freemans 88 298.
(photo credit: )
Birthplaces: South Wales and North London
Ages: 59 and 62
Aliya date: January 1, 2004
Occupations: President of Haifa chapter of Hadassah Israel; Finance director Strauss Ice Cream
Family status: Married with two adult children
When Lee and Stan Freeman celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with a trip to Israel in 1994, they fell in love with the country and began to plan their retirement here. However a fortuitous work opportunity preempted this plan and they were able to move in 2000.
Lee grew up in Swansea in South Wales. She chose a university with a strong Jewish society and at 19, as secretary of this group at the London School of Economics, she met Stan, who was elected chairman. Stan, who grew up in North London, was studying for his master's at LSE. They both had a background in Zionist youth movements, Lee in Hanoar Hatzioni and Stan in Habonim. It was with Habonim that Stan had visited Israel as a youngster, but the silver wedding trip was Lee's first experience of the country.
Lee taught high-school geography and later specialized in working with dyslexic students. With Stan working for Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch multinational, they spent 10 years in Holland before returning to the UK where they settled in Radlett, Hertfordshire.
In 1995, Unilever started investing in Israel, including a 50 percent share in Strauss Ice Cream. Five years later, Stan was offered the job of finance director and the dream of making aliya became a reality.
Their son and daughter were already established in their homes and jobs in the UK. "It is us who flew the nest, not the youngsters," says Lee.
Stan's work is based in Acre, so they decided to live in Haifa. On arrival, they rented an apartment in Danya, before buying a penthouse near the highest point on Mount Carmel, next to the university. "We love Haifa and wouldn't choose to live anywhere else," they say.
Lee has some extended family who gave them a very warm welcome and invited them for weekends and holidays. And the Freemans are "joiners": Soon they had a wide social circle.
"We didn't expect too much at the beginning," says Lee, who is president of the Haifa chapter of Hadassah-Israel. "I usually prefer to be a backstage volunteer in organizations I support," she says, "but I saw the potential to develop the Haifa group's involvement in local community projects and agreed to take on a higher profile role." Lee is also currently the elected representative on the national executive for all the English-speaking chapters. However, with an eye to the future, the Haifa English-speaking chapter aims to expand by welcoming Hebrew-speaking members. In fact, Haifa recently won a Hadassah-Israel certificate of excellence for its activities and fund-raising achievements.
Both Stan and Lee are also involved with AACI, Chi.LD (the Haifa Center for Children with Learning Disabilities) and the Talia Trust, which supports children with special learning difficulties as well as focusing on young victims of psoriasis.
Although Stan does not have much time for leisure, he swims daily at the Danya Sports Club and still retains his interest in amateur competitive swimming. The Freemans are both ardent fans of Arsenal Football Club. Lee sings in the North Carmel Choir, and does Tai Chi. They love to entertain on their large balcony - with ice cream for dessert of course.
The Freemans appreciate how lucky they were to make aliya with a good job waiting. Stan has enjoyed his initiation into the Israeli workforce. When asked how he has adjusted to a rather different work ethic, he replied: "There has been no conflict for me. The company has a very strong and strict work ethic and there is an enthusiastic and decisive work environment. I did find it rather difficult to adjust to the constant use of mobile phones during work time and especially during meetings. In the UK we had a rule that all private phones be switched off in the office."
While both Lee and Stan learned to read Hebrew in their synagogue classes, they arrived with no working knowledge of the language. However, they are convinced that speaking the language is an integral part of identification with the country.
"When we lived in Holland, we learned Dutch and this opened all the doors both at work and socially," says Stan.
"In Israel, we discourage people from trying out their English on us and we insist on speaking Hebrew," says Lee, who is rather frustrated that Israelis often notice one's accent more than the language being spoken.
Stan did not have time to go to an ulpan as he started work immediately on arrival. "Since the company is multinational, English is a vital language, but in everyday conversations, I ask my colleagues to use Hebrew." Stan still continues to receive private Hebrew lessons.
Lee described her ulpan at the University of Haifa's Department of Overseas Students as excellent and she continues her connection with it as a volunteer. "Language is essential for a really successful aliya," she feels, "and it will be a lifelong learning process."
The Freemans both grew up in traditional Jewish families. They are comfortable at Maor Yehuda, a nearby Modern Orthodox synagogue where they were made very welcome and attend services regularly. "Because there are a lot of immigrants, including Anglos, the synagogue is more of a community," they say.
"We bought a view and a balcony, the apartment is incidental," jokes Stan describing the mountaintop penthouse from which they can see the cliffs at Rosh Hanikra and the snow on Mount Hermon. "I stand at the kitchen sink and can't get over how lucky I am to have such a wonderful view," says Lee.
Lee promises that when Stan retires in a few years, she will reduce her voluntary work so that they can travel. In the limited vacation time currently available, they visit England to see the family and they both want to explore further afield.
Stan's parents were Holocaust refugees, while Lee's grandparents arrived in Britain from Eastern Europe a century ago. Both Lee and Stan agree that their visit to Israel in 1994 changed their lives. "We felt so at home," says Lee, "and to this day we really enjoy the atmosphere and the sense of belonging."
The Freemans miss their children, "But home is here - when old friends in the UK greet us with 'welcome home,' we always reply that Israel is our home."
Stan describes how during the war in Lebanon last summer, the company continued to function. "It was scary driving through the bayside to Acre," he admitted, "but we had to maintain production."
Lee volunteered delivering meals to the elderly and collecting toys for children in the shelters. "They say that to be a true Israeli, you have to live through a war," she laments, but on a personal level, she feels safer here than in the UK.
Stan sums this up: "We have no doubt. This is the best decision we ever made."
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