Arrival: An aliya kick-start

Veterinarian Dr. Daniel Gorenstein and his siblings were raised on a farm that raised sheep and grew macadamia nuts, a symbiotic experiment that was his grandmother’s idea.

FOLLOWING HIS mother’s advice, Dr. Daniel Gorenstein came to Israel on a five-month Masa Israel program. (photo credit: Courtesy)
FOLLOWING HIS mother’s advice, Dr. Daniel Gorenstein came to Israel on a five-month Masa Israel program.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A traumatic moment in an otherwise ordinary day can push the reset button on a person’s life.
For Dr. Daniel Gorenstein, a Brazilian veterinarian, it was a misplaced kick in the knee during a soccer game that set him on a wildly different path. While recovering and rehabilitating from surgery over the course of several months in 2009, he began to ponder what to do with the rest of his life.
He posed the question to his mother, and her answer was: “Why not go to Israel for a while?”
This was a surprising response, given that Gorenstein and his sister and brother weren’t raised with an emphasis on Judaism. His maternal grandmother and grandfather had met on their way to Brazil as they fled from Ukraine and Lithuania, respectively, in 1939.
As a result of his experiences, “My grandfather was afraid of anything Jewish- related,” Gorenstein explains.
His mother married the Brazilian son of a Christian naval officer and an indigenous woman. Gorenstein and his siblings were raised on a farm that raised sheep and grew macadamia nuts, a symbiotic experiment that was his grandmother’s idea. She predicted, correctly, that the grazing animals would benefit the trees and vice versa.
His mother and grandmother decided on the children’s future careers.
“They needed a vet, a lawyer and an engineer, so that’s what we became,” says Gorenstein. He’d always loved animals, so he was only too happy to fulfill their dream and go to veterinary school for five years.
But then that knee injury sent him in a new direction.
Following his mother’s advice, in 2010 he came to Israel on a five-month Masa Israel program.
“I wanted something completely different. I worked on an ecological, off-the-grid farm in Modi’in where we learned permaculture, and it was very cool. After the program was over, I went to Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Yotvata to volunteer that summer. It was very hot, but it was an amazing experience.”
Both the farm and the nature reserve were secular environments, but during his time in Israel Gorenstein traveled around the country and was exposed to Jewish holidays and religious people for the first time.
“I didn’t know much about Judaism, except that on Yom Kippur you are supposed to fast,” he says. “I got really interested and I googled yeshivas in Israel and the first one that popped up was Aish HaTorah.”
Back home in Brazil, he emailed Aish HaTorah for advice. “This amazing rabbi called me a week later and said, ‘You should come to learn!’ So I came back in 2011 to learn in Aish’s English-speaking program for almost a year, and it changed my life.”
On the first day, one of the black-hatted, bearded teachers asked Gorenstein to pass him a humash. Seeing that the newcomer didn’t know what he meant, the rabbi tried a different word: “Pass me a Tanach,” he said.
“I had no idea what he was talking about. He realized he had to start from scratch with me. And they were wonderful.”
Gorenstein didn’t see his calling in the haredi world but in the national-religious camp. He left Aish with a crocheted kippa on his head.
“Masa is a very Zionistic program and I had learned a lot about Zionism. I learned the amazing history of this place. I’m a big fan of [former prime minister Menachem] Begin and I read every book related to him,” he says.
His family came to visit him at end of that year.
“We did a whole trip from north to south, and my mom said, ‘I can see I lost you. You’re so happy here I can’t imagine you going back.’ I did come back to Brazil just long enough to arrange my aliya and say goodbye to everyone.”
He landed in Israel in January 2012.
“It was freezing cold. The first time I ever saw snow was in Jerusalem,” he relates.
Gorenstein took a room at the Beit Canada absorption center in southern Jerusalem and went to Hebrew classes in Ulpan Etzion on the Beit Canada campus. One of his fellow classmates was Ronit Derovan, a recent immigrant from Los Angeles.
“The first time I encountered her she offered me a baby carrot and I thought that was the weirdest thing in the world,” he says.
This incident occurred during an ulpan field trip. The participants were getting hungry and only Derovan had thought to bring snacks to tide them over until mealtime. The reason Gorenstein found it strange was that his typical Brazilian diet rarely included vegetables.
Nevertheless, the two hit it off. They got engaged right after ulpan ended, in June 2012. His family flew in for the wedding in November, including his brother, who was then living in London, and his sister, then living in Chicago.
The couple makes their home in Modi’in and now has a two-and-a-halfyear- old daughter, Gabriela. “We had to find a name that was good in English, Portuguese and Hebrew,” Gorenstein explains.
They also have a white mini schnauzer. Due to Ronit’s artistic background and Daniel’s appreciation for the arts, they decided to name her Frida after Mexican painter Frida Kahlo de Rivera.
For the past four years, Gorenstein has worked in the horse department of the Hebrew University Veterinary Hospital in Rishon Lezion. “It took me a while to get used to the place. It’s not religious and everyone speaks Hebrew, while at home we’re religious and we speak English,” he says.
Although there is a sizable Brazilian community in Modi’in, the Gorensteins’ social circle is primarily Anglo. However, his Hebrew has improved greatly because of his work. “I never get to speak my mother tongue so I had to change how I think from Portuguese to English and Hebrew.”
Just as difficult was his dietary transition. “In Brazil we ate meat from morning to night. I had eggs, steak, rice and beans every day, and we didn’t eat vegetables or spicy food. Nowadays I eat more chicken, fish, cooked veggies and new dishes that my wife likes to try out.”
Gorenstein feels that life is harder in Israel but he does not regret making aliya.
“I love coming back from work and seeing the ‘Jerusalem’ sign on the road. Even though the traffic and the drivers are terrible, it’s still worth it,” he says. “And I love seeing my daughter in the park on Shabbat with 100 million kids of all backgrounds. It’s really amazing to be here.”