By Hillel Kuttler
If the living room’s wood paneling, fireplace, M&M’s figurines and Pennsylvania license plate aren’t indications enough of the American roots of Beth and Shraga Hymowitz, the wall-to-wall carpeting – almost unheard-of in Israel – surely is.
The couple and their two youngest children moved from central New Jersey to the northern-Israel town of Ma’alot in 2013. Shraga had wanted to return to Israel at various points since leaving the country 31 years ago, at age 25. (His parents, both Americans, had brought the family on Aliyah when Shraga was 17.) Beth resisted. But during an enjoyable stay in Zichron Yaakov in 2011, Beth said, “I could live here.”
Shraga pounced. He went onto the website of Nefesh B’Nefesh to research the North, which he’d loved serving in during his army days.
Now, he was drawn to the settlement of Mitzpe Netofa, near Tiberias. Nefesh B’Nefesh staffers advised expanding his search, so he looked into four other northern sites.
Fate intervened. While visiting friends in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Shraga met someone in the synagogue who was about to make Aliyah, desination: Ma’alot. So, on a pilot trip, Shraga and his daughter Chana visited Ma’alot, too.
“This is maybe the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” he thought at the time.
He met with staff at several Ma’alot schools and met residents, who struck him as friendly. That and the pace of life were enough for the Hymowitzes to make their decision.
It helped that Beth could continue working from Israel for the Mars candy company, in whose New Jersey headquarters she’d been for 17 years in information technology. Shraga, a social worker, found a job with Yedid Nefesh, a company that provides mental-health services through the Ministry of Health. He makes home visits to patients in three Northern communities, and loves the diversity he experiences.
“I have a Muslim, a Druse and a Christian client, so my exposure to different people is amazing. One of my colleagues is getting married next week, so I’ll go to my first Muslim wedding,” Shraga, sitting on the living-room sofa next to Beth in their home in the Irit neighborhood, said above the barks of their dog, Snoopy.
He said he revels in being “part of the whole Jewish experience, but also to be part of the other people who live here.”
Shraga stated that he’s doing “very similar social work” to that back in the United States, “but I’m doing it in Hebrew.”
While earning about one-third of his American salary, with Beth’s job “we’re fine,” he said.
Both like the north’s slower pace when compared to Israeli cities like Jerusalem, which they enjoy visiting. The cashier at the supermarket knows them and smiles. They are happy that their children, Tzvi, 17, and Sarah, 15, walk to schools nearby and can be out late at night without the fear of crime. The schools’ administrations work to address the Hymowitz children’s needs.
“It’s a learning experience,” Beth said, pun unintended.
What they most appreciate is the friendliness of the people. Just hours after the Hymowitzes landed at the airport as Olim, several Ma’alot residents – who knew that the family would be living in their town but hadn’t yet met them – drove all the way to a synagogue in Jerusalem for Tzvi’s ceremonial first use of Tefillin.
While Beth misses her family, she speaks to her mother, living in their native Philadelphia, three or four times a week and visits while back in America every few months on Mars business. In Ma’alot, she enjoys picking from the trees the house’s previous owners planted: plum, apricot, passion fruit, sabra, pecan and fig.
“My job is not to ruin the trees,” she joked.
“I love going to shul here, I love Shabbat here. Everything is really, really nice,” Shraga said. “We’re living the dream – we really are. This is home.”
Caption: Beth and Shraga Hymowitz, with dog Snoopy, at home in Maalot.
Photo credit: Hillel Kuttler