By: Hillel Kuttler
Does life get any better than this?
This being the imposing, three-floor house with six bedrooms; an expansive dining room; a sunlight-washed, enormous kitchen; two cars parked in front of the gate next to a basketball hoop at the front end of a cul-de-sac; and a rectangular pool out back that’s lined with palm trees, a rock fountain and lush vegetation.
Attention, editors of Better Homes & Gardens magazine: Get a reporter and photographer here, pronto!
Actually, Amy Kesselman wants more North American Olim to join her family here in Caesarea, where, she states, they’ll enjoy far more space for the buck than in such Anglo-popular, central-Israel municipalities as Jerusalem, Modi’in, Beit Shemesh and Ra’anana and in Zichron Yaakov, which is just seven miles northeast of here.
“We consider Caesarea an unknown gem. It turns out that houses in Caesarea are much cheaper than in Ra’anana or Zichron,” says Amy, who moved here with her husband Todd and their four children from the New York City suburb of Scarsdale in 2014.
“My mission is to grow this community. It’s a shame that Americans and Canadians don’t come here,” she says.
The material comforts of a successful professional life in the United States and now in Israel – Amy, 45, is a gynecologist and Todd, 51, is a businessman – aren’t what prompted the Kesselmans to move overseas. Credit for that, however unintended, goes to their eldest child, Michael, who announced after the family’s sabbatical in Caesarea in 2011–12 that he’d return to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Amy couldn’t see living 6,000 miles and seven time zones away from a son who might need her.
She looked longer-term, too, foreseeing their family even further divided by geography if Yonatan (now 17), Ronen (13) or Eliana (12) joined Michael (21) in Israel.
Amy for years had been parrying Todd’s persistent Zionist urges, but family unity prevailed this time.
It helped that Amy has found fulfillment in opening a private practice – this, in a country where health maintenance organizations dominate. Much like “concierge medicine” in America, Israelis, she’s found, are willing to pay for what HMO’s don’t provide: her undivided attention and not being rushed out of appointments by busy physicians. One of Amy’s patients even travels from Eilat, approximately 250 miles away.
Todd co-founded a Jerusalem-based venture-capital firm, PICO Partners, that invests in Israeli start-up companies. He also maintains his New York-based company, Precision Capital, and flies back there from time to time.
Ronen bounds from the kitchen to approach his parents sitting poolside. He’s wearing a t-shirt from his Bar Mitzvah party, with a tennis ball depicted – perfect, since he’s heading out now to play tennis. Ronen rolls his resh like a native Hebrew speaker.
“Most people said, ‘I can’t believe you’re letting an 18-year-old decide your future,’ ” Amy explains after he departs, speaking of Ronen’s eldest brother. “I was trying to maximize the possibility of all of us staying in one location. It was the right thing – to keep them together. It was probably our last opportunity to come without risking the separation of the family.”
So … how’s it working out for everyone?
“He loves it here, so I think it’s a fulfillment of his dream,” Amy says, motioning left to her husband. “I have a hard time dealing with the Israeli culture.”
“It is a fulfillment of my life’s dream,” he says, going back to when he studied in Hebrew University’s one-year program three decades ago, “so I can overlook the aggravations.”
The couple’s friends are primarily Americans and Canadians, but common interests rather than nationalities are more important bonding factors, they say. The Kesselmans’ children attend good schools that mesh with the children’s love for science, even though the one-way commute is about an hour by shuttle bus. One son started a B’nei Akiva youth-group chapter in 2011 that remains active. The multicultural congregants in the northern Caesarea synagogue the family attends, and the community’s rabbi, hold appeal.
Amy’s parents don’t live four blocks away, as they did in Scarsdale. They visit Israel regularly, but of course, “that’s not the same,” Amy remarks.
“It would be amazing for us if we could grow [Caesarea’s English-speaking] community,” she says. “Finding something I’m professionally satisfied with was important. Thank God, that’s been successful.”
Photo (credit: Hillel Kuttler): Todd and Amy Kesselman with their daughter Eliana.