A budding fashion writer, Kogan first laid eyes on Israel as a teen, and has loved this country’s style ever since.
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
When New Jersey native Simona Kogan, 27, made aliya in December 2007, she fulfilled a dream that began years before. “My mom took me to Israel as a highschool graduation gift,” she recalls. “That’s when I fell in love with the country, I felt a strong connection.”Kogan decided she had to spend more time here, so in 2006 she embarked on a yearlong Jewish study program. “I started learning Hebrew, I saw a whole other side of Israel and I knew I wanted to make aliya, to live here,” she says.She recalls how she broke the news to her parents, Russian immigrants who came to the US in their 20s. “I really wasn’t sure how they would react,” she says. “They worked so hard to make a successful life in America, and now I wanted to leave and go to Israel.”While her parents were worried at first, they are now getting used to the idea of her aliya. “They know I’m happy here,” says Kogan, “and I ask them for a lot of advice – they know what it’s like to be an immigrant.”THE ALIYA PROCESS Kogan made aliya with Nefesh B’Nefesh, which she says helped smooth what could have been a bumpy ride. “They took care of a lot of the bureaucracy.” Nefesh B’Nefesh also helped her find her first job here, at a start-up in Tel Aviv.LIVING AdvertisementHer first home was the absorption center in Ra’anana. Accommodation was “very basic,” but the experience was positive. “I went to synagogue nearby,” she relates. “I made new friends there, Israelis whose parents made aliya.”Now, she shares a central Tel Aviv apartment with two other American women.CULTURE She has found it relatively easy to find herself at home here. “In terms of the culture shock that lots of new olim say they’ve faced, I’ve been lucky,” she admits. “Maybe it’s because I was so in love with Israel, but I have had a really positive experience.”Wherever she has come up against cultural differences, she says that so far it’s been easy to adapt. “I like how Israelis are blunt, they tell you the truth,” she says with a smile.LANGUAGE As well as English, Kogan speaks Russian, which she learned from her parents. She is working hard on her Hebrew, which she is keen to improve. After trying classes at ulpan, which were “just too slow,” she now takes lessons with a private tutor. Kogan stresses that it’s essential to learn Hebrew, as she needs the language to succeed in her career goals.WORK She currently works for an Internet start-up in Kfar Yarok, at the northern edge of Tel Aviv, where she manages specialist English-language blogs. She describes the atmosphere as very relaxed. “Israeli work culture is very laid-back compared with what I’m used to in America,” she says. “My bosses sometimes poke fun at me because I like to get dressed up for work. They come to work in sweatshirts.”INTERESTS AND AMBITIONS She has a BA in journalism and media studies from Rutgers University, and wrote for a US celebrity magazine before aliya. An enthusiastic follower of music and the arts, her major interest is fashion and her goal is to build a career in fashion writing. “I love looking at other people and finding out who they are through their clothes,” she explains.She writes about the country’s burgeoning fashion scene in her blog, Fashion Israel. She also contributes fashion-related articles to a US style blog and to Israeli culture site igoogledIsrael.com.Israel has a unique fashion style that Kogan is keen to promote abroad. “A lot of trends come out here first,” she says, “Israelis style themselves well.” This fashion sense is not confined to Israel’s secular community; religious women are also style-savvy. “They dress conservatively, but fashion is very important to them.”She admits that “nobody sees Tel Aviv as a fashion capital,” but says the city has a vast potential. “Israelis are not wearing cookie-cutter fashion, but stuff that’s really out there, stuff that’s cool,” she says.Perhaps reflecting the diverse community, local fashion is inspired by sources as diverse as vintage, up-to-the-minute European and Middle Eastern fashion, even the IDF. “Israeli designer Sigal Dekel had a collection based on army clothing,” notes Kogan.Compared to the US, the country’s fashion movers and shakers are more accessible. “The Tel Aviv fashion community is very intimate,” she explains. “You contact a designer and they tell you to come on over to their apartment because they’re having a sale.”Her ambition is to develop her career as a fashion journalist and writer, and promote the local fashion scene internationally. “Maybe I’ll be known as the American who writes about Israel fashion culture,” she smiles.Simona Kogan’s blog, Fashion Israel, can be accessed at http://www.fashionisrael.wordpress.com/.