Arrivals: From Baltimore to Beersheba

You'd never know it, but Isaac and Talia Hametz, both 22, only arrived on July 6.

arriv hametz couple 88 2 (photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
arriv hametz couple 88 2
You'd never know it from looking at their home, but Isaac and Talia Hametz, both 22, only arrived on July 6. In these few months, they not only searched for and found a home, but have nearly completed the transformation of the yard from an ugly, trash-filled wasteland into a flourishing ecological garden. Isaac hauled out dead wood and debris, took down a broken swing set and, using available scrap material, built two large rotating composting bins. One raised-bed vegetable garden for organic produce is ready, and another larger plot on the other side of the property is well under way. Two trees are loaded with fruit, having been coaxed back from near-death due to neglect and lack of water. Isaac also bought and labeled two dozen small, lidded waste bins, which he plans to distribute to Talia's classmates, asking them to save their vegetable waste. Once a week, he'll go around and collect the bins, and recycle the material into compost for the garden. Both Hametzes are students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Isaac is enrolled in the master's degree program of the Albert Katz International Program for Desert Studies, and Talia is a first-year student in the Medical School for International Health. Both are recent graduates of the University of Maryland - and they're newlyweds, married on June 11, less than a month before making aliya. "Right now is the first rest we've had in a year," Talia said. FAMILY HISTORY Isaac comes from the Romaniote tradition, his grandfather having been born in Ioannina, Greece. "The legend is, after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Emperor Titus was bringing Jewish slaves across the ocean," he said. "They were shipwrecked on the coast of Greece. The Jews remained and developed their own traditions, which are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. "Ioannina is a beautiful little mountain village with a lake," Isaac said. "In 1900, about 4,000 Jews lived there, but now only 50 remain. The Romaniote tradition interests me, so I went to Greece to see where my grandfather lived. Wandering through the cemetery, the names fascinated me - they all relate to Pessah in some way. Our name is Hametz, but there were many other Pessah names - Maror, Matza and others. There's a shop with a big sign: 'Matza Housewares.' I'm not sure where tradition of Pessah-related names originated." Isaac grew up in Edison, New Jersey - "Exit 9 [on the Turnpike]," he said. His father is a dermatologist, his mother designs awards for Jewish non-profits and his sister lives in Jerusalem's Old City, having made aliya six years ago. This year, his younger brother is also here, studying in a yeshiva. Talia grew up in Baltimore. Her father is an economist, her mother a lab technician. An older brother is also an economist, and a younger sister studies at the University of Maryland. "My grandparents on my father's side still regularly come to volunteer for the IDF," she said. "When we said we were going to Beersheba, they told us all about it. 'We've been stationed there twice,' my grandfather said." BEFORE ARRIVING "That last year was crazy," Talia said. "We planned the wedding, planned aliya, finished school and graduated. We didn't take a lift, but we did piggyback a few things on a friend's lift. We didn't have any big furniture, so we took as much as possible on the airplane. We still have gifts stored at both parent's houses - they'll be brought over, little by little." "After the wedding, we only had a few weeks before aliya," Isaac said. "We stayed in my campus apartment, but spent time visiting our families and saying good-bye. Then we celebrated the Fourth of July right straight through to take-off." UPON ARRIVING "There's nothing quite so good as arriving - and having a place to put your bags," Isaac said. "BGU really made it easy," Talia said. "They helped us find a temporary sublet; they picked us up at the airport and took us directly to the apartment we'd sublet from another student who was away for the summer. She - the other student - was wonderful. She left fruit and cold water in the fridge, plus a six-page letter - complete with hand-drawn maps - telling us everything we needed to know. She did everything she could to make it easy for us." "The next morning we went out to a local market to shop for food - and learned why people shop at supermarkets," Isaac said. "We started looking for an apartment with a bit of land. Having a place for a garden was the most important thing." ROUTINE Talia's classes began in August, while Isaac hasn't started yet, so Talia is up first, at 7:15. "Isaac cooks breakfast - scrambled eggs or an omelet. My classes start at 8:15, and I finish about 5." Isaac will be commuting the 55 kilometers to BGU's Sde Boker campus for his studies. "There's a BGU faculty bus, so sometimes students get bumped. There's a regular bus. The third option is to buy a car, which we'll probably do." Evenings are quiet. "We read, I play the guitar, we sit down and have dinner together," Isaac said. "Beersheba's quiet. We prefer it that way - the slower place, just sitting on the patio, relaxing." LIVING ENVIRONMENT The Hametzes' apartment is a ground-floor, two-bedroom, one-bath, but it's the outdoor living space that's best. There's a huge tiled patio and plenty of land area for trees, for Isaac's ecological projects and to grow organic vegetables. Inside, the Hametzes cleaned, repaired and painted. "The landlord said when we leave, we have to put everything back the way it was. I don't think he really means that," Talia said, laughing. CIRCLE "We haven't been here very long," Talia said, "but the host family Nefesh B'Nefesh paired us with was perfect - they're young, warm and friendly, and our interests overlap. I can't believe how hard NBN worked. Even on the flight over, they arranged seating so a group of us with common interests and backgrounds could sit together. It was great to have friends right from the beginning." MILITARY Isaac isn't sure he'll have an army obligation. "I'm 22 now, and newly married. There's a year exemption for new immigrants, and they usually don't take men over 23. But twice before I came to Israel to volunteer with Magen David Adom, once for six weeks, once for five, and I'll continue that work. I'm maybe more valuable helping MDA than in the army." FAITH "We don't define ourselves in terms of faith," Isaac said. "We were both raised modern Orthodox. We go to shul on Friday nights, we keep kosher and Shabbat. But I'm more comfortable out in nature someplace. That's where I find God." IDENTIFICATION Talia: "Israel is my home, but culturally, I'm not Israeli yet. When we have kids who come home using Hebrew slang, then we'll be Israelis." Isaac: "As much as we love the country, love the culture, we were born in America and raised in America. We'll do our best to integrate, but my American accent will probably always give me away." LANGUAGE "I broke my teeth with MDA," Isaac said. "I learned Hebrew under fire. When you're in that situation, trying to comfort a patient, you use whatever Hebrew you have - say whatever you can and hope it works. As an academic, I'll have to improve my intellectual Hebrew." Talia is in ulpan now. "My first weeks here, I was interacting with Israelis every day, and my Hebrew was actually better than it is now, when I'm with English-speakers every day. I've regressed." FINANCES "We'll be okay," Isaac said. "Nefesh B'Nefesh gave us a grant; we have wedding money, scholarships and a small living allowance, and our parents will help. As soon as possible, I'll also be selling some of our organic produce for a little extra cash." PLANS "At first, we had very strict plans," Isaac said. "I was going to get my PhD, Talia was going to get her MD. Then we'd move to the North and start a small organic farm and teaching center. But now I realize in order to make it here you have to be more flexible. Now I'm thinking we should stay down South, and maybe work within the academic world. "But my heart is really on a farm. To have a plot of land, to really work the land of Israel. That's our dream." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: