Arrivals: Following his heart

After suffering a heart attack at the age of 24, Matthew Kaminsky realized "Israel was where my heart was and where I wanted to be."

Matt521 (photo credit: gloria deutsch)
(photo credit: gloria deutsch)
One wouldn’t think that working at Disney World would be ideal preparation for making aliya, but 26-yearold Matthew Kaminsky, who left his Detroit home last May to live here, thinks it definitely helped.
“I was doing an internship at Disney World in Florida soon after finishing my BA studies at Western Michigan University,” he says. The work itself was not very exciting – he was stationed at the Journey to Narnia ride – but the whole experience was good preparation for what he does now.
“I work in hi-tech in customer support and service,” he says, “and at Disney I got the spark of helping people. Also, it was great to be a part of the company and to see the inner workings of it.”
Back in Detroit, he worked in the family business – online auto parts sales – but due to the economic situation in Detroit he couldn’t find another job, and he had already come to the conclusion that he wanted to do something else.
“Auto parts aren’t my thing,” he says with feeling.
But feeling Jewish and identifying with Israel were his thing. He’d grown up in the Detroit Jewish community, which he says is a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, and in August 2010 he made his first trip to Israel through the Birthright program.
He enjoyed the experience but it wasn’t enough to convince him to make aliya.
Then six months later, at the age of 24, Kaminsky had a heart attack.
“It was so scary,” he recalls. “I’d been at work and walked out to my car to go to the post office.
I felt bad pressure and pain in my chest and I remember clutching the counter-top. As soon as I got back to my office I went online and looked up my symptoms. The answer was either a panic or a heart attack.”
Both options seemed impossible.
“What 24-year-old has a heart attack?” he asks.
And he knew he wasn’t in a panic.
An ECG revealed the truth. Looking back, he now realizes that he had an unhealthy lifestyle.
“I was 15 kilos heavier, I smoked a half a pack a day, I ate in McDonald’s almost every day and I did no physical activity,” he says.
He also took an amphetamine which was prescribed for his attention deficit disorder, and he feels this might have contributed to the problem.
He stopped the medication immediately and learned to deal with his ADD through yoga and weightlifting.
“I had to reevaluate my whole life,” he says, and perhaps the most important decision he reached was that he wanted to return to Israel.
“Israel was where my heart was and where I wanted to be,” he says.
He found the ideal program – a five-month Masa journey through the Oranim organization – which involved learning Hebrew in ulpan, traveling and working in Israel.
Still not 100 percent sure he wanted to stay, he did some serious research to find out if living in Israel was what he really wanted.
“I traveled all over the country with the group and talked to people who live here,” he says. He came to the conclusion that he liked the more laid-back aspect of the Israeli mentality.
“I like that people are more up-front and straightforward,” he says. “I find that refreshing.”
He decided to make aliya from the US, so he returned home, spent a few months with his father, a retired doctor in Florida, and began studying Hebrew in earnest.
“I knew if I wanted to make a success of my aliya I would need to speak good Hebrew,” he says. “I’m really proud of the fact that I’m the only American in my office and I hear Hebrew all day long. If I don’t understand, I ask and my coworkers are very supportive.”
He first moved into the absorption center in Ra’anana but later moved to Tel Aviv. He got his job even before he’d finished the ulpan, when a friend who worked at the same startup read about Kaminsky on Facebook.
“She called me and said there was a job going in the company she worked for and I should check it out,” he says. “At first I didn’t want to – I wanted to finish the ulpan – but she insisted as it was such a great opportunity. I started part-time and last August got a full-time job.” The company is in Poleg in Netanya, and he commutes to work from his apartment in Tel Aviv.
He has made many friends, in what he calls a good mix of Israelis and English-speakers. He hopes to be able to travel a lot in the future, as he thinks one of the advantages of Israel is that it makes Europe more accessible, and he has yet to see London and Paris.
But for the moment he is happy to where he is.
“Tel Aviv is a great city to be in your 20s and have fun in,” he says.