JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - Olah chadashah, Betina Schnaid was among 140 artists representing 40 countries who displayed their works at the first edition of the London Art Biennale, held at the Chelsea Old Town Hall in January.
"I was not just representing Israel; I was representing a new life in a new country - but (also) an old dream come true," Betina says, trying to describe the difficulty in explaining to Britons what it felt like to represent Israel.
For Betina that dream was painting, and Aliyah. She explains that her status as an olah chadashah allowed her that opportunity, and that, had she stayed in Brazil, would never have quit her work in order to try her hand at painting.
Betina grew up in Londrina, Brazil. After school, she moved to Barcelona, Spain, to study graphic design. As a student, she volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel, where she fell in love with the country and its people.
In 1993, when she was awarded the opportunity to study abroad for a year on a prestigious exchange program, she turned down the school in London that her lecturers recommended and instead became the first exchange student to attend the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. That experience changed her life – not only in terms of securing her desire to make Israel her home - but also opened her eyes to the world of design.
At the age of 40, having completed another BA in Fine Arts, and a Masters in Design management in Brazil, Betina decided that Israel could no longer wait, and sold a successful coporate handmade gift business.
In Israel, Betina enrolled in The Jewish Agency's Ulpan Etzion Hebrew language program for olim with academic backgrounds, and immersed herself in her studies.
But, only two months into her Aliyah, she learned that her brother had been diagnosed with cancer.
"A man of 93 kg, become a corpse of 36kg in six weeks," she says, closing her eyes in sadness.
"We were on Skype 24/7. I was 'with' him when he died," she says, but adds that she did not consider leaving Israel, due to her brother's final request.
"Don't move. This was your dream," he told her. "This is what you can do for me."
While in mourning after his passing, the Ministry of Absorption called Betina and offered her an chance to present her work before a panel to compete as an outstanding artist - but with the proviso she be ready in only six days' time.
She turned them down at first, pointing out that none of her paintings were available in Israel.
However, after she hung up, Betina, weighing her brother's last request, went out and bought a big canvas.
She painted day and night, and, on the morning of the panel-judging, walked her still-wet canvas over to the hall. Betina's effort earned her almost NIS 5,000 towards an exhibition and the prestigious acclamation of "Outstanding Artist."
The prestiege and cash windfall bolstered her belief in her talent, and that her Aliyah would be successful.
Betina started working towards presenting an exhibition, painting ten hours a day, and entitiled the series "From Brazil to Israel," noting that the first painting was of soccer players, and the last was of commuters in Jerusalem.
Despite – or maybe because of – the paintings' painful inspiration, Betina's bright and joyous canvases are, like her, full of life, and reflect a dream that indeed, began in Brazil and is being fulfilled in Israel.
"At the London Art Biennale, I was representing a country made from people who came here with a dream. It's nifla - magical," adds the vivacious olah.
Update: Betina was just recognized with an "Honourable Mention for Artistic Merit" award - one of five recipients out of 140.