An enterprising immigrant

A young South African has created a life - and a living - in Ra'anana.

artine Ross, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, who now lives in Ra'anana, has found her niche. After several years of struggle, trial and error, more struggle and ultimate success, the married mother of an 18-month-old son and maker of hand-painted designer fabrics is doing something she loves. A clothes designer in South Africa, Ross had hoped to pursue that calling in Israel. Instead, she found herself working at a medical center in Jerusalem, followed by a lengthy stint in hi-tech, which ended with the birth of her son, Matanel. About a year ago, a friend came to her with an interesting idea. "She told me that she was tired of shopping around for gifts to bring people on Shabbats and holidays. She asked me to come up with something new and different for her to give as gifts," says Ross. Ross made her some specially decorated towels for the hand-washing blessing before meals. When her friend saw the towels, "She loved them and bought four. At the same time, a friend of my mother bought three. That's how it all started, and I haven't looked back since," Ross recalls. She followed her initial creations with everything from personalized bath towels to pillow cushions, T-shirts to bags, and kippot to thermal duvet covers designed to keep food on stovetop hot plates warm during Shabbat. Despite being less than a year old, her business, called Rakia Designs, is growing quickly. Filling orders for personalized towels alone, she says, is keeping her very busy. Ross nonetheless found time to attend a recent Israel Expo in London, where she spent six days showcasing her products to appreciative crowds. Among her current projects is creating personalized T-shirts and bath towels for the Maccabi netball team based in Ra'anana. Ross's goal is to continue to build the business beyond Ra'anana until there is a branch of Rakia Designs in cities throughout Israel and overseas. She acknowledges the likelihood of strong competition from China - a growing powerhouse in textile production - but is confident that a strong boutique market niche exists for her hand-painted designer fabrics among the inexpensive Chinese mass-produced textiles. Like many immigrants to Israel, Ross had her share of difficulties adapting to her new country. "I cried tears of frustration during that first year," she says. "It's easy to get discouraged. You don't understand the language, you don't understand the people, and you don't understand the system." Her strong desire to live in Israel, however, overrode the problems. "I had always wanted to make aliya," she says. Ross, a member of the Habonim Zionist youth movement, made her first visit at 18 for an international conference of counselors of Jewish youth movements. She returned to Israel a year later on vacation, then came again two years later and lived on a kibbutz. She left Israel to live in London for a year, where she became religious. She made aliya eight years ago, living first in Jerusalem and then in Ra'anana, where she is building her business from her home. "Nobody comes to Israel for an easy life," she says. "You come here looking for something that Israel can give you, whether it's spiritual or something you can connect with in terms of identity. The most important thing at the beginning is to just get a little bit involved. Take a deep breath and get right into it, and before long it all works out." Aided by her enthusiasm, talent and ambition, there is little doubt that life in Israel will continue to "work out" for Martine Ross - as for other new immigrants with drive and an entrepreneurial spirit.