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(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Ophira (23) and Josh (27) 'Yitzhak' Stramer
Ophira and Josh Stramer are not only new immigrants - Josh since October 2003 and Ophira since December 2004 - but are also newlyweds. The couple met at WUJS (the World Union of Jewish Students) but each returned to the US, made aliya and only then decided to marry.
The two could write a book on how to create a lovely wedding on a budget.
"We were very frugal," Ophira says of their Hanukka wedding. "We didn't want any debt afterward."
Ophira even borrowed a wedding gown from a Jerusalem gemach, a loan society. The wedding was perfect, they say.
"Our families were there, we had fun, and it reflected the kind of people we are."
Ophira is the youngest of five children, and the third to make aliya. Her mother is from Montana, her father from New York City.
"My father was a city kid who loved trees, so he was studying at the University of Montana when he met my mom. We grew up in upstate New York on a seven-acre farm, breeding Golden Retrievers and selling homemade syrup. We had our own vegetables, eggs, meat and milk, and hardly ever went to a grocery store. In 1978, my parents came to WUJS and spent a year on a kibbutz, but it didn't work out."
Josh's paternal grandmother survived the Holocaust.
"My grandparents met in Germany after the war," he says. "They actually had tickets to Palestine, but then a cousin wrote to say he'd sponsor them for the US, so their lives took a different direction."
"I'd been to Israel several times but never really fell in love with the country," recalls Ophira. "My parents wanted me to go to WUJS - it's a family tradition - and I saw it as a kind of summer camp. But after I got to Arad, it took only two weeks for me to do a complete change. I just fell in love with the Negev."
"I applied to Nefesh B'Nefesh from Israel," she says. "I mailed all the forms to my mother, who re-mailed them to NBN. But NBN had to personally interview me, so I flew back, went straight from the airport to Manhattan and met with the counselor. Then I drove four hours to my parents' home, spent six days, then came back to Israel on the NBN flight."
Josh's aliya was less intense.
"I'd finished college," he says. "So my brother and I took a birthright israel trip. I loved it, and then did a Volunteers for Israel program. I wanted to make aliya, but it was right at the height of the intifada, so I went back to think about it for awhile. Then I enrolled in WUJS - and that was it."
"All my paperwork was done by NBN," says Ophira. "I went straight from the airport to Arad, and then went to work the next day. I was lucky - I had an apartment and a job waiting for me."
Josh made aliya the old fashioned way.
"I had to battle the bureaucracies," he says. "When I arrived, there wasn't anyone to meet me, but there were about 50 Ethiopians who'd just come, too, so we were all in that big room, waiting. It was a good motivator: no matter how big a change it was going to be for me, I had it easier than they did."
Ophira works two jobs, teaching at Sapir College three days a week and working at the Sderot branch of Motorola the other two. Josh is a full-time student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
"My undergraduate degree is in Industrial Engineering, and now I'm studying for a Master's in Environmental Engineering. Our schedules are almost opposite," Josh says. "On the days when I'm late, Ophira cooks. And when she works late, I cook."
The Stramers don't have television, and spend most evenings relaxing, playing Scrabble or watching movies on a laptop computer.
"When we started looking for an apartment, we rented a car and gave ourselves 3 days to find something," Ophira says. "We needed a furnished apartment that was close to the central bus station, because I have to commute."
They found a furnished three-bedroom apartment near the city's center.
"It's really too big, but we just grabbed it," Josh says.
Both have friends from WUJS, others from the army, university or work.
"Most of our friends are Anglos," Ophira says. "Except that several have married Israelis, so in that sense, we have Sabra friends."
Ophira is the family breadwinner at the moment.
"After I get my degree, then Ophira can get a PhD," Josh says.
"We're doing okay financially," Ophira adds. "But we don't spend much. We're vegetarians, we don't have a car, we almost never eat out, we don't go to movies."
Josh served three months in the IDF.
"I learned to drive all kinds of heavy equipment - every little boy's dream. Probably 85 percent of the guys in my unit were Russians, most of us in our mid-20s, while our commanders were 18 or 19 years old. It was a little strange."
"I grew up in a traditional home," Josh recounts. "But there weren't many Jews in our community."
"I didn't know it until a couple of years ago, but Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist Movement, was my great uncle," Ophira says. "I was raised Conservative - we drove to services every Shabbat."
In Beersheba, the Stramers joined Rambam Synagogue, a modern Orthodox congregation with a significant Anglo population.
Ophira grew up speaking Hebrew.
"But I was speaking my parents' Hebrew, which was far from perfect," she says, "so I have some bad habits. If I have to do the bureaucratic thing, or go to a doctor, I'm more comfortable in English."
"I'm still learning," Josh says. "My classes are in Hebrew, the tests are in Hebrew, but the textbook is in English. We made all the wedding arrangements in Hebrew, but I made a big slip at the wedding: I was thanking all the helpers, but referred to them as 'slaves.' Oops. That was embarrassing."
"I am an American Jewess - but definitely not a Jewish American Princess," Ophira states. "I'm proud to be Israeli, but I don't know if I will ever feel like one, probably for cultural reasons."
"Sometimes I still feel like a guest in this country," Josh says. "A guest who has obligations. But I've noticed that when I get in line at the supermarket or at the post office, I'm getting to be much more of an Israeli."
"Children," both say. "Lots of them."
"But I want to finish my degree," Josh adds. "And then work in environmental engineering, in some capacity."
"We'd like to buy a home of our own," says Ophira, "It will be in the Negev, somewhere. This is where we belong."
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