Arrivals: From London via South Africa to Netanya

'I've been in show business all my life," says Judy Bernstein, "and thanks to AACI I've been able to carry on here."

judy bernstein 88 298 (photo credit: )
judy bernstein 88 298
(photo credit: )
* Place of birth: London * Age: 80 * Aliya date: March 1994 * Occupation: Cook * Family status: Widowed grandmother 'I've been in show business all my life," says Judy Bernstein, "and thanks to AACI I've been able to carry on here." Judy Layne was her stage name in South Africa where she appeared in cabaret, singing in her fine soprano voice, acting and directing. Here she mainly directs and has done 14 shows for the AACI (The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) in Netanya. The most recent one, Quartet, recently ended and was a hit like all the others. Family History She was born in London and studied at theater school there. At the age of 18 she set off to travel the world, performing in many interesting places. "I had left London for Australia at a time when it was considered taboo for a nice Jewish girl to go off traveling alone," she says. She went to South Africa in the early Sixties to star as Nancy in the South African production of Oliver!. Both her parents were Polish and she and her siblings are first generation English. Her father was a cantor with a marvelous voice but her mother was against a stage career. Of the nine siblings, only Judy is left. Before Arrival "I met my husband on a blind date and I hated him on sight," she recalls. Her first impression must have been wrong because she was married for 34 years and had a great life in South Africa. Her late husband was a successful importer of raw materials and she was able to indulge her passion for the stage. She had no thoughts of moving to Israel until 1994 when she decided to come here to be with her daughter and grandchildren after she was widowed. Upon Arrival "I rented a small place in Ra'anana near my daughter but I quickly got involved with AACI in Netanya, and although people were very helpful and picked me up to take me to rehearsals, I decided to move and be on the spot. No, I didn't go to any ulpan or absorption centers. I never learnt Afrikaans in all the years I lived in South Africa so I didn't even try to learn Hebrew." Living Environment Home is a studio apartment in an old part-office building on Netanya's main drag. She has tried to make it as cozy as possible within the limitations of its size, but it's a far cry from the Johannesburg mansion with the swimming pool and many servants. For various reasons which are too painful to discuss, she lost everything. "But I'm not bitter, I accept that this is the way things are," she says. The apartment has a small kitchen which is more than enough for her purposes. "I could cook you a 10-course meal in there," she says. Work In fact, she has been cooking meals for an old gentleman for the last seven years. "Once a month I go to his home and prepare 30 meals to put in his freezer," she says. "If I didn't, I think he'd starve. Another man asked me to cook for him too and I told him he'd have to clean up his kitchen first." Routine "I don't really have a routine. Everything revolves around the next show. As soon as I've finished one I start planning the next, looking for something suitable. "I'm also writing my life story, called My Life - Slightly Off-Key. On the computer? At my age? Are you kidding? I can barely understand how to use the mobile phone but my daughter insists I have one. No, I'm writing it in long-hand in a notebook." "I'm a TV addict and I love to watch sport, especially tennis. And I walk a lot - that's my exercise." Hobbies "I do all the beading and sewing-on of sequins for the costumes," she says. "I can do it here while I'm watching the TV." Circle "I only mix with Anglos, I don't have any Israeli friends, unfortunately. I've met most of my friends through AACI. Every Friday we get together for coffee in the same caf . Sometimes a grandchild comes along, or different people, but it's always the same place and the same time." Language. "I can understand Hebrew a little, but other than 'Shalom' and 'Toda Raba' I don't speak it and I'm too old to learn. But I don't need it, here in Netanya, it seems everyone knows English, even the supermarket cashier. The lack of Hebrew has been a bit of a barrier in socializing with my son-in-law and his extended family as they don't know English so I'm not really a part of that family. It's strange living in Israel yet not mixing in with the day-to-day life because of the lack of language. But it's hopeless - I have enough trouble trying to learn English lyrics of the songs in the shows, without trying to learn a new language." Finances "I'm living on a very strict budget. I get a small pension from the Israeli government and I get a stipend from an immigrant organization that has been fantastic. But it's hard to adapt when you've been wealthy." I asked Judy what she puts on her face that keeps her skin as smooth as a baby's bottom - not even a few crows' feet to attest to her octogenarian status. She produces an inexpensive cold cream. "When I had money I used all the most expensive products, but now I can't afford them and I'm told this is exactly the same, minus the fancy packaging." Religion "I can take it or leave it. I was brought up in an Orthodox home but to tell you the truth I've grown away from it and I don't believe any more. I still say 'thank God' and 'with God's help' like everyone. And I still keep kosher; if you come from an Orthodox home it's hard to change." Identity "I can't say I feel Israeli exactly but I love Israel. Even though I don't know any intimately, I think Israelis are the most wonderful people, especially when you consider what they've been through. And it's such a beautiful country though I haven't been around much. I'd love to see Eilat one day." Plans "At my age every day is a bonus. I'm happy to get up and be able to put my feet on the ground. My dream is to get into Beit Protea [retirement home for English speakers in Herzliya]. I'm hoping and praying that my turn will come." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: