Julie Gray

A Country Full of Characters

alefThere’s no doubt that there are interesting people everywhere, and when you’re a people person like me, you get plenty of opportunities to meet them. But in the three years I have lived in Israel, with a population of give or take 7 million, I have met more interesting people – more characters – than I did in ten years of living in Los Angeles, which boasts more than 12 million people in the metro area.

Likely it’s because I take public transportation whereas before, I was in my car a lot. Certainly it is true that we bump up against each other a lot here in Israel, being a small and closely knit country. But I keep asking myself, what is it about this country that attracts so many with such varying and interesting stories?

Just last week I met a sweet older woman who had been born in Burma, but during the Second World War, her family walked – walked – to India and she was raised in Calcutta. Later her father moved the whole family to Israel. Yes, she speaks a little Hindi. I met a Holocaust survivor whose family hid breathlessly in an elevator stopped between floors as the Nazis searched their home. I have met immigrants from Yemen, Morocco, Iraq and Iran. I got a great recipe from a Kurdish Jew. I have met Anglos like me from all over the world and every single one of them has a story, a talent and a unique point of view. The human richness in Israel absolutely floors me. Through the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon I have met yet more characters, Israelis who write fiction and non. Like snowflakes every single person is so different.

I met a particular person recently who delighted me so much with his laughter and commitment and dedication to Judaism that I just had to share about him and in doing so, thank hashem once more the incredible variety in Israel. It’s not that this person had gone through anything spectacular or harrowing. It’s that he changed his life completely and has brought such joy to Israel through his irrepressible personality. We need more joy, don’t you think?

The moment I met Joseph Sherman, I knew I had met yet another Israeli with a story. A real character.

Joseph, who lives in Jerusalem, is a management consultant. He is also a Hasidic Jew from Southern California. His parents are fundamental Christians. Joseph, you see, is an Orthodox convert. He also has a Masters Degree in Corporate Finance that he earned at the Kedge Business School, in Marseille, France.

Joseph is also an artist. He’s been painting, he explained, since he was in college. While he was in business school, he traveled all over the world and drank in the art he saw in museums and in public spaces. For Joseph, art is therapeutic and relaxing. Joseph paints outside in the park and sometimes at home. He showed me some of his original artwork. It is playful, whimsical and free flowing. As his eyes twinkled, Joseph asked me what I liked about each piece and what I thought about each. “Oh really?” he laughed as I pointed to what I saw as drifting leaves. “That’s interesting! What else do you see?” For Joseph Sherman, art is for the sake of pure joy.

Recently, while enjoying a Shabbat meal, Joseph heard the story of a family that escaped the Holocaust in Hungary with the help of a heroic man who got visas and paperwork for the family.  He was so moved by the story that he decided to create a painting and give it to the Hungarian Embassy in Israel.

Joseph realized, you see, that many of the people who helped him along in his journey of discovery and conversion to Judaism were from Hungary.  “We don’t know what seeds we plant now that will have an impact on the future”, Joseph said. “I am in Eretz Israel today because somebody put themselves on the line for Hungarian Jews seventy years ago and for that I wanted to express my gratitude.”

Proudly, Joseph showed me the picture of the Hungarian Ambassador, the art and Joseph, at the presentation ceremony. He beams in the picture, he beams over the table at the cafe. This is a guy who knows how to be happy. What a character.  

About the Author
Writer, editor and content creator Julie Gray lives in Northern Israel with her life partner, Gidon Lev. Let's Make Things Better, co-authored by Gidon and Julie will be available in Fall 2024 (Hachette/Pan MacMillan).