Don't give up!

ARRIVALS / Yonit Bat-Haim endured a hard landing in Israel before she managed to pursue her dream

Yonit Bat-Haim (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Yonit Bat-Haim
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)

Yonit Bat-Haim, 48. From Villa Gesell, Argentina, to Kfar Saba, 2002 

When Yonit Bat-Haim arrived in Israel from Argentina in 2002, she was surprised to discover that her specialty of podiatrist was not recognized here.

“Nobody even knew what a podiatrist was,” she says. For someone who also studied nursing, it was very depressing to discover that if people came for foot treatment, they were really only after the pampering side of pedicures – and the medical aspects left them cold.
“I didn’t know how to do the pampering,” says Bat-Haim. “My skills were to diagnose medical foot problems and treat them, so at the beginning I found I couldn’t really do what I was trained to do and work in my profession.”
For a single mother, arriving here from Argentina with a six-yearold daughter, the main imperative was to earn a living. After a few months at the absorption center in Ra’anana, she began her working life as a cleaner.
“I had no choice,” she says. “My Hebrew just wasn’t good enough to get any other job, and I didn’t know any English.”
During the time she was cleaning, she managed to improve her Hebrew, studying at night until she felt competent enough to work as a shop assistant.
“I got a job in a jewelry store in the mall and started at the bottom. But I found it very interesting, especially studying the behavior of the average customer,” she recounts. “The culture of buying is different from that in Argentina. There people think a lot before they buy, whereas here people buy quickly and impulsively.”
Just as she was beginning to enjoy the work, she had a terrible accident and broke her legs.
“I was no longer able to sell. I lived on social security, but I had a wonderful social worker who told me I was entitled to professional rehabilitation.”
Bat-Haim had to take all kinds of psychological tests before they would agree to invest in her, but she passed with flying colors.
“They told me I should go back to my original profession but to practice the Israeli version of it, and they gave me NIS 10,000 to study manicure and pedicure,” she says.
She went to work in a beauty salon, studying at night and learning other skills like waxing, eyebrow shaping and epilation.
They also taught her how to make a visit to the beautician a pampering experience and not just a medical procedure.
“People come to a manicurist to get their nails done and have rich creams massaged in, and they don’t want to hear about treatment for fungal infections, which is my specialty,” she says. She wanted to set up independently but realized she needed more experience in running a business, and so she went to work in a hair salon in Ramat Hasharon.
“I had a tiny compartment set off from the hairdressing section where I did my work, and at about the same time I learned to do reflexology,” Bat-Haim says.
Eventually she decided to set up in business for herself, and in May of this year she transformed a balcony in her apartment into a working area where she receives patients. Here, she is able to do what she studied seriously back in Argentina, treating fungal infections as well as nail-building and manicures and pedicures.
When Bat-Haim is not working on hands and feet, she spends a large amount of her leisure time taking care of the stray cats in the neighborhood. She owns two cats of her own and feeds another 10 or more, which turn up on a regular basis.
“At home in Argentina we always had pets,” she says. One lucky cat which she found wounded in the street was taken to the local clinic for first-class treatment.
On holidays she likes to entertain in true South American fashion, by making a barbecue for friends in nearby Kfar Saba Park. Her daughter, Bianca, who is studying design at a local ORT college, often helps out.
When she was a teenager back in Argentina, many of her schoolfriends were brought to Israel by the Jewish Agency to spend a period studying here, but her parents did not allow her to participate.
“They’ve all gone back to Argentina,” Bat-Haim says with a smile, “but I’m still here.”