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Many new arrivals are forced to change direction when they make aliyaâ€š but with Gita Ostrovitz, 52, it was a conscious decision. According to this tall, quiet and composed lady with a very sweet smile: "I knew it would not be too easy to give up a high-powered, well paid job in New York to come to Jerusalem and start over at my age and alone, but it was the fulfilment of a dream I had harbored since I was a little girl. Finally, in May 2004, I made the dream a reality."
Ostrovitz, then called Greta, grew up in Boston in a warm Jewish home, but not a particularly observant one. Her mother's family came from Russia and her father's from Poland, and they arrived in USA with the wave of immigrants that arrived prior to World War I. Her father worked in the meat business, and she has two brothers and a sister in the US. She is divorced and has no children. Her family was a typical Conservative American family, who expressed their Jewishness through activities in Hadassah, B'nai B'rith etc.
"But even as a little girl of 14, I felt there was a Jewish dimension absent from my life. I read widely - Holocaust literature and books about the Jewish festivals. I wanted to be part of that culture, I wanted to light candles and celebrate Shabbat the traditional way. I knew I would do it one day."
"I worked in a corporate law firm in New York that employed 550 attorneys and also had an office in London. It was a Wall Street firm although it had moved to a new address, and my position was Director of Information Technology. It was the kind of job that left you no other life. You were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was in charge of all the automation at our three branches in America and one in London. It was a tough business, very demanding, very prestigious, but with no time to relax. I had visited Israel at least five times before I made aliya, and each time it strengthened my resolve to make this my home."
The first thing Ostrovitz did was to attend Ulpan in Jerusalem, spending five months learning Hebrew. At the same time, she made friends with a number of French olim, so her French improved at an even faster rate.
She didn't want to work in the same field that had given her no respite in the US, so she decided to study at the Jerusalem Kosher Culinary School based in Bayit Vegan, where she was in the first class for female chefs. She was fascinated by food, entertaining and decorating, and from the start thought of opening her own restaurant. At the same time, she did some freelance work for a Tel Aviv software firm as a consultant, helping them market a program to law firms in the US. However, she had no desire to get back into that field permanently, and was actively looking for different opportunities, like opening a franchise of an existing food chain. When that didn't work out, she decided to open her own place. When she heard that a caf was closing, she rented it. She herself is the administrator and hostess, and has a part-time staff of eight.
It is fashioned on the French salon de theâ€š as far as the d cor goes, with dark wood tables, comfortable leather chairs, mellow lighting and yellow walls adorned with her own needlework embroideries of flowers, the four seasons and tea-related themes. One can choose to dine in the back garden, which is magical in the cool evenings. The menu reflects the much-loved English afternoon teas that she enjoyed whenever she was in London on frequent visits for her old firm, including Welsh Rarebit and Shepherds Pie (a vegetarian version).
Customers' all-time favorite is the three-tiers of dainty sandwiches, tiny cakes and scones with jam and clotted cream. There are many varieties of tea served in teapots with silver strainers and poured into pretty china. Ostrovitz also serves French and Moroccan teas and pastries, as well as different quiches and salads. Ostrovitz gave her caf a French name, "Chez Ostrovitz" because she often entertained her French friends from Ulpan on Shabbat. "They always said they were dining 'Chez Ostrovitz,' so it became a kind of joke."
She has a long day, arriving week-days at 9 a.m. and staying until closing time at 10 p.m. or when the last diners leave, which might even be midnight if there's a special party taking place. She uses the week-end mainly for sleeping and reading but her hobby in the early morning is needlework, which she loves and at which she is very talented. She works in petit point and cross-stitch.
Her cafe is in the heart of the city, and her new abode is conveniently close. Her home is an attractive two-room apartment in a high-rise building that even boasts a swimming pool. One room is lined with book shelves to house her collection of 1,000 books on Judaica, history, gardening, English literature, biography and more than 200 cookery books. Julia Child, widely considered America's first celebrity chef, is her favorite. Her friends say that the apartment is very un-Israeli, decorated in sage green and lots of Laura Ashley chintz soft furnishings both in the salon and the bedroom. There are many of her own embroidered cushions scattered around, which also continue her floral theme.
She has a wide circle of very cosmopolitan friends, who are a mixture of American, British and French. Gradually more and more Israelis are joining the circle as her Hebrew improves. Many of her friends were made from her attendance at Yeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem, where she says the congregation is wonderfully warm and friendly.
Ostrovitz describes herself as Modern Orthodox. She attends Yeshurun, keeps kosher and Shabbat, and enjoys the rituals of religious life which she believes is the Jews' survival system.
She is still strongly Zionistic.
"There is nothing truer than the old joke that says to make a small fortune in Israel, you need to come with a large one," she smiles. Ostrovitz had savings from her job when she arrived, but it takes a long time to establish a business.
Because her caf is in a side street, at 5 Rehov Hahavetzelet in Jerusalem, it doesn't really get passing trade. People have to know about it. It was growing slowly until the war started, and now she is a bit concerned because people are not in the mood to go out and enjoy themselves when so much is happening. But she quotes an optimistic maxim: "If you can build a better mousetrap, though you live in a forest, the whole world will beat a path to your door!"
"I want to make a success of my new career and basically continue with my present lifestyle. Many people have told me that as a single [person] I would have a trendier lifestyle if I were in Tel Aviv, but Jerusalem is home. And for me, living in Jerusalem is a blessing and a privilege that I'll never take for granted!"
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