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(photo credit: JUDY LASH BALINT)
Shulamit Lando wasn't really looking to turn her life inside out when she visited an on-line dating site in 1997. But she doesn't believe in coincidences either, so the Mexican-born, trilingual psychotherapist followed her instincts when she struck up a correspondence with a divorced American oleh and father of four living in Tekoa, and married him without really understanding the implications of moving to a settlement on the edge of the Judean Desert.
After several years of adjustment, the Landos have figured out an arrangement that works for the family, and Shulamit now lives and works in Jerusalem during the week, spending Shabbat and holidays in Tekoa. For the busy therapist trying to build her private practice and enjoy Jerusalem's cultural offerings, it's the best of both worlds.
Shulamit's mother's family is from Hungary and her father was born in Mexico of Lithuanian parents. Shulamit and her siblings were raised in Mexico City and attended Jewish schools from kindergarten until high school. While her brother made aliya at 18, Zionism was always "in the background," according to Shulamit. "I never thought I'd live outside Mexico. I was made there, I felt very comfortable there - and never had any experience of anti-Semitism."
Shulamit was living in a beautiful house with a glass ceiling on the outskirts of the little town of Cuernavaca. "But I was totally isolated and I was getting lonely," she says.
She had a thriving psychotherapy practice dealing primarily with clients suffering from multiple sclerosis. Physicians referred MS patients to her, since she had developed techniques and know-how to deal with the chronic illness she herself had been battling since her late 20s.
"I'm very grateful to that illness," she says. "It was my motivator. It taught me a lot about meaning, pain and compassion and the importance of attitude and how you can change your reality through attitude."
Shulamit recounts how, apart from her practice, all her energy during this time was spent on healing her emotions and body. "But I was alone, so I put an ad on the Internet."
Tekoa resident Zvi Lando responded. The couple chatted on-line and over the phone for three and a half months. "I just had a good feeling about it," Shulamit recalls. Zvi invited her to visit and "within five minutes of meeting each other we knew we'd get married." She calls Zvi "a gift from heaven."
Shulamit had been in Israel a couple of times before - the last time in 1985 - and had come to the conclusion that she would never live here. After their marriage in Mexico in August 1997, Zvi brought Shulamit back to Tekoa, a mixed religious-secular settlement on the eastern edge of Gush Etzion, where he had lived for many years. During their courtship Zvi described the community as eclectic and open, with many people like her interested in alternative health, recounts Shulamit. "He took it for granted that I knew where the place was and the political realities."
Shulamit has an ear for languages and converses fluently in English and Hebrew in addition to her native Spanish. She studied Hebrew at two Jerusalem ulpanim and now conducts her workshops in all three languages.
"I was not religious, I'd never even been around religious people," Shulamit laughs, "And here I am married to a religious guy in the territories. I was so ignorant about the whole thing."
She describes herself when she arrived as "an illiterate about the situation in the Middle East." But she's grateful that she landed in Tekoa and not in an all-religious community. "I did feel very taken care of and accepted there."
Today, most of her friends in Tekoa are religious. "I love Tekoa and the people there, I just hate the road."
After being stoned a few times during the second intifada on her daily trips to ulpan in Jerusalem she realized she would have to move.
One of the first things she did in her Tekoa home was to paint the walls bright colors. "I'm from Mexico, who needs white walls?"
Today, Shulamit lives and works during the week in a cozy apartment near Mahaneh Yehuda and returns to Tekoa on Shabbat and holidays. "I always told Zvi this is the way of keeping a marriage alive. We see each other on Shabbat and we talk on the phone 20 times a day."
Routine is not a word that resonates much for Shulamit. But while she builds her psychotherapy practice in Jerusalem, she finds that much of her day, outside of her scheduled private and group sessions, is devoted to reading, meditating and writing. Spending time on the Internet helps keep her in touch with her family in Mexico and professional colleagues.
Shulamit studied to be a body-oriented psychotherapist at a private institute in Mexico City and in the US and has been a practicing therapist for almost 20 years. She spent some time helping the Koby Mandell Foundation with its bereaved mothers and widows healing retreats and developed an expertise in working with terror victims. "Post-trauma work has become my forte," she says.
Today, an additional focus is her work with groups for "women in transition." "Every woman is always in transition," she says. Dream therapy is another area she has ventured into. "Dreams are very important in our connection with a higher place where we design the big picture of our lives," she states.
Shulamit puts a great emphasis on creativity. "I'm not necessarily talking about creativity in the traditional sense of painting or writing, but in things that we do every day, like making soup. My groups are creative, playful and above all, empowering."
A self-described movie addict, Shulamit also uses writing and music as recreation. Several years ago she wrote a fictionalized account of her love affair and journey to Israel. Love@desert.com was published in Spanish in Mexico to good reviews. "I can laugh about myself," she says. She has also recently picked up on a piece of her creativity she thought she'd left behind in Mexico - she's started to play guitar and write songs again.
Shulamit jokes that her husband says he married the only non-wealthy Jew in Mexico. Money has never been a goal or motivating factor for her and she tries to economize by shopping conservatively at the nearby shouk. She has high praise for the country's medical care system, which has given her the best care for the least cost of any country she's lived in.
Her closest friends are Americans, but "I have the gift of easily making friends," and she counts Israelis and a few Latin Americans among her circle. She keeps in touch with her relatives here too.
Shulamit sees herself as Mexican-Israeli and notes that she has learned to appreciate Israel more than she thought she would.
"I have total faith in God," she says. While she acknowledges that she might understand God differently than the strictly religious person, she says she has "blind faith that there's a purpose to everything that happens." Shulamit considers herself a very spiritual person and believes in reincarnation. "We're here to be a co-worker with God, to be of service to others," she says.
Shulamit would like to see herself professionally fulfilled and to be busy without being overworked or neglecting her own needs. "I don't plan my life as much as I know how to ride the wave and take advantage of opportunities. I'm a very free spirit."
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