Arié was sent to Maimonides, the only Jewish day school in North America where French is the language of instruction. Ruth, who was born in Montreal, went to an English-speaking Jewish school.

Nevertheless, Hebrew was also part of Levy’s life. “A lot of my family from Morocco had come to Israel,” he explains. “I come from a family where the Zionist aspect was always strong. The idea of making aliyah, however, was mine. My sister still lives in Montreal and my parents do six months here and six months there since their retirement about 10 years ago.”

Deeply involved in Jewish camps and Jewish community organizations since childhood, Levy went to the University of Montreal and became president of the French-speaking Canadian member campuses of Hillel – The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and led Birthright trips and other groups to Israel. He started his Jewish professional career as director of Centre Hillel next to the University of Montreal.

“I decided to make the Jewish community my career. It was either going to be that or a medical career – and you can understand how my mom reacted to my choice,” he says with a laugh.

She need not have worried. In Israel, this career direction has stood him in good stead.

Levy found jobs in the fields of immigrant integration, fundraising and Israel-Diaspora relations. He was a regional manager for the Jewish Agency in Kiryat Malachi/Hof Ashkelon; represented Montreal in its Beersheba/Bnei Shimon partnership for the Jewish Federations of Canada; and later led the Partnership2gether team for all of Canada.

Levy then became director of Israel & Overseas for Federation CJA Montreal, managing the philanthropic and Israel-related educational activities of Montreal in Israel.

Recently, he took on a new position as director-general of the Israel Office of the Jewish Federations of Canada, the umbrella organization of all 10 Jewish federations of Canada and several smaller community councils.

“Our office runs all the Israel operations, which includes strategic partnerships in the periphery, missions and VIP visits, relations with the government of Israel and all the philanthropic activity,” he says. “My office is in Jerusalem, but I continue working on the Montreal-Beersheba connection.”

He also is finishing a PhD in nonprofit management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“Most people are surprised to hear that I like to visit Tel Aviv, and I really like the Golan Heights, too. But at the end of the day I chose to live in the desert,” he says.

ALTHOUGH HE wishes Israelis were more patient people, he very much appreciates what he calls their “authenticity.”
“What you see is what you get,” he says. “Right from the start, people ask questions like how much you paid for your home. It’s natural; there’s no distance.”

At first, however, that lack of distance threw him for a loop.

“On the first day we moved to Israel, I opened a bank account and got an ATM card and was about to get money out of the ATM when I was shocked to see that someone behind me was not respecting the distance I was used to in Canada when you’re at a machine putting in a password. But these are the very same things we also like about Israelis.”

The Levy family has social ties in both the Anglo and Franco communities in Meitar, “but mostly we’re with Israeli friends,” he says.

Levy served in the IDF in the combat engineering corps and does reserve duty 30 to 40 days every year. For about 15 years, he was involved in search-and-rescue and heavy machinery operations, and about a year ago he transferred to the 7th brigade tank unit reserve.

“I like the combination of a grounded, very tachlis, approach to life together with the spiritual,” he says. “Based on the ideas of Rav A. Y. Kook and the national-religious ideal of bringing it all together, I am always balancing between ‘real’ life, army and synagogue.”

For those contemplating aliyah, Levy says, “My advice would be to not over-think it, and not to think it’s impossible. It’s challenging to move anywhere, even between cities in North America. And I would say the sooner, the better. We were privileged to come to Israel before we started our family but at the end of the day, it’s the ideology that drives the practicality and not the other way around.”

And perhaps most importantly, “If you really want to live here, don’t leave anything to go back to; if you decide to come, just come.”

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