Arrivals: Professional polyglot

Moshe Luftig, 37 Antwerp to Jerusalem, April 2007

moshe luftig 311 (photo credit: Abigail Klein)
moshe luftig 311
(photo credit: Abigail Klein)
"I always believe there’s something better coming; maybe you just don’t see it right now,” says Moshe Luftig, a Belgian immigrant currently looking for employment in Jerusalem.
This optimistic spirit underlies many of the successful moves Luftig has made in his life, particularly his decision to seek love and livelihood far from the land of his birth.
Born in Belgium, Luftig is the child of a Polish father and Swiss mother. His mother was just 17 when her father, then an Antwerp diamond dealer, stopped his future son-in-law on the street, befriended him and soon introduced him to his daughter. The couple settled in Antwerp and raised their two sons there.
Like most Belgians, Luftig is conversant in a handful of languages. He spoke French and English at home and Yiddish in school. He is fluent in Dutch and Hebrew, and also learned Italian.
Motivated partly by a desire to sharpen his Hebrew skills, Luftig enrolled in yeshiva in Israel after high school, and went on to earn a degree in political science and economics from Bar-Ilan University.
At 25, he returned to Antwerp to go into the diamond business with his father.
“I liked Belgium, but socially it was meager,” he says. “Antwerp is a sober and simple shtetl, a bit old-fashioned. I used to travel whenever I could to London and Paris.”
After six years working in diamonds and several other jobs, Luftig felt the need for a major change in direction.
“I felt the best option was to get married, so I came to Israel during Pessah to stay with my uncle in Bnei Brak,” he relates. While standing at the Western Wall on his last day of vacation, he resolved to call a young woman he had met at a family wedding.
“She said, ‘Yes, let’s meet.’ We went out, and three months later we were engaged. She jokes that my prayers at the Kotel got a quick response that time.”
The courtship involved four trips to Israel and lots of long-distance phone calls. On each trip, Luftig brought more of his possessions with him, gradually transferring himself to Israel.
“I thought at first that we might live in Belgium because my job was there, but I wanted to change my whole life totally,” he says. “It was kind of a wager, but a good one.”
The pair married at the end of 2005. They rented an apartment in Jerusalem, and Luftig officially made aliya on April 26, 2007.
His wife, Liat, is a second-generation Jerusalemite. From the age of 18, she had operated a trendy hat shop in Rehavia, which was frequented by VIPs, including several politicians’ wives. She gave up her business when the couple’s second daughter was born, preferring to be a full-time mother.
Luftig’s own career options were less than rosy. “Diamonds were becoming a difficult trade,” he says, explaining why he did not pursue that avenue. He worked for two years at IDT Global in Jerusalem, where many other new English-speaking olim also got a professional start.
He is currently seeking work as a representative for an overseas bank, company or nonprofit organization to take advantage of his language skills and easy way with people. “I like being helpful to others,” he says. “I would love to work for someone who appreciates my capabilities.”
Luftig sees his parents, who still live in Belgium, once or twice a year at family occasions. His brother lives in New York with his wife and three sons, and his maternal grandmother and several aunts and uncles live in Israel. One of his uncles is hassidic singer-songwriter Moshe Laufer.
In addition to a bilingual three-year-old, Luftig and his wife have a 17-month-old toddler. “We have no day or night in our house,” he says with a laugh, “but, thank God, they give us a lot of joy.”
Being unemployed since August has given Luftig lots of opportunity to spend with his girls, something he says he cherishes. Nevertheless, he hopes to return soon to the realm of the employed – if only to help actualize the couple’s dream of buying an apartment in the capital city.
“We love the mentality, the beautiful hills and the climate in Jerusalem,” he says. “We very much want to continue living in this city. But it is difficult to find a place we can afford, and that is sad for us and for all the young families who want to live here and have to go somewhere else because Jerusalem is too expensive.”
On Shabbat, the family often has meals with Liat’s parents, who live near the Great Synagogue. Luftig enjoys services there, having been fond of cantorial music since he was a young boy.
“Israel is the best place to have a spiritual life together with family,” says Luftig. “In Belgium, wearing a kippa was a difficult thing, and I experienced anti-Semitic rhetoric firsthand. Here, we can easily integrate spirituality into our lives and our children’s lives.”
Luftig agrees with the sages of old who declared that prayers are best answered when they’re uttered in the Holy Land. “You have God’s ear here, and that’s most important to me.”
“I love reading books in English,” says Luftig, “especially biographies and other nonfiction. There’s a kind of fire in me to change my life for the better, and I like to learn from others and understand why people do certain things.”
He recently read The King of Oil: The Secret Lives of Marc Rich, a biography of the controversial commodities trader and fellow Belgian; and Open, tennis star Andre Agassi’s autobiography.
Though he is a big fan of his wife’s homemade schnitzel, he enjoys indulging in a good restaurant meal when finances allow. “I like Chinese cuisine. I like a good steak. There is so much variety in Jerusalem,” he says.
Mostly, it’s simple pleasures that Luftig most appreciates – walkingwith his family, sitting on a park bench in the sun, hearing a goodTorah lecture. “You get more out of those kinds of things here than youdo overseas,” he believes.
“At the beginning, life in Israel seems harder than it really is. Enjoyall the small things because they are really the big things. That’swhat is important as a new oleh – to change your priorities.”
“The municipal bureaucracy here can be challenging. But I think Israelhas a lot to give, and I believe this country has gone so far from whatwe could ever have imagined. So I think it will give me my chance, too.”