Gladys and Paul Karlin
Gladys and Paul Karlin. (Courtesy of the Karlins)

Paul Karlin discusses what motivated him to make aliyah, what he loves about living in Israel and what he misses most about Detroit.

Paul Karlin, 81, made aliyah in August 2007 with his wife, Gladys. They initially lived in Modiin and then moved to Jerusalem to be near their daughter, Rachel. They would like to visit Michigan soon, but not when it’s snowing.

Q: Tell me about your first trip to Israel.

PK: It was right before the Gulf War. Rachel was here for her last year of high school at Akiva [now Farber Hebrew Day School]. They organized a trip for the parents in the winter, and we came here for a two-week visit to see the country. Saddam Hussein decided he was going to shoot some Scud missiles at Israel.

Q: It must have been very difficult for you to have Rachel here during that time.

PK: It was. Eventually we brought her home for a short time, but we sent her back while he was still shooting Scuds.

Q: What motivated you to make aliyah?

PK: Gladys has been wanting to come for years, and I was very resistant because I didn’t think I could make a living here, especially because of the language barrier. When I got to the age where I was considering retirement, we wanted to spend time with our grandchildren, so we followed Rachel, and it’s been a great experience. 

We never would have been such a big part of their lives if we hadn’t come. Since we moved, they come over during the week to spend time with us, we have lunch together sometimes, spend time with them in the afternoons; of course, every Shabbat we see them for meals, and we’ve been here for all their big moments — graduations, birthdays, army ceremonies.

There’s a bakery that I always go to in the neighborhood — they make a great cup of coffee — and sometimes when the kids are home from college on Friday morning, they’ll surprise me by showing up there and having breakfast with me. At least once a week, I play golf in Caesarea with my grandson, Natani.

Q: What have you been doing since you’ve been here?

PK: We started off with Ulpan for about six months, which was every day from early in the morning until 1 p.m. with homework assignments. Then we decided to do a little traveling.

I’m also an avid golfer and taught golf lessons to kids in Modiin for five years, which was quite an experience! I also became a member at the Kibbutz Gaash golf club and eventually worked there part-time in the pro shop.

Q: Is there anything you miss about Detroit?

PK: I miss my family and my old friends. We try and keep in touch by email and by phone. My son, David, who has two children, lives in West Bloomfield. He comes to visit about once a year. We haven’t gone back to Michigan in about four years but are hoping to take a trip there soon.

I also miss being able to speak and be understood and not having to wonder what people are saying. We still struggle with the language, especially on a professional basis when we’re talking to a doctor or to people at the bank. I can get by in a restaurant or in a café, but, for the important things, you really need to make sure that you’re not missing something and that makes it a little tough.

Anytime we have something special to do, I usually check the dictionary for a few words, so I can at least get by. We rely on Rachel and our son-in-law, Nathan Bigman, to help us out in the really difficult areas.

Q: What do you love about living in Israel?

PK: The weather is great. I don’t miss the snow whatsoever. We’re amongst Jewish people all the time. I go to restaurants a lot; I’m always reading restaurant reviews and trying great new places. In the supermarket, I don’t worry that I won’t find kosher products. I love that I can walk everywhere. I take my market cart and walk all over the neighborhood to all the small shops, where everyone knows me, and have my pick of amazing fruits and vegetables and, of course, great baked goods and coffee.

I love the freedom of it.

Q: Do you have a message for anybody who is back there in Detroit and thinking about making aliyah?

Paul: Absolutely come! It’s tough in the beginning but in the end, it’s well worth it. Let me know when you get here, and we can meet for coffee! 

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