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Thursday, August 28, 2014

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Event planner has no regrets about making aliyah

Tags: Heebonics
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Michal Kaye in a Jerusalem café [Karen Buchbinder photo]

Three and a half years ago, Michal Kaye took the plunge. She had been thinking about moving to Israel for a long time, having spent nine years working in an office where she helped people organize an extended trip to Israel.

Finally, she felt the time was right. She had worked for Hillel and the Jewish Community Centre in the United States. She ran birthright trips, participated in conferences and worked in an aliyah centre in Toronto.

“I felt I did everything I could in North America personal-wise,” said the 36-year-old event planner in Toronto this month. “If I didn’t go at that point, I’d never go. I’d find another excuse next year.”

Kaye, who was born in England but grew up in Vancouver and Toronto, arrived in Israel with just a basic foundation of Hebrew, so she enrolled in a course – but she only stuck with it for a month. She had found two jobs: one in a store selling homemade goodies, and another working in administration for a school.

“All I did was work in Hebrew. That was amazing,” she said. It forced her to learn the language and the local customs very quickly, and brought her skills to a mostly fluent level. She said she still sometimes has trouble speaking the language, but she can almost completely understand Hebrew now.

A job at a company focused on high-tech “taught me everything I needed to know [about] Israeli society,” she said. For example, she said that, unlike her experiences in North America, she was able to speak candidly with her boss.

“There’s an authority figure, but… everyone talks to everyone,” she said

Kaye moved to Jerusalem. She said she ended up there because it has a young, single Orthodox community. As an Orthodox woman, she said, she was not attracted to the lifestyle in Tel Aviv, which reminded her of her time living in New York City. She felt that Jerusalem was the right home for her.

Finding herself unsatisfied working for other people, she decided to start her own business in event planning, having learned many tricks of the trade from her mother, Suzanne, who is a florist and event planner.

“It’s a billion-dollar industry in Israel,” she said. “There’s so much going on.”

Her business in Israel faces different challenges than it would in North America. For example, she said the flower choices are highly dependent on the season. In Canada, she could plan to have the same arrangement all year round, but in Israel, she had to adapt to the season.

Additionally, she said Israeli businesses tend to have a more laid-back atmosphere compared to those in North America. It can even seem disorganized on occasion.

“Sometimes the whole wedding is last minute,” she said. “You could plan a wedding in two weeks and it could be beautiful.”

Most of her clients are from Canada, the United States and Australia, though she works with people from all over the world who are hoping to hold an event such as a wedding or bar mitzvah in Israel.

Given the distance between Kaye and her clients, technology is a godsend, she said. For example, she is currently planning a wedding for a man in Australia and a woman in Serbia.

“I’ll have communication with him in the morning, then she’ll wake up two or three hours later and she’ll email me,” she said. “It’s like he’s going to sleep and she’s waking up.”

The time zone differences mean Kaye’s work is not a typical nine-to-five job. Some days she wakes up early and other days she works late to co-ordinate the times.

Kaye’s father is Zac Kaye, executive director for Hillel of Greater Toronto, who has been involved in Jewish student leadership around the world since before she was born. She said being surrounded by his work gave her the skill to relate to and work with every kind of person.

Given that she has worked with Jewish communities outside of Israel, it was an easy transition for her. “Now I just work in a different Jewish community with seven million people,” she said.

Her 20-year-old sister, Chaya Kaye, moved to Israel a year after she did. They spent the first year together and shared a home, before Chaya found a place to live in the city of Giv’at Shmuel.

“She’s my assistant when I need it,” Michal Kaye said. “We’re there, we’re sisters, we help each other out.”

Kaye is currently visiting her family in Toronto, but said she has felt scared for her friends and sister still in Israel during the most recent outbreak of violence. She has opened up her apartment to her sister, and said that if she were not in Canada, she would have opened her door to offer refuge to people from Ashkelon.

This kind of situation has become part of her everyday life, so she doesn’t stress or worry about it. It’s all part of living in a country surrounded by unfriendly neighbours, she said.

“The benefits outweigh the negatives,” she said, adding that she generally feels safe in Jerusalem.

Anybody thinking of moving to Israel should do lots of research – but not so much that it overwhelms you, Kaye advised.

“Come with an open mind and no predetermined ideas of anything,” she said. “It’s not an easy place to live, but when you’re there and everything’s working, just like in everyday life, then it just makes sense.”

And Kaye, having found her place in Israeli society, said she has no regrets about her move.

“It’s the best thing I ever did,” she said.

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