Veterans: No stranger in this land

Julia Ziskin came for a holiday 18 years ago, met the man of her dreams and decided to live here without converting.

Julia Ziskin (photo credit: Courtesy)
Julia Ziskin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Julia Ziskin is a swimwear designer.
Every working day she sets out from her home in Karnei Shomron and drives to Rishon Lezion, where the company she works for is based.
“I must spend close to three hours on the road,” says the petite British-born Ziskin, who came to live in Israel in 1994. “I’ve got used to the driving – in fact I’ve become one of them,” she laughs.
It can’t have been easy to make the transition from a very English upbringing and background in Stoke-on-Trent to the Israeli way of life, but now that the initial trauma is over, she no longer even notices the differences.
“I’m relieved I don’t feel that any more,” she says.
Even those of us who are Jews and come to live here with intense Zionist ideology find life in Israel difficult sometimes. How must you feel when you are not Jewish, just dropped in for a holiday, met the man of your dreams and decided to live here? That’s what happened to Ziskin 18 years ago when the company she was working for, Trulo, opened a branch in Israel and decided to send some of its employees for a holiday in Sinai.
It was there, on the beach, that she met her future husband, Meir, whose family had come to Israel from Latvia 40 years before.
Though she had no intention of staying here, she realizes looking back that something held her here and she only very reluctantly returned to the UK.
She liked Meir enough to bring him back to meet her parents in Stoke-on- Trent, and they liked him too.
“The issue of conversion was never even discussed,” she says. “I didn’t come out of idealism – for me, Israel is like any other country in the world and I didn’t intend to stay.”
His parents were more concerned with the prospective marriage, but that was all a long time ago.
“We get on fine now,” she says.
After some ups and downs, during which he went off to the Far East and she back to England, they finally got back together and decided to get married.
The first few months in Israel were very difficult. Meir was working very hard at his job as a sales representative for a textile and accessory company. Julia was trying to learn Hebrew in an ulpan.
“I was very homesick, I missed my family and I missed the English countryside,” she recalls. Things improved when she was able to get back to her work, becoming a swimwear designer, which she had been doing in England.
Studying fashion design in Stoke-on- Trent led to her opening her own boutique in a small Shropshire town, Market Drayton, and it was there she honed her skills in swimwear design, creating her own pieces to sell in the shop. Later she moved to Poole, Dorset, and joined the Trulo company, which at the time was producing bathing suits for celebrities like Geri Hall.
Here in Israel she is the head designer for the Macro Clothing Company, which, among other things produced the Lea label designed by the late Lea Gottlieb after she left Gottex. According to Ziskin, there are so many variations in fabric, prints and shape that she is never at a loss for inspiration.
Today she lives in Karnei Shomron with her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Shai, and feels it is the nearest thing to the English countryside she still misses.
Although neither she nor Shai are Jewish, they still love to observe the festivals, and on Passover, for instance, the whole family gets together for the Seder. What will happen in the future is still open. If Shai should want to marry and become Jewish they will cross that bridge when they come to it.
Although her parents have died and she very much regrets that they didn’t meet Shai, who was born later, her daughter still travels very often back to her English roots and visits her cousins and other family in Staffordshire.
Ziskin recently took up marathon cycling and loves to go out with a group, around the countryside near her home town. “It’s a great way to see the area,” she says. “There are deer roaming about in the wild.”
Meir, who is a sales representative for a packaging company, also cycles with the group after a hard day at work, and when they are not on their bikes, they are taking long walks together in the beautiful countryside around their home. They both love the outdoor life and could never imagine living in a large metropolis like Tel Aviv.
They have no English-speaking friends but many Israeli ones from all different backgrounds. At home, the language spoken is English with a lot of Hebrew thrown in. “Everyone understands everyone,” she says.
She began to study ceramics a year and a half ago and does that whenever she has time. “Almost everything I do revolves around art,” she says.