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Q+A

Elliot Cahan

Elliot Cahan (left) and Mayor Martin O’Malley

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 8/24/2005

In July 2004, nursing home administrator and 5th District City Council candidate Elliott Cahan made an announcement: Rather than continuing his campaign against entrenched incumbent Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, he would be leaving Baltimore just months shy of the election to make aliyah—the Jewish immigration to Israel—with his wife and three children. Ever since, Cahan has kept a web log on which he chronicles his family’s experiences in their new digs in the Israeli city of Modiin. Life in Modiin is not as tumultuous as in cities plagued by Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, but it’s not utopia either. Cahan’s blog describes such aggravations as trying to deal with unresponsive government officials and a troubled city school system. Hmmm, sounds sort of familiar.

City Paper: Why did you decide to move to Israel at that particular time? Can you describe your thought process?

Elliott Cahan: There were two thought processes, both quite simple. One was that I knew that when I beat Rikki Spector, and would become the first Republican City Council member in some 80 years, I would never have another chance at a photo op with the mayor. Therefore, I had the foresight to pick up and move to Israel. I got a picture with the mayor and Rikki when they came to visit Israel this past winter.

In all seriousness, [my wife] Ilene and I have had shared a dream of living in Israel for at least 18 years. We met here, studied here, and have family here. Our oldest son, Noam, was going to turn 12, and we knew that it is very hard for older children to make such a big move. Therefore, we figured it was now or many years later. So while giving up on the City Council race, our careers, and life in Baltimore was tough, it was family first.

CP: Was the move easy?

EC: Many of the technical and social aspects of transitioning to our new life here in Israel have been made easier by an organization called Nefesh B’ Nefesh (“soul to soul”) that helps North American Jews fulfill their dream of living in Israel. Therefore, dealing with a lot of the bureaucratic nature of Israeli society was much smoother than we ever anticipated. Socially, we have fit in very well. I don’t think that we anticipated that we would be totally rebuilding our lives from scratch. Who we were and what we did in Baltimore really means nothing since we’re just another family of new immigrants. We are continuing to learn how to succeed in a new culture and society while mastering Hebrew

CP: I know that some who make aliyah manage to telecommute to their American jobs—how does your family do it?

EC: Employment has definitely been a frustration. Ilene works part time as a dietician at a gym. I have been doing some consulting work for an individual who telecommutes back to the U.S. However, it has been tough trying to find work in our fields. We both feel that we have a great deal that we can contribute to this country if we were given a chance. Believe it or not, the Israeli government pays you for making aliyah, and we are able to live off a combination of savings and what the government pays us.

CP: Were you at all frightened about the prospect of encountering Israeli/Palestinian violence?

EC: Ironically, I was in Baltimore for a visit a few months ago, and before going to bed on a Saturday night I heard gunshots being fired in the area. It was a very unnerving feeling—something that probably happened when we lived in Baltimore, but it made me realize that safety is all relative.

CP: How do you feel about the current state of affairs in Gaza? Do you worry at all about how that will play out for you, for Americans thinking about making aliyah, and for Israel in the long run?

EC: We have spent the last few days watching the events in Gaza with broken hearts. No matter how you feel about the disengagement plan, seeing people being evicted from their homes against their will and made into refugees is very difficult. We worry about the long-term effects that this will have on those who were evacuated. . . . It is troublesome to see a democratic country use its army against its own people. We have come to really, really appreciate the founding fathers of the United States and the framers of the Constitution.

CP: In the comments section of your blog, there is a reader who makes a comment about moving your children to a “war zone.” This despite the fact that Modiin, the city your family moved to, is not in the midst of any turmoil right now.

EC: We don’t live in a war zone or anything resembling one. Our children are much more independent than they ever were in Baltimore. Israel has many of the other problems that Western countries experience, but for the most part crime does not exist at the same violent levels that you see in places like Baltimore.

CP: I also notice on your blog a few entries describing frustrations that echo problems you probably faced when you lived in Baltimore: less-than-responsive government bureaucracy, red tape, dissatisfaction with the school system. Did you think that, a year after your move, you’d be blogging about the same kinds of problems you’d be dealing with if you were elected to the Baltimore City Council?

EC: Israel still has many of the vestiges of a Socialist country. There are high taxes, lots of bureaucracy and waste, so I’m not surprised that these are issues that are of concern. In Baltimore, my kids went to a private school, and so we were insulated from many of the problems in the Baltimore City school system. Today, I am an even more firm believer in some of the issues that I thought were important in Baltimore. . . . Giving parents more of a say in their kids’ educations using vouchers, for instance. Parents know what’s best for their kids. Having dealt with these issues in Baltimore has just helped me to see things even more clearly now.

CP: Do your experiences inspire you to perhaps pursue any kind of political office in Israel? Say, member of the Modiin City Council? Mayor, even?

EC: I just have to master saying “City Council” in Hebrew. Mayor? I’ve learned that running against someone named Spector is not easy. [Modiin’s mayor is named Moshe Spector].

CP: Have you heard about the City Council’s recent vote to approve a $305 million publicly funded hotel to prop up the convention center? It’s been a hot topic here lately.

EC: Where did they find the $305 million, in the harbor? I thought Peter Angelos was going to be building a hotel.

CP: Miss Baltimore at all?

EC: What was that, Hon? We certainly miss Baltimore and our many friends there, but are very happy with the decision that we made to move to Israel, and we’re not looking back.

CP: What’s next for the Cahan family?

EC: Hopefully, jobs real soon. I never thought that I would be retired at 38. We’re looking forward to a much smoother school year, now that we’ve had one under our belt. After that, who knows.

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