A story of returning home: Choosing their path

After two more children were born, it was time to return, and the Brahas came back to Israel from Milan in 2012.

(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘We needed to be part of a community and I wanted to move north, some place simpler and closer to nature,” says Abbie Braha, explaining the decision to settle in the southern Golan Heights just 15 km. from the Kinneret. A close friend had suggested the religious agricultural settlement of Nov and rented a house for Abbie, Igor and their children. “We didn’t see the house until we actually moved in,” said the former New Yorker. “One can only imagine how surprised we were to discover that it was only 60 square meters and just 30 meters from a dairy with 200 cows right out the back door!”
It turned out to be a perfect fit, however. “We love the strong atmosphere of community in Nov. People look out and care for each other, and still respect one’s privacy,” Abbie remarked. “Lives are simple and down to earth. Kids wander outside freely, eating fruit off the trees. They hike to our spring to cool off. They are happy here.”
Nov was a town in Mishnaic times, some 1,800 years ago. Narcissi and wild marshland yellow iris appear each spring in the nearby wetland nature reserve.
Abbie, a vivacious tour guide, works all over the country in English, Hebrew and Italian, specializing in the Golan region. “I’ve worked as a licensed tour guide for about five years. When we came to the Golan in 2012, I had the very complex privilege of starting life over at age 34. Tour guiding is where Zionism, nature and education meet.”
Though the Brahas met and married in Israel, they made an eight-year detour to Milan, where her husband’s parents were long-time residents. “My in-laws were expelled from Libya after the Six Day War, along with the remnants of the Jewish community which left after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948,” she explained. The senior Brahas had come to Italy penniless in 1967, married there, and made a life for themselves. Abbie’s husband, Igor (also known as Issachar), subsequently came to Israel to study and met his future wife at Bar-Ilan University.
Abbie, who was raised in Queens, New York, and attended Jewish day schools, was an honors student in her teens, interested in sports and reading, and a devoted youth leader at her local synagogue. Though her parents were staunch supporters of Israel who ended every Passover Seder with the singing of “Hatikva,” their daughter’s unusual and unexpected decision to make aliyah at age 18 left them quite disconcerted.
First Abbie attended Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, a seminary in Jerusalem, for what she describes as a very formative year, “not just in terms of Torah study, but also in forming my Jewish and Israeli identity. So many ‘strangers’ invited me to their homes, taught me about their communities, accepted me,” she remarked appreciatively of her travels around the country.
The following year she attended Bar-Ilan University to pursue a degree in Land of Israel studies.
“Igor was studying logistics at the time. We met in the library. There was a tight network in Bar-Ilan of young people who had made aliyah by themselves. Igor was a dreamer with his feet on the ground. My parents had taught me to look for a man with a heart of gold and he fit the bill.”
A few years after they finished studying, the couple moved to Milan for a while. “We had just had our first child. We were having a hard time making ends meet. Igor was working nights, I was working days. He was offered a good job there. I managed fine with Italian and began working in the Chabad school in early childhood education about a year after we got there.” Socially, though, Abbie found Jewish Milan a bit difficult. “It turned out that I was too Israeli to fit in well.”
After two more children were born, it was time to return, and the Brahas came back to Israel from Milan in 2012. “We always knew that our destiny was in Israel, I didn’t want to push off the inevitable any further. When our son Amishav was born in 2009, I said he would be our segula [special signal] to return home.” Igor’s parents, now retired, also made aliyah recently.
Igor is now a marketing executive for Palziv, a Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv enterprise in the Beit She’an Valley. The plant produces polyethylene foams for acoustic and thermal insulation, drainage and energy absorption. The colorful synthetic sheets also substitute for gravel in surfacing playgrounds and sports fields.
The Brahas manage to switch their career demands on and off in order to care for their four children. During Igor’s travels to the company’s facilities in Mexico, the US and Europe, Abbie stays closer to home. “Luckily, his clients are usually on vacation during peaks in tourism.”
She is enthusiastic about her career. “I love this job – it is dynamic, always changing. I am always learning more skills, striving for more knowledge, improving my techniques, working with people. I strive to help others see the land that I see and love, its beauty and its complexity.” The family recently moved into their own, bigger house.
Life is full of surprises. “If one had surveyed my high school class to see who would most likely be a tour guide living on a moshav in the Golan, I would have been the natural choice. Ten years ago, living over a subway station in the world’s European fashion capital, it didn’t seem so. Somehow, we managed to get back on the track which we dreamed for ourselves. Now that we’ve chosen our path, we are just trying to make each day meaningful.”