Hitch-hiking home

Having considered conversion and then deciding against, Jaana Lorch moved here anyway and now feels very Israeli.

Jaana Lorch 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Jaana Lorch 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Jaana Lorch met her husband Yoav when she was hitch-hiking around Europe at the age of 20. A Finnish Christian who loved to travel, she had decided early in life that she would prefer to see the world than waste time studying for a profession.
“I didn't know what I wanted to study and I was sure I would find a way to make my living,” she says.
Yoav, who is eight years older then her, was a writer of children’s books at the time. A scion of a well-known Israeli family – his uncle Netanel Lorch had been clerk of the Knesset – he had come to Barcelona to write. Jaana was working for a few weeks at a traveling circus – Circo Ruso – and got tired of her job of handing out flyers.
“I moved out of the circus and into the Neutral Hotel, and Yoav was already staying there. I was impressed with how much he knew about my home town Kuopio – and later I discovered he had met a girl from there only the week before.”
Thirty years on, Jaana can look back on a path of true love that did not run entirely smoothly – not, she hastens to add, because he is Jewish and she is not.
He came to Finland for a time. She came to Israel, studied Hebrew and worked, teaching crafts to UN wives.
“But we fought a lot. I jumped into his life and it was too much for him. I understood that he was the one but he had to understand it too.”
She left and went to Japan where she found a job in Tokyo as a club hostess. They remained in touch by postcard until one night he called and asked her to come back. They married in London soon after. Both families accepted their children’s choice of life partner.
“I believe I was too naïve in the beginning to notice if anyone was critical of my Christian background,” she says. “Both families were open-minded and we both grew up to be very independent.”
Conversion was considered – she knew that had she converted while the children were small they would never have to face the issue – but she just couldn’t bring herself to pretend.
“The idea of going through a conversion which included having to pretend I’m keeping Shabbat and a kosher house disgusted me,” she says. “I thought that taking that kind of spiritual step cannot include lying. So I stayed out of it, deciding to trust our daughters to find their own paths in their own time.”
The two older daughters have already done their army service and the oldest of the three considered converting at one time and even took some steps to become Jewish, spending Shabbat with observant families, but she did not complete the process and went abroad to study.
Jaana speaks mainly Hebrew to the girls but says they mix languages all the time.
Yoav speaks Finnish and so can easily communicate with his mother-in-law, but the girls have more of a problem communicating with their grandmother as they speak only “vague Finnish” according to their mother.
She feels that the girls benefitted from growing up with the cultural differences of their parents.
“They've grown up as any Israeli secular children, Shabbatot and hagim [holidays], not to mention bagrut [matriculation exams] in Bible studies, but at the same time they have grown up thinking about these [cultural] issues.”
AFTER FOUR years living in Israel and the birth of her first daughter, Jaana started a business for boutique children’s clothing with a girlfriend.
“We designed, manufactured and sold in several different shops for eight years,” she says.
When they sold the business she became interested in alternative medicine, studying reflexology, and in the last few years she has become a doula, an up-and-coming profession in the last decade in Israel.
“For the last three years I’ve been volunteering at the births of African refugees.These women are often very young, very alone in totally foreign surroundings and also many times pregnant against their will,” she says. Yoav, meanwhile, was busy creating several successful start-ups.
She loves sailing and gained a skipper’s license several years ago. Today she sails with handicapped IDF veterans in a nonprofit organization called Etgarim.
”The helmsman of our boat is blind,” she says. ”He steers the boat by feeling, sensing the wind and the angle of the boat, and we help him by telling him the location of the buoys and the other boats.”
In recent years very concerned about ecological problems, she and her family live in a house designed to help the environment rather than damage it. Rainwater is collected in barrels, other water is recycled and solar energy is used. High windows were added to provide correct air flow in order to minimize the need for heating and cooling.
Having lived here for 30 years, she feels very Israeli and at home.
“I think we humans have a mechanism and we change according to our surroundings,” she says.
She is not happy with the direction Israel is taking.
“For a long time I believed that we are getting more educated, more cultural, more responsible… but I understand now it’s only the bubble we live in. Most of the country is getting more fanatic and selfcentered and I’m not sure I would recommend Israel as a place to build your life anymore.”