Dan Babchuck 88 298.
(photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
Dan Babchuck, 27, is brimming over with stories. Before making aliya from Boston on July 25, 2005, he was general manager of a Hadassah thrift store.
"Every night I went home and made notes," Babchuck says. "The stories! On one side of the store, these incredible donations were pouring in - clothes, many with the tags still hanging - and lots of gorgeous furniture. Almost every donor had a story: sometimes they were sad, a divorce or death, someone moving away. Part of what I did was to listen. I loved it, and enjoyed being able to help a little that way. Sometimes there were happy stories, too, people moving up in the world.
"The donated goods would circle our store, we'd price them, and they'd go to the sales floor on the other side. Here the stories were completely different. Some people just hunting for fun, but most were people who really needed something: a man who needed a suit for a job interview. Kids who needed clothes, a guy who didn't have a shirt or shoes. For me, it was a blessing to help see that a family had dishes to eat from, a crib for a baby, a sofa or chair to sit on.
"As soon as I get a little time, I'm going to write a book. Running a thrift store, you see all the extremes - Left, Right, rich, poor. And absolutely everyone wanted a deal."
Babchuck's mother, Smadar, is a sixth-generation Israeli who grew up in the Beersheba area. "My grandmother, Victoria Ben Shoshan, headed the local social welfare agency in the '60s, then after the '67 War, worked in Sinai and Gaza. There's even a book written about her.
"My father was from Boston. He came to Israel in 1970, created the English as a Second Language (ESL) program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, then met my mother. They married in 1973, and moved to the USA a few months later.
Babchuck's sister, Talia, and her husband live in Boston. His younger brother, Elan, just moved to Los Angeles.
"We're quite a mixture - my mother is Sephardi, my father, Ashkenazi. They negotiated the holidays when we ate rice."
Babchuck's father passed away in August 2003. "After that, I started to look within, and began to think about aliya. I knew my family in Israel, I'd visited here many times; after my father was gone, I just wanted to be with my family here.
"It's impossible to explain it, but Shabbat is another reason. It's the way Shabbat feels here - the peace, the silence, being with your family. The world changes on Friday afternoons when the sun begins to set."
When his father passed away, Babchuck was managing a winter resort in Vermont but moved back to Boston to live with his mother. "So when it came time for aliya, I didn't have an amazing amount of stuff," he says. "But every day, I'd bring a few bags into the thrift store. Just for practice, I'd make the employees treat me just like anyone else making a donation - 'I want my tax receipt!'"
"I took three overfull suitcases with me, but since my sister was getting married in a few weeks, we knew family would be coming, so I packed about seven more suitcases and family members brought them. Now, I have a whole roomful of empty suitcases - maybe I should open a thrift store.
"I left my snowboard - not much need for it in the Negev. And I left Mr. Zappers, my cat, who went to live with my mother."
"A few days before I left, a long-time friend from New Jersey helped me with all the last details, then drove me to the airport. I came all by myself - not part of an aliya flight, so on both ends, I had an amazing amount of paperwork. I still have nightmares about it."
Babchuck's uncle came to pick him up: "He operates on Israeli time - but hey, he made it! We drove to Beersheba, and I unpacked my suitcases. I live in my mother's apartment, so everything was here. That first night I had a bed - with sheets! - to sleep in.
Babchuck then spent the first few weeks travelling all over Israel and getting reacquainted with family. "Some I hadn't seen for years."
Babchuck's apartment is on the seventh floor of one of Beersheba's newer and more elegant buildings. He has three bedrooms, two baths, a glorious balcony - complete with natural air conditioning - and plenty of room to store the extra suitcases. From the moment he arrived, he had appliances, pots and pans, and paintings on the walls - highly unusual, for most new immigrants.
"Believe me, I know how lucky I am," he says. "I had an apartment, I speak Hebrew. I had family here to help. Even with all that, I struggled. I can't really imagine how someone who didn't have all those benefits would get through it."
Babchuck is just completing the work for his Master's in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. "I was delayed a few weeks because I pulled a hamstring playing tennis, and was immobile for about six weeks. I asked for extra time to finish - I could have dashed off a quick paper and been done, but I wanted to end on a high note, to do my best. So I'm just finishing now."
"I speak Hebrew. My first words were Hebrew. My parents sacrificed to keep all three of us in Solomon Schechter schools, so we'd keep our Hebrew. But when I got here, I took a four-week intensive ulpan, level three - and you know what? It ruined me. I knew how to speak, but intensively studying verb forms eight hours a day ruined me. I'd stop to think before I spoke - then I just lost it. I was afraid to say anything. Now, I think I'm recovering from ulpan. Maybe it will be helpful later. I sure hope so."
"The Army says they don't need me, but since I want to live here, raise a family here, I want to work out something so I can at least be in the reserves. I don't have to, but I want to."
In addition to all his family here, about 11 months ago he found a girlfriend, Nurit. Her family came from Argentina just before she was born.
"They've become a second family for me, which has been wonderful. Nurit saved me when I had a nasty bureaucratic episode: I had to buy a refrigerator. It took six weeks of way-beyond insane bureaucracy, and I couldn't have gotten through it without her. Every night I had to remind myself of all the reasons I'd come."
"I'm a Conservative Jew."
"I saved money, living with my mom before I left. And being able to live here, in my mom's apartment, is a big boost - [although] I still pay utilities. I'm trying not to dip into savings because when I start working, I'll need to buy a car. After everything I went through to buy the refrigerator, I can't even imagine the horrors involved in buying a car."
Babchuck expresses his desire to raise a family in Israel "so they'll have all the benefits of growing up in our homeland.
"I need to find a job, too. My undergraduate degree, a BA in Communications, will help, I think, and I'm allowing myself until the age of 30 to find work I really enjoy. I realize I'll have to make sacrifices here, but when I go to work in the mornings, I want to be doing something I like."
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