October 22, 2019

Israelis in Orange County

Violence in Israel, instead of creating community among the area’s fragmented expatriates, generates emotional shockwaves that turn them into news junkies. Escalating violence also appears to feed what many describe as a sense of isolation and powerlessness to help loved ones back home. Few Israelis who immigrate immediately join local synagogues.

“Everything that happens there is more troubling and stressful because we can’t send support,” says Limor Barkol, 50, of Cypress, who is the Hebrew coordinator for Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School. She and her husband, Mony, both Israelis, immigrated in 1979 so that he could take advantage of an industrial design major at California State University Long Beach.

“All my friends were going to come for one year,” she recalled. In retrospect, she sees that attitude stalled their acclimating, particularly by refraining from learning English. “I was never with my suitcase by the door, but it took a lot of effort to feel comfortable.”

Batel Yehezkel and her husband, Shaul, of Irvine agree. “For a long time we lived with the idea we will return to Israel,” said Batel Yehezkel, 33, a curriculum coordinator at the county’s Bureau of Jewish Education, who is expecting their third child in October.

She reversed course when litigation in Israel reportedly revealed that apparent political corruption contributed to the death of her sister in a 1995 rock concert stampede. “The Israel we grew up in is no longer there,” she said. “We don’t love it enough to go back and live there.”

Tami Kalinsky, 46, of Irvine, who immigrated with her husband in 1982, remembers walking into a supermarket and opening her purse, a standard security precaution in Israel. “But nobody was there,” she said. Kalinsky feels conflicted about continuing to live in the United States while her family remains in Israel.

“People there get used to it; it’s a lifestyle for them now.” She expresses her support by buying Israeli goods from an Irvine Iranian market and a Tustin kosher market, even when her cupboards are stocked.

“I feel so torn between the way of life I chose and being with my own in Israel,” said 50-year-old Yael Weinberger of Laguna Beach, who in 1979 met and later married British-born Gareth Butler. Weinberger, who teaches Hebrew at two county synagogues, sees little recourse for her choice, which she describes as akin to reneging on a patriotic debt. “I’ve learned to live with conflict,” she said.