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Arrivals: ‘What you lose in materialism you gain in spirituality’

CM 05/05/2021


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 ‘July 9, 1973. You never forget your aliyah date,” says Vicky Mais. Sitting in the spacious living room of their Jerusalem home, Vicky and Yitzhak Mais recount their move almost five decades ago, and how their lives have unfolded since. There is an easy, affectionate banter between the two, forged by 48 years of marriage, two children and 11 grandchildren. 

“Who do you think should go first?” says Vicky, before they begin their story. 
Yitzhak interrupts, “I just want to say one thing.”
“There you go,” smiles Vicky. 
Vicky (“my real full name is Victoria”) Dicken grew up in a Zionist home and attended Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Manhattan, graduating in 1969. That summer she toured Israel with two friends and wanted to make aliyah immediately. 
“But I didn’t understand what living here meant until I came,” she recalls. Vicky returned to New York and enrolled in City College of New York, where she majored in English literature and teaching. 
Yitzhak Mais, a child of Holocaust survivors, grew up in the Bronx and studied history at Lehman College, part of City University of New York. Most of his mother’s family had moved to Israel after World War II. Yitzhak and Vicky met in 1970 and became engaged in 1971. 
In the spring of 1973, in a span of less than three months, they married, received their undergraduate degrees, and made aliyah. 

“We actually planned this,” says Yitzhak, sitting comfortably in his reclining chair. “It was intense, and it was conscious.” 
Says Vicky, still amazed by their feat, “We didn’t know what the repercussions would be. Can you make major changes in your life in a few months?”
Arriving in Israel in the summer of 1973, newly married, and with no career, Vicky was unprepared for the realities of Israeli life. 
“I’m a second-generation American,” she explains. “I expected everything to be suitable, but I was unrealistic.” 
Yitzhak, by contrast, felt at home the minute he got off the plane and reveled in the regular, mundane tasks that Israelis performed. 
“I remember seeing an Orthodox Jew delivering Coca-Cola,” says Yitzhak. “I said to myself, ‘Where in America would you see an Orthodox Jew delivering Coke?’”
Yitzhak and Vicky lived in a rented apartment in Bayit Vegan when they first arrived. 
“I was very lonely,” Vicky says. “I read War and Peace in two days. Yes, really.” 
They then moved to Kiryat Moshe, where they spent the next year and a half. Continuing her tale of woe, she says, “Let me tell you, we never made one friend. No one invited us. I was depressed. We never walked out to the Jerusalem Forest. We were depressed,” she says. Vicky pauses in mid-sentence and asks her husband, “Why were you depressed?”
Yitzhak replies, “Because you were depressed.”
Smiling, Vicky demurs. “He wasn’t. He was happy as a lark.”
Four months after their arrival, the Yom Kippur War broke out, and school was delayed. Vicky and Yitzhak volunteered, painting car headlights for the blackout that was enforced during the war. 
“We didn’t have family or friends in the army,” says Vicky. “We were bewildered, but not scared.” The fact that his uncles had finished their army service, adds Yitzhak, made it more of an abstraction for them. 
When classes resumed, Yitzhak attended graduate school at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he studied the history of the Holocaust under such luminaries as Professors Yehuda Bauer and George Mosse. Hebrew was difficult for him initially. 
“I didn’t speak well. I’ll never forget my first lecture with Prof. Bauer. “Summarizing his lecture, Bauer made three points,” says Yitzhak. “I didn’t understand two of the three. I said to myself, ‘I’m in trouble.’” Yitzhak worked hard to learn the language. “I sat with a dictionary. I would read only Hebrew newspapers. I would not listen to English news. My father was an immigrant, and he never mastered English. I wasn’t going to be an outsider in my own country.”
YITZHAK WAS busy with his studies, but Vicky had little to do. “I didn’t have a career,” she says. “He wanted me to go to work. ‘Work?’ I said. We hadn’t discussed this. My mother never worked. My sister never worked. What do you mean ‘work?’” When they first arrived in Israel, Vicky considered becoming a teacher, but one look inside a classroom of unruly 17-year-olds was enough to dissuade her. Vicky then tried graduate school but did not enjoy it. Instead, she found employment working as an office administrator at Hebrew University. 
In 1975, their first child, a boy, was born, and the young family moved to an apartment in Neve Yaakov. Vicky finally felt settled and at home. The residents were composed of Russians, Americans, Argentinians and Brazilians. “All people whom we could relate to and talk to,” says Vicky.“It made my absorption in Israel,” she says. “I came from a small, closed, New York community, and this opened my eyes. I got a perspective of Jews from around the world; not like Vicky who left America because she thought it would be a nice idea. They had fled Argentina, and they fled Brazil.”
In 1978, their daughter was born. Vicky got another job, working at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, in the hospital’s purchasing department for the engineer who oversaw the building. Yitzhak became a lecturer in the education department at Yad Vashem, and in 1983, was appointed director of the Yad Vashem Historical Museum in Jerusalem, a position he held until 1995. In 1980, the Mais’s moved to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, where they remained until 1999. They then moved to their current home in Jerusalem’s Rasco neighborhood after the makeup of the Jewish Quarter began to change, and their friends had left. 
Vicky ran a store in the Old City for two years, buying and selling handmade Israeli crafts, before becoming an office manager in a software company. She then became a technical writer and stayed on the job for 10 years. “I loved it,” she says. “I loved the precision of it.”
Yitzhak, in the meantime, began to consult on various Holocaust Museum projects and was the founding chief curator of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust [MJH] in New York (1995-1998), traveling back and forth to New York for two-and-a-half years. Since that time, he has consulted and developed museum and film projects on the Holocaust and Jewish history worldwide, including in Jerusalem, Kiev, Montreal, Moscow and New York.
“I do the content and the storyline, which has to be very precise, focused, and clear about what it wants to get across,” explains Yitzhak. 
After their first grandchild was born in 2002, Vicky stopped working for several years. “I couldn’t find a job and was very upset and frustrated.” Vicky became a part-time English instructor for adults, teaching in the Open University’s Dialogue program, a position she still holds today.
Yitzhak is semi-retired and works from home. He is chief curator of the House of Fates Holocaust museum in Budapest, scheduled to open in 2023. When asked how he spends his free time, Yitzhak says he likes watching documentary films and basketball games. Vicky whispers conspiratorially, “He has no hobbies. He should.” 
Yitzhak adds that he used to play basketball, and says with great pride that he scored 15 points in his high school championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York. In addition to his Holocaust museum work, he also worked on the Basketball Hall of Fame Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, which he terms “a dream” for a basketball enthusiast. 
FORTY MINUTES into our interview, Vicky can hold back no longer. 
“You only heard about us professionally. Our grandchildren!” she exclaims. “We never knew it would be so ‘gevaldik’ [tremendous]. Who knew?” she says. “Here, we have kids who adore us and run up to us, without any question. We’re still pinching ourselves.”
Yitzhak discusses the subject of grandchildren and connects it with the difficulties in making aliyah. “I didn’t realize what I did to my parents,” he says, “by denying them the enjoyment of their grandchildren. I saw how much I got out of my grandchildren. My parents and Vicky’s parents saw my children very irregularly.” 
In Yitzhak’s view, making aliyah is a matter of pluses and minuses, or as he terms them, “debits and credits.” The distance created between families on opposite sides of the world is a minus, but in his view, it does not outweigh the feeling of living in Israel. 
“I had a clear view of the world at 21,” says Yitzhak, referring to the world’s interaction with the Jews. “It’s not antisemitism. It’s international realpolitik, and there is only one country where the Jews will be the top priority.”
Yitzhak says aliyah was easy for him but very difficult for his wife. She confirms. “It was difficult – not like the difficulties that people had draining the swamps, but emotionally it was difficult,” says Vicky. 
Yitzhak and Vicky Mais have no regrets about the fateful decision that brought them to Israel 48 years ago. 
“I would do it again,” says Vicky, though she adds, “I didn’t know enough. I was stupid and didn’t know what was ahead. I would just say it would be nice to know a little more about it before the hard facts.”
“I got off the plane and felt at home,” says Yitzhak. “I felt more at home here than I did in America.” He adds that the fact that they never got used to the American lifestyle made their aliyah much easier. 
“I still maintain that what you lose in materialism, you gain in spirituality. The more you gain spiritually, the less you feel the loss of materialistic things.” Retorts Vicky, “I never felt that. Speak for yourself.” After a beat, she adds, “He didn’t feel it either.”
What do they like best about living here? 
“The fact that I am here,” says Vicky. “It’s Israel. I can’t say it better than that. My favorite holiday is Yom Ha’atzmaut [Independence Day].” What she likes least is the distance between her and her family in the States. And one more thing: “The hardest thing is sending your kid to the army. I’ll tell that to anyone who comes so that they know I didn’t lie and I didn’t hold back.”
“What I like the most about Israel,” says Yitzhak, “is being Jewish. It allows me to be Jewish in the fullest sense of the word – more than religion, but culturally, value-wise, and world-view-wise. I am not embarrassed to say what’s good for the Jews.”
They take aim at the usual targets for improvement – today’s leaders, the voting system, the political system and the school curriculum. The differences between the Israel of 1973 and the Israel of 2021 are vast, they say. 48 years ago, when Yitzhak and Vicky Mais landed in Israel, they note, only half the population owned a washing machine. Fewer people drove, and those who did had used cars. Since then, they add, the quality of service has dramatically increased. And, says Vicky, “There are many more varieties of ice cream. That’s a big thing!” 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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