Arrivals: Dina and Shlomo Schachter

'In America, we're Israeli. Here, we'll probably always be known as Americans.'

schachters 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
schachters 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Birthplace: Philadelphia for both Aliya date: Dina, 2004; Shlomo, 2005 Occupation: Students, both looking for work Family status: Married, one daughter, Tzedakah, 17 month As young as they are, both Dina and Shlomo Schachter studied for years, each acquiring deep knowledge of all aspects of Jewish life. Now, as new parents, they're faced with an all-too-common new-immigrant problem: how to transform all the education into earning a living. Each earned a degree in Jewish studies, Shlomo from Oberlin College in Ohio, where he was also a football star, and Dina from Temple University in Philadelphia. Each spent years learning in various yeshivot, and following that, lived and learned in the heady religious-Zionist atmosphere of Bat Ayin. Four months ago, the couple moved to Beersheba where Shlomo studies natural medicine at Reidman College, while Dina studies graphic arts two days a week at Sapir College. Now on their own as a family for the first time since their marriage in 2005, with a new apartment and a baby, the need to start earning a living has become critical. "It's discouraging," Shlomo says. "We have all this formal Jewish education, but here in Israel, the average guy on the street knows just as much about Judaism as we do." "Both of us have years of experience doing many different things," Dina says. "We've both coached athletics, either of us can teach English or Hebrew. The problem is that most of the educational institutions require certain certificates to teach, so we're having trouble finding work. We're both looking for any kind of work that fits into our family situation." FAMILY BACKGROUND Dina's parents, two sisters and a brother still live in the US. "I grew up in a Reform home in suburban Philadelphia," she says. "All my grandparents were born in North America. We have this wonderful photo of my great-grandfather, taken in his village in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. He was the only one from that village to survive. He left, walking across Europe, to escape the Russian army, then stowed away on a ship to America. He built a whole new life in Roxbury, Pennsylvania." Shlomo was also born in Philadelphia, although he and Dina first met in Jerusalem. "I grew up in a Renewal shul," he says. "I found my grandfather's high-school yearbook, and when everyone else was saying their dream was to be a rich doctor or lawyer, he said what he wanted was to be a labor pioneer in Palestine. "Both sets of my grandparents came from Vienna, and both had amazing stories. My mother's family escaped just ahead of the Nazis in 1939. My father and all his siblings had a harrowing journey, coming in through the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, then into the US on the first night of Pessah, 1941. At Thanksgiving, my father always says a special blessing in gratitude for America's having taken them in." Several members of Shlomo's family live in Israel. His older sister skipped her high school graduation ceremony to come alone, at 17. His mother, Alana, lives in Safed. BEFORE ARRIVAL "I'm a birthright poster child," Dina laughs. "Growing up, I had no desire at all to live in Israel - it seemed very dangerous here. Then one Rosh Hashana, a friend told me she'd just come home from a birthright trip, and I should go, too. The next day, my mother signed me up - it just before the intifada. Over 30,000 kids applied, so they held a lottery to see who'd go. I didn't get picked - which was precisely the moment I knew I wanted to go! Later someone dropped out, so I made the list. When I'd been here just four days, I called my parents and said, 'That's it! I want to live in Israel!' "I came home, went to the shaliah, but he advised me to do a few more programs, spend more time here before making aliya, so I did. For the next four years, I went back and forth, but was mostly here." Shlomo's Israel experience began when he was two, when his family spent a year here. After that, he went back and forth so often that he filled two US passports with Israel stamps. ARRIVAL "After college graduation, I had a little gift money," Dina says. "I found a cheap airline ticket, and told my parents I was going to spend six weeks in Israel. I didn't make any plans, just took my backpack and my skateboard and jumped on a plane. When I flew into Ben-Gurion at 4 a.m., I couldn't find the friend I'd planned to stay with, and I was freaking out. I was trying to go back to Philadelphia, but somehow ended up in Jerusalem where I just fell in love with the city. "I decided I wanted to stay and learn Torah full time. I found a tiny apartment I could almost afford, but then I was completely broke, so I decided to make aliya. I gave up my return ticket, walked over to the government office to open my aliya file. At the time, my boyfriend back in Philadelphia was furious. 'You knew you were going to stay!' he said to me. I laughed. If I'd known I was going to stay, I would have brought more than two changes of underwear." Cumulatively, Shlomo spent many years here, but always on a tourist visa. "He just couldn't get around to making aliya," Dina says. "Finally, after we were married, I made him do it. I wanted him to have health insurance." Shlomo made aliya with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh's "Express Aliya" from within Israel. "It was the first day of Hanukka, 2005," he says. LIVING ENVIRONMENT The Schachters moved to Beersheba's Neveh Ze'ev neighborhood four months ago and found an airy, four-bedroom apartment filled with light but almost nothing else. "This apartment in Jerusalem would have cost us $2,000 a month," Dina says. "Living in Beersheba is much cheaper, but in Jerusalem, there are many more jobs." LANGUAGE Both are fluent in Hebrew. Shlomo grew up in Jewish schools, and learned while visiting Israel. Dina says, "I did three ulpanim immediately after the birthright trip. I learned Hebrew very quickly. I think that's why my aliya was so smooth - I was able to speak Hebrew with all the officials." FINANCES "Finances?" Shlomo laughs. "We don't have any. We're typical newlywed, post-college, student-loan, broke." Dina spends every morning looking for work. "I have 10 years experience teaching English and Hebrew," she says. "In the US, I spent eight years coaching teams for springboard diving - which isn't helpful, since there isn't a single diving board in Israel!" Now, as a practical matter, she's studying graphic art at Sapir College. Shlomo's medical studies are full-time, but he still wants part-time work. "I have lots of Jewish education, I can teach, or be a personal trainer. I'm also a gourmet cook - and Dina's exhibited as an artist. Both of us can do almost anything, if we had the chance." FAITH "We're passionate people, halachically committed, but we're open to others who aren't as committed as we are," Shlomo says. "We're dedicated to Breslov, but I daven in a little Sephardic shul next door - it's very nice, all the neighbors come, the same people every day. It's helping us to fully assimilate into Israeli society, which is something we both want." CIRCLE We have lots of friends in Jerusalem and Bat Ayin, but we haven't really found our community yet here in Beersheba. We've both made some Israeli friends in our schools." IDENTIFICATION "In America, we're Israeli. Here, we'll probably always be known as Americans." Dina received the ultimate compliment. "At school, people asked me where in Israel I was born," she says. "That's nice. It's one of the reasons we wanted to live in Beersheba, to break out of the American mold and be Israelis." PLANS "We're trying to develop our vision," Dina says. "Shlomo's program of study takes four years. Mine takes just one. Then we'll take it from there." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]