Israelis seek promised wave in Costa Rica
Zula is a delightful beachside restaurant where you can breathe in the salty air as Eyal Golan songs play in the background. It also advertises the best falafel in town, made with local garbanzo beans.
Only Zula, Israeli slang for “relaxation,” is not located in Tel Aviv. It’s off the dusty road of Santa Teresa, a trendy beach town near the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula.
For Israelis who have settled here over the past decade, life in this tropical destination is sweet and natural.
The town’s molasses “strip” — the road is paved with this eco-friendly sealant to keep down dust — is lined with more than two dozen Israeli-owned businesses, including hotels, hostels (for post-army trekkers), eateries (a pizzeria, a Tel Aviv-style cafe, a bakery) and bars, clothing boutiques and surf shops.
Santa Teresa is a paradise for Israeli surfers. Almost every day, an hour before sunset, surfers flock to its sands for what one Jewish American resident calls the “chosen wave” — the best surf break.
There are about 5,000 Jews living in Costa Rica, many of whom belong to Centro Israelita Sionista de Costa Rica, the main congregation and political body in the capital city of San Jose. According to Jaime-David Tishler, a former board member of the Jewish Museum in San Jose, the country’s longstanding Jewish community has few formal ties with its burgeoning Israeli community. Most Yordim (Israelis who leave Israel) raising families in Costa Rica home school their children or send them to international schools, keeping Hebrew culture alive in the home.
Avi Avraham, 42, of Bat Yam, owner of the Zula Restaurant and Zula Inn Aparthotel in Santa Teresa, came here eight years ago “for the waves.” He has since married a tica (slang for “local”) and is raising a 10-month-old daughter.
“I’m living the dream of many people,” he said.
Avraham counts roughly 120 Israeli residents in Santa Teresa, about 5 percent of the multinational surfing community, which consists mostly of Americans, Canadians, Argentinians, Brazilians, Italians, French and Swedes. Although their presence here is small, the Israelis are notable. As Amit Londner, a former Israeli surf champ who now runs Del Soul surf school, put it, “Israelis make a lot of noise.”
Mali and Avi Tal, originally from Moshav Ganot, came to Santa Teresa seeking the great surf and pura vida — the Costa Rican slogan “pure life.”
“There was nothing here. It was a natural jungle. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Tal, sunbathing poolside at Luz de Vida Surf Resort, the beachfront hotel she owns with her husband.
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