Istanbul’s loss, Israel’s gain

Rina Barbut, 29: From Istanbul to Tel Aviv, 2008.

Rina Barbut 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Rina Barbut 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Although she was always seriously involved in Jewish activities in her native Istanbul and identified as a proud Jew, Rina Barbut found that making aliya added an important new dimension to her life. She became more observant religiously, she volunteers her time to help others who are settling here, and she loves living in a Jewish country. It has not been easy, especially finding the right job, but after two and a half years here, she feels completely at home.
We meet in Kfar Saba’s Silicon Valley, a super-modern complex of tall office buildings dedicated to various hi-tech businesses, set in an attractive quadrangle not far from the Ra’anana junction. She has been working here as a solution consultant at Nice Systems for the last four months, for the most part in Hebrew, but with many of her projects connected to Turkey.
Barbut studied computer engineering in Istanbul at the Isik University and gained a BSc. During her studies, she made her first trip to Israel through Masa, the Jewish Agency organization that enables young people from abroad to study and work here on a one-year program. She held an internship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and worked for a time at Intel, teaching a website-building course for beginners through advanced students.
She returned to Turkey for another year and a half, but was looking for a program where she could continue delving into Judaism and increase her knowledge and commitment. She found what she was looking for at the Paideia Institute in Sweden, where people from all over Europe, not necessarily Jewish, come to study.
Established in 2000 with funding from the Swedish government, the institute is dedicated to the revival of Jewish culture in Europe.
“I’d always wanted to study Judaism at a not-too-basic level, and Paideia fulfilled that need exactly,” she said. “I loved studying there. It was very intercultural, like Israel, and the people there came from all age groups and backgrounds. Can you imagine how interesting it is to study in a havruta [study partnership] with Christians and listen to their perspective? The studies were so varied, too, touching on Jewish philosophy, but also music and theater.”
Returning to Istanbul, she felt she wanted a change and considered working in London, but would have had to commit to five years.
“I did consider it,” she says. “I knew Israel would welcome me whenever I decided to come.”
In the end, she decided it was too long a period, and she made aliya on December 8, 2008, arriving at the Kfar Saba Absorption Center and settling down to improve her Hebrew.
“Everyone told me if I knew English it was enough, especially in hi-tech, but I don’t agree. If you want to integrate, you have to know the language,” she says. She was advised by a friend to forget her English and try to speak only in Hebrew, and she got a part-time job in technical support, using her rather basic Hebrew.
“It helped me a lot to increase my knowledge of Hebrew, and when I told people I was a new immigrant from Turkey they were nice and understanding,” she tells me.
When she moved to Tel Aviv after the ulpan, she had to share an apartment with three other people because rents were so high. She didn’t like it, though, and couldn’t wait to move out and live alone. She has since done so, and has a huge circle of friends, other young immigrants from different parts of the world and people she had previously met at Jewish events all over the globe. She is a regular at Tel Aviv’s Ihud Olam synagogue, which is geared toward the needs of young Orthodox people.
The Gvahim organization, founded in 2006 to help new young immigrants, has become an important part of Barbut’s life. It helped her to find work, and to this day she is in contact with it and volunteers there. Because she has no family in Israel, she thinks of the people at Gvahim as her family; part of the organization’s goal is to help young people integrate socially as well as professionally.
For the last year, she has been taking a course at the Seminar Hakibbutzim on becoming a medical clown.
“My friends all said I should study drama, as I apparently have a talent for mimicry, but I don’t want to perform on stage. I felt I could give more by entertaining sick children. The studies are very interesting, as you have to have some medical knowledge, too,” she says.
“I also love to play the drums, and I often play in jam sessions with friends.
All my activities outside work I do for my neshama, my soul,” she adds.
 “I want to improve my career, perhaps do another degree and try and do more volunteering. I’d also like to get involved in interfaith dialogue of some sort,” she says.