zohar kanter 88 224.
(photo credit: Meredith Price Levitt)
Birthplace: Austin, Texas
Aliya date: September 2006
Occupation: Skipper and yacht maintenance
Family Status: Single
Dabbling in everything from writing to yacht maintenance, Zohar Kanter made aliya to fulfill both her own dreams and as a promise to her mother. "I arrived on September 28, 2006, a few months after my mom died," says Kanter. On the day her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Kanter already had a plane ticket to Israel and was supposed to leave in 11 days. "I refused to get on the plane and leave her, and after she died I didn't think I could make aliya, but in the end I kept my promise."
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Kanter got her first job in a bakery at 14. "I had to apply for a special permit to work so young, and I made a deal with my mom that if I saved $6,000, I could leave high school and move to England." The next year, Kanter kept her end of the bargain and her mom agreed to let her go to England for a study-abroad program. When she arrived, no host family had been found to welcome her. Thus, instead of attending school, she played soccer and worked odd jobs under the table. "I stayed with a woman who spoke to angels for two weeks and then rented a place of my own," says Kanter, who moved to Doolin, Ireland, in the latter part of the year and found a job in a pub.
When she got back to Austin a year later, she was able to complete her high-school requirements within six weeks. "I didn't want to go back to school after living on my own. Big groups of kids have always scared me."
At 17, Kanter got a job with Barnes & Noble and started writing. By 24, she had an agent, made a living as a ghost writer and signed a contract for her first novel. In the end, another novel came out that was too similar and hers got put on hold, but Kanter is still in touch with her agent and plans to continue writing one day. "I always liked writing, and it's great to get paid for something you enjoy."
In 2005, Kanter made plans to come to Israel. Just before she was supposed to leave, her father, who had been diagnosed with cancer two years earlier, died. Less than six months later, her mother also. "She died on Erev Pessah, her favorite holiday," says Kanter. "It took me until September to get here, but I made it. I didn't want to disappoint her."
Originally, Kanter wanted to live in Kfar Tapuah and work with dogs, but the plans changed and she moved to Tel Aviv. She enrolled in a program to get her skipper's license at the Yam Sailing School and recently received her certification.
All of Kanter's grandparents and parents have died. "We have a lot of cancer in the family. We don't live long." But rather than seeing this as a detriment, Kanter lives as if her life is in the middle stages and focuses on things that make her happy.
Kanter's older sister, Rachel, lives in Austin as does her stepfather, who is working in a non-profit organization. She has a younger stepsister who is attending Emerson College in Boston and some distant relatives living in Israel.
"My mom was a social worker. She was always thinking about how to do more for others," says Kanter, showing me a tattoo of a pink flamingo she got on her upper arm in honor of her mother. "I never really wanted pink on my body and my mom would hate the idea of me having a tattoo in her honor, but this is the No. 1 community bird, and for me it symbolizes her."
Kanter says her father was a thinker and a mathematician who loved to travel.
After she made aliya with her dog Jamo, Kanter got her first job at the marina in Herzliya cleaning and maintaining yachts. "I have always loved boats and collected sea things," she says. "After a few months, I decided to start my own business and now I clean and maintain yachts in Tel Aviv. It's not a very lucrative business, probably because I charge about half what I should, but I get paid to do something I love."
"I'm in a small place on a quiet street near the beach," says Kanter. "I'm a minimalist so I don't need a big place. I have a bed, a plate, a fork, a knife and a spoon. The rest of my worldly belongings fit into two suitcases."
She says there are only three other people living in the building and she has a top-floor apartment three blocks from the sea, which makes being in a big city more manageable.
An early riser, Kanter is usually at work by 5:30 a.m. "I get up at about 4:30 a.m. and go sit in my spot by the sea for an hour. Then I work at the marina until about 9 or 10." After that, she spends her time walking along the beach with her iPod, listening to music and clearing her head. She goes to her favorite restaurant for dinner two or three times a week and says she's usually asleep by about 11 p.m.
Kanter lists walking, thinking, sailing and reading as her favorite things to do. "I haven't written since my mom died, but it's one of the few things I'm good at, so I think I will get back to it one of these days."
Most of Kanter's friends are Israeli, between the ages of 40 and 70, and make their homes in Tel Aviv and Haifa. "I have two Anglo friends too, and most of my friends have kids and grandkids."
She says she met most of her friends on trips to Israel with her family over the years and kept in touch until she could come and live here too. She says her relatives here are distant and because they are religious, don't approve of her tattoos.
Kanter understands Hebrew but doesn't speak much. She can get by in restaurants and on boats, but English is the language of preference. "I tried one hour of ulpan and took off at the first smoke break," says Kanter. "There were too many people all in one room. They wanted me to talk all the time and stand up and tell them my name and where I'm from. I don't like that stuff. I left school for a reason."
Raised in an observant home, Kanter says she attended synagogue faithfully until her mom got sick. "I always wore long sleeves to hide my tattoos, and I keep kosher but I haven't gone to synagogue since my mom died," she says. "I have a beef with the big man right now." Kanter says she is a strong Zionist and more into the spiritual side of Judaism.
Already fulfilling one of her biggest dreams, to make aliya and live in Israel, Kanter says this is home. "Without a doubt, this is where I'm meant to be. I've lived all over the world, in Hawaii, in Jamaica, in Texas, England and Ireland. This is the only place that's good for me."
Aside from making her home here, she says she plans to buy her own boat as soon as possible and continue working at the marina. She also hopes to get back to writing. "I'm working on getting a quiet mind and chilling with my people right now."
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