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(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Yoav Kaufman, 32, is probably one of the few people in Israel who can say that a dogfight was the precipitating cause for his decision to make aliya.
"I had my BA degree and I'd worked at a lot of jobs but hadn't found a career," says Hawaii-born Yoav Kaufman. "I'd been working at Tully's on Mercer Island, a Pacific Northwest gourmet coffee house, but I was fed up with the 'triple soy extra hot decaf with cinnamon' lifestyle. I love animals, so I decided to open my own dog-sitting business. It was great - I loved it. Then one day I was walking one of my dogs in the park, the dog was on a leash, and another dog - who wasn't on a leash - attacked my dog. I was a little cut up and my dog was a little cut up. Then the other guy sued me! I couldn't believe it. He had a lawyer, I had to get a lawyer - it was crazy. That dogfight was a wake-up call for me: even a dog-sitting business wasn't everything it could be."
Kaufman admits that he was a little frustrated in Seattle too: "I'm not religious, but I have a strong identity as a Jew, and I hadn't really found my Jewish connection there." His mom and stepdad had made aliya a year earlier, moving the family business to Israel.
They offered him a job, making the timing perfect.
"After the dogfight disaster, I decided to give Israel a try. I did some research, found WUJS [World Union of Jewish Students] in Arad, and came in October 2004."
There he met Tali, 31, now his wife, and went on to make aliya in February 2005.
Yoav was born in Hawaii, but soon after moved to the Pacific Northwest. "We first moved to Corvallis, Oregon. I spent half my life on the West Coast and half in Chicago, with two years in Boston. I'd been very active in Young Judea in high school, so when I graduated in 1992, I came for a year program, and stayed with a family in the Golan Heights. During that year, I worked in the banana fields and with their turkeys, and taught English to Ethiopian immigrants. I thought about making aliya then, but decided I wanted to get my degree first, so I went back and graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in sociology."
Tali was born in Petah Tikva, but grew up in Rehovot. After the army, Tali earned a degree in Economic Management and Psychology from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "I went to New York, came back, looked for a job, and went to work as a counselor at WUJS," she says.
Originally, Yoav's plan was to go to WUJS and possibly come back. "When I left Seattle," he says, "I had a great apartment in Madison Park, right on the water. It had everything I needed - furniture and appliances. So I rented a storage unit and packed it all away. Then, when Tali and I came back for the dogfight arbitration, I knew I was making aliya, so we emptied it all out. We sold, donated or just got rid of almost everything. I kept a good mountain bike I'd bought in Boston, but not much else. It wasn't easy to get rid of everything, but when it was done, it felt right. People and places matter more than things - there are always more things out there to buy."
"Yoav's airplane landed at 2 a.m.," Tali says. "He took a cab to Arad and arrived at WUJS at about 4 a.m. I was on duty that night, so I was the first person he met."
"I felt really guilty about waking someone up at that hour," Yoav says. "But Tali was there to greet me and show me my room. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but I did think I should bring her a little something the next day to show my appreciation. I asked around, and someone told me she really loved diet cola. My first gift to her was a can of Diet Coke."
The Kaufmans are between homes, waiting for the construction crew to finish renovations on an apartment they purchased in Beersheba's 'Heh' neighborhood. "It will be the first home either one of us has owned," Yoav says.
"It's on the eighth floor of an older building, with three bedrooms and a living room," Tali says. "We're redoing the two bathrooms entirely - new fixtures, cabinets, tiles, everything." The two balconies are the best part. "They give a nice cool breeze," Yoav says, "And a perfect Israeli view. It's the highest building in the area, and when you look down, you see an ocean of solar panels. You can't see that in the US."
The couple will be in an apartment in Arad for another couple of weeks. It's not an ideal location because of their careers.
Tali has just completed her last week of work at WUJS. Yoav works US business hours in Beersheba, 2 to 10 p.m. Israeli time. With the hour commute, Yoav is rarely home before 11 p.m.
Both are looking forward to another benefit of the new apartment - it's about five minutes away from Yoav's work, which means he'll be able to come home for dinner.
The Kaufmans are expecting a baby on November 8, so Tali won't be working for several months. "But by Israeli standards, we're doing very well," Yoav says. "We both worked, and we made the down payment." Yoav works for Negev Direct, a direct-mail fundraising firm headquartered in Beersheba. "My title is list manager," he says. "I'm the liaison for our clients, who are mostly Jewish nonprofits of all kinds. I love what I do - it's a great feeling to be able to help organizations who are working to help Jews all over the world."
The Kaufmans, one sabra and one oleh, seem to have the best of both worlds. "Tali has Israeli friends, we both have friends from WUJS, and both of us have a lot of supportive family," Yoav says.
"We have a really extended family," he says. "Tali's parents are divorced, so she has two sets of parents, and I have my mom and stepdad here in Israel, and my father and my stepmom in the US. We're all close, and all of them give us a lot of support. It would be hard to make aliya without having a family here."
Yoav: "I go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I'm comfortable being Jewish, but I express myself more through tradition than through religion. Most of my Jewishness revolves around Israel and the Jewish people."
Tali: "I'm secular. I believe in keeping tradition - we keep the basic holidays, we keep kosher. But that doesn't have anything to do with watching TV or driving on Shabbat."
"We're going to have a baby. We're about to move into our new home - and we still haven't bought furniture, appliances, or anything for the baby," Yoav says.
"I'll be home with the baby for a few months, but then I need to find work," Tali says. "The plan is to be healthy and happy and to be a whole family."
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