Aliya Stories: Having walked the walk, she now talks the talk – in English

Tamar Yonah, 56, made aliya from Orange County, California in 1978 to Kochav Ya'acov.

December 1, 2016 11:21
3 minute read.

Tamar Yonah. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Tamar Yonah grew up listening to recordings of the Israeli army bands. Yonah’s father was a Holocaust survivor who fought in the War of Independence. Although she was born and raised in Southern California, her family’s love for Israel seeped into her bones.

“I always felt different from other people in California.... I made aliya without ever having set foot in Israel. My dream was to join the Israeli army and be with my people.”

At 18, she flew to Israel on her own and was greeted by an amusing visual image.

“My first memory of coming to Israel was looking out from the airplane window. I saw clothes hanging out on the lines. It looked like a Third World country, which it was, kind of, in those days. I thought, Wow, this is different.

In California, even though it was hot, everyone always used the dryer. My first view of Israel wasn’t anything negative, it was just an observation.

“I noticed that Israelis were much more aggressive and not as polite, but it didn’t bother me. My whole focus was to join the army and become part of Israeli society.”

That openness to the newness of Israel marked her early years in the country.

Growing up with a strong Jewish identity and very little Hebrew, Yonah plunged right into life in her homeland, eventually serving in a religious army unit, then the Israel Air Force. Today she is the managing director of the English- language Israel News Talk Radio, an online radio station.

After the army, Yonah spent a semester studying Torah at Brovender’s yeshiva (today known as Midreshet Lindenbaum) and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while working various entry- level jobs in hotels. After getting married, she devoted herself to raising her family.

After her fifth child, Yonah stepped back into the workforce. She accepted a job at Radio West, Israel’s first English- language radio station. She entered the industry doing talk shows, production work and radio engineering.

Around 2000, she was invited to join Arutz Sheva’s English-language radio station, where she produced station IDs, conducted interviews and became a news anchor.

The station manager then asked her to do her own show. She agreed only under duress. “It was tough for me to talk about myself and do monologues. I don’t like being the focus,” she said.

Despite her initial hesitation, Yonah became a radio personality with an onair pulpit, talking about the things she cared most about, namely aliya and politics.

Reflecting on her radio persona, Yonah said, “People have the sense that Tamar Yonah is somebody that you could sit and have a cup of coffee with and open up.”

Once Arutz Sheva changed its radio format, Yonah left her position as program manager. “I took a month off to rest and clear my mind. I was ready for a new chapter in life, whatever that would be.” She flirted with entering real estate, going so far as taking a course – and loving it.

As she was planning to get her official real estate license, Voice of Israel, a year-old English-language radio station, suddenly closed down. Yonah realized that there was now a vacuum on the English-language radio scene. She knew that there was an audience for free English- language radio from Israel, so she started a radio station called Israel News Talk Radio.

She brought in two investors to finance the station. However, for different reasons, they both fell through in the same week. Yonah was undeterred.

“My father taught me, ‘Keep marching forward. Don’t look to the right. Don’t look to the left. Don’t get distracted. Just keep moving forward.’” She launched Israel News Talk Radio in January 2016.

“I’m really proud of what we’re doing. We’re the only English-language radio station broadcasting out of Israel. We offer local news from our seasoned news team, and, being a Fox News radio affiliate, we also deliver international news.”

Yonah estimates that about 50% of her audience may not be Jewish. A lot of them are listening because they love Israel or because they’re curious about the political situation.

“Everybody who was put on this planet,” Yonah concludes, “should be doing their utmost to fulfill their potential to make this world a better place. God gave everyone different qualities and different talents to bring humanity to a higher level. Keep moving forward. It’s our job to put in the effort. The results are up to God.”

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