August 27, 2010
by GIL SHEFLER
Meet observant gay couple with 3 adopted children.
Almost 10,000 olim have made aliya so far in 2010, of whom 2,426 came from English-speaking countries, according to data released by the Jewish Agency on Tuesday. Each one has a unique story to tell.
Some, however, are more unique than others.
Take Ian and Daniel Chesir-Teran, for example, an observant gay couple from New Jersey and their three adopted black children – Eli, Yonah and Tamar.
The Chesir-Terans made aliya last week through the Jewish Agency in collaboration with Nefesh B’Nefesh, but unlike most newcomers, the members of this unusual family are no strangers in a strange land. In fact, they’re already minor celebrities. Earlier this year they took part in the Israeli version of the reality TV show Wife Swap, which has members from two families with very different backgrounds trade places for two weeks.
“Channel 2 decided to air our episode immediately after we moved to Israel,” Ian said, barely audible over the din of his young children playing in the background, in an interview over the phone from his new home in Kibbutz Hanaton.
“Suddenly, we were on TV commercials all the time and have been recognized on a daily basis in an overwhelmingly positive way.”
Ian, 39, is a rabbinical student and lawyer. His partner, Daniel, 40, is a psychologist. Both wear kippot and observe Jewish rituals. The couple have been together for 15 years and decided to move to Israel permanently after a one-year stint in Jerusalem.
“We were living in Jerusalem last year as part of my rabbinical training and we had a transformative year and experience,” Ian said. “When it came time to plan to come back to America we realized it would be very difficult for us to do that, so we decided to make our move back to Israel permanent.
It’s a place where we see ourselves being able to build our family.”
Their aliya hasn’t been without sacrifices.
Ian said he wants to continue his rabbinical studies but he has yet to find a place that would accept him.
He will have to moonlight as a lawyer to make ends meet. Daniel will focus on raising the kids for the time being, but wants to resume lecturing on the university level, as he did in the US.
After a long and busy week Ian expressed his frustration with Israeli bureaucracy and its discrimination against same-sex couples.
“Just today we faced a challenging situation where we tried to sign up for an HMO, but they wouldn’t list us in the same way as they would a heterosexual couple. When I went to the post office they gave me a separate registry, too.”
Asked if the red tape and bias against gays has weakened his resolve to become part of Israeli society, he said it had the opposite effect.
“If anything, this just emboldens us to do more so that we are recognized by the government, not only for our own sakes – although certainly for our own sakes – but also for future lesbian and gay couples who make aliya. But there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in Israel, just like in America.
We know that to receive the blessings of aliya there is a responsibility to give back to the community.”
What about the kids? Do they worry that their children, being black, might suffer discrimination? Ian said he isn’t more or less worried than he would be in the US. Here, at least, all the other kids at school are Jewish, he said.
Community is a key word for the socially-minded Chesir-Terans. For that reason they chose to move to Hanaton, home to a group of 20 families which hopes to revitalize the only kibbutz in Israel officially affiliated with the Conservative movement.
“Our goal is to become members of the kibbutz,” Ian said. “What excites us about moving to Hanaton is that it’s an egalitarian, humanistic and pluralistic community and we hope to contribute to that.”
Michael Kaplan’s line of work involves sending probes into outer space, so moving from Boulder, Colorado, to Jerusalem must have been a relatively easy endeavor.
Kaplan, 54, has a BSE in aerospace and physics from Princeton, and an MSA in research and development management and an MS in electrical engineering, both from George Washington University. But he feels the term “rocket scientist” doesn’t accurately describe what he does. Rather, he’s more of a space-age planner and troubleshooter.
“I look at the priorities of scientists and then try to line up the resources,” he said. “My job is to lay out the strategy, see where the research is going and solve problems. For example, if the spacecraft weighs too much, we look into how to make it lighter. You could say I’m the front end business development person, but with an extremely hi-tech job.”
Kaplan has been involved in several projects with Boeing, NASA and the US defense establishment. He took part in the Star Wars project, the intercontinental ballistic missile defense system, and was part of a team which put a proposal together for a radar to orbit Venus that would map out its terrain.
One of the most interesting projects he worked on was the possibility of sending a probe to Enceladus, one of Saturn’s several moons.
“We believe it has an icy shell,” he said. “And a lot of people believe there is a liquid ocean beneath and that it could even have life.”
Up until last December Kaplan, who is divorced, had never set foot in Israel. That month he came on a 20- day visit with one of his two sons, and fell in love with the country. They toured Safed, Jerusalem and Ein Gedi, and when he went back to his home in Boulder he longed to return.
“Even though I was home in Boulder I felt I wasn’t really home,” he related. “I was going to meet my rabbi in the morning and I got up that day and decided I would make aliya. My rabbi said to me when we met, ‘Something has changed in you.’ I told her I had decided to make aliya, and she looked at me and said, ‘Beware of Jerusalem Syndrome,’” the mental illness which affects overexcited visitors to the holy city.
Kaplan laughed at the remark, but just to be on the safe side he came back in April to get a taste of everyday life. After his second visit he knew with certainty he would come back, this time for good.
Earlier this month Kaplan made aliya and things are looking up. He’s staying with a friend in Jerusalem until he finds his own place. Meanwhile, he’s going to ulpan and has started dating someone.
Once he gets his security clearance –probably before the end of the year – Kaplan will join Israel’s aerospace industry, and companies are lining up to hire him.
“Nefesh B’Nefesh has this amazing processing procedure. They got me in touch with a retired IAF pilot, Dani Grossman, and he said Israel needs you,” he said. “I was discovering I was in demand: Both Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries are interested in me.”
One family may have set a new record for aliya when it arrived on Tuesday at Ben-Gurion Airport: Four generations of kin got off the plane, all having decided to move to Israel together.
Amelia Glazer, the matriarch, is 94 years old. Born in New York, she had never left the United States and only recently received her first passport.
Her grandparents came to the US in the mid-1800s from Latvia.
Her daughter, Joan, 63, and son-inlaw Elizer Entel, 64, accompanied her with their daughter, Chana, 34, and her husband Yitzi Wurtzel, 35, and the Wurtzels’ four daughters ages 10, six, five and one. They have chosen Ramat Beit Shemesh as their home.
The family, less than four days in the country, was unable to answer questions before the paper went to press.