Welcome home, Debra!

The story of one woman's aliyah after a 25-year detour in the U.S.

Debra Davidson and her dog (photo credit: Courtesy)
Debra Davidson and her dog
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Debra Davidson was born and raised in Durban, South Africa, but after doing makeup for the stars in the US for 25 years, she suddenly felt the need to change her life.
“I was working in Hollywood as a celebrity makeup artist and was invited to seder at former Durbanites Carol and David Friedman,” she says. “I sat opposite Mark Rutstein, a successful LA realtor, who I spontaneously invited to price my home. I decided there and then to sell, but my only condition was that it needed to be listed for a figure that added up to nine, an important number in Judaism.”
While her friends told her she’d never get such a high price, her property sold on the first day. “Mark said to me, ‘I’ll help you reinvest.’
My response was, ‘I’m not reinvesting. I’m leaving.’ And he said, ‘Where are you going?’ I responded, ‘I’m going home. To Israel.’”
Debra’s mother, Madeleine Usher, was a famous film star in South Africa, and her father, Marcus Davidson, a prominent businesman. After studying fashion design, her parents sent her to Israel – to Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where she was adopted by the Kampinski family who 30 years later remain her strongest support system.
“Israel was embedded in my soul, from then on,” she says.
At the age of 26, she moved to the US to pursue her career, and worked for an impressive range of movie and TV producers and personalities – from Steven Spielberg to Grace Jones – and on some of the most successful TV shows in the world such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing with the Stars” as well as the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Emmys. Still, she never forgot Israel.
“Every time Israel was under attack, I would post on social media, ‘My heart is with you. My prayers are with you. Stay safe!’ After turning 50, I thought, ‘That’s simply not enough, I need to be one of you.’”
She returned to South Africa to see her family, and last year made aliyah with her beloved dog, moving into an apartment in Tel Aviv.
“Soon after I arrived, the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption called me in, pointed to my success in the US and told me they were submitting a petition for the country to honor me. Shocked and honored, I immediately phoned my mum and dad in Durban.”
On November 25, 2018, Debra was invited for an interview at the ministry’s office in Tel Aviv. “I sat before a committee and said, ‘First of all, I want to thank you all. I grew up in South Africa, in the limelight. My mum was a household name. My siblings and I were on the front page of all the newspapers when we were born. Growing up in the media spotlight served me in good stead when it came to working in Hollywood. I’ve been at the top of my game ever since, working with some of the biggest names in entertainment. I’m honored to now be an Israeli and to be able to live here for the rest of my life.’”
Within an hour of returning home, she received a letter from the government welcoming her as “an exceptional artist,” as well as giving her financial grants and a studio to work in.
“For me, there is no award more prestigious than to be honored by the State of Israel,” she says, adding that she is “embracing the journey ahead” and has no doubt she did the right thing. “Israel is dynamic. It’s the best decision I have ever made. Everything that lies ahead will be meaningful, challenging and rewarding. My soul is home.”