(photo credit: rina klein)
Born in 1952 and brought up in the Riverdale section of New York City, Judith Goldman met her future husband and her future destiny at Camp Morasha in 1967.She and campmate Joel Isaacson went on to attend the City University of New York. They spent sophomore year in Israel, she at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
“I was 15 when the Six Day War happened, and it made an impression,” Isaacson says. “So in 1970, I opted to spend a year abroad in Israel to see the country that was so central in our lives. It was probably the only foreign country my parents would have allowed me to go to anyway.”
The experience left Isaacson with a firmer grasp of Hebrew and an appreciation for the land. When she got engaged, she readily agreed to begin married life in Israel. “I didn’t see any problem with that,” she says. “There was a nucleus of kids from the US who were making aliya, and we felt comfortable there.”
The couple wed in 1972 and soon thereafter rented an apartment in Bnei Brak near Bar-Ilan, where Joel began studying for a master’s degree in physics and Judy worked in the public relations office of the university.
“We bought all our furnishings at the Jaffa flea market,” Isaacson recalls.
FURLOUGH IN PHILADELPHIA
Those idyllic days didn’t last long. After buying a small house in Mevaseret Zion and welcoming a baby daughter, the Isaacsons found themselves targeted by an organized crime family in their neighborhood.
“They tried to take over our land,” Isaacson says. When the young family refused to move, their car was stolen and wrecked and their pet dog was killed. In the end, the Isaacsons prevailed in court. But the episode took a huge toll and temporarily derailed their lives.
Under intense intimidation during the trial, the Isaacsons moved to an anonymous Jerusalem address. As a Ma’ariv reporter was poised to break the story, the increasing danger of their situation forced the Isaacsons to flee on very short notice, stopping first at Judy’s grandparents in Belgium and continuing on to their parents in New York. They read the Ma’ariv story about their sensational court case in a newspaper purchased at a kosher pizza parlor in Queens.
Paying for storage of all the possessions in their Mevaseret house, they moved to the Philadelphia area, where Joel began a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania and Judy started a master’s program in human services administration at Drexel University. Their son was born during this time.
Over the next seven years, they became increasingly involved in the local community. However, no longer feeling at home in American Jewish culture, they determined to return to Israel.
In 1982, after completing their degrees, the Isaacsons began anew in Rehovot, where there is an English-speaking community.
Whereas in America Isaacson had felt a need to focus exclusively on Jewish causes, in Israel she felt free to devote time to secular organizations such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. She continued her involvement with AMIT Women, which she had joined in Philadelphia.
“We just wanted to be mainstream instead of outsiders as we’d been in America – but, of course, in Israel we were ‘the Americans.’ I didn’t know the songs my kids learned at nursery school. I didn’t know the school vacation dates. There was a lot to get used to. But we loved working and living according to the Jewish calendar.”
Neither works in a field related to the graduate degrees they earned. Joel went into software development, becoming one of the first Israelis to purchase a personal computer. Judy and a friend founded a word-processing business. As their client companies started getting their own word-processing equipment, the partners moved into providing more sophisticated business and marketing services for hi-tech firms.
In 1998, she and her sister Debbie Rosenbloom – in Israel on sabbatical from Washington – wrote and self-published Bar and Bat Mitzvah in Israel: The Ultimate Family Sourcebook. After updating it twice, they phased it out in favor of an on-line magazine. Created with their new olah cousin, Michele Kaplan-Green, @thesourceisrael.com featured off-the-beaten-track tourist destinations.
Then the 2000 intifada intervened. Tourism virtually stopped, and the team shifted into writing about Israeli artists and authors for on-line visitors.
Three years ago, Isaacson combined the knowledge gathered from her extensive travels throughout Israel with personal contacts in the arts, foods, ethnic communities and tourism and started her present business, drive-israel.com. This travel planning service is designed to enable a more DIY tourist experience. On Isaacson’s blog, www.drive-israel.com/blog, timely information about events and festivals is routinely updated and Twittered.
“I have clients all over the world, Jewish and non-Jewish. One family wanted only Christian ‘believers’ as their guides, along with luxury accommodations. I set them up for a Holy Land tour with four different guides, each one an expert in a specific geographic area.”
Isaacson relishes her role in bringing first-timers to Israel, as well as the challenge of creating trips for frequent visitors. “There is more going on here than what is reported in the news. It’s a high for me when my clients come and meet decent and knowledgeable Israelis of all different backgrounds, because I know those are the impressions they go away with.”
Isaacson, the grandmother of two girls, enjoys reading foreign
mysteries translated into English. She especially favors those written
by Scandinavian authors such as Henning Mankell. “They provide a window
into another society,” she says.
She has seen many societies up close, having traveled to places such as
India (with stops in Amman and Abu Dhabi), Thailand, Belize, South
Africa and Iceland. She and her family have gone on weeklong narrow
boat voyages through the canals of England.
“I’ve never really used my master’s degree professionally,” Isaacson
says. “Women often create their own opportunities as opposed to doing
what they’ve been trained for, especially when moving to a different
country and culture. You have to be creative to see where your talents
can bring success in some field, particularly in Israel, where there is
an ‘old boys’ network’ that is hard to break into.”
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