“A Front Row Seat in History”


Devorah Talia Gordon

In July 2010, Angeleno Norman Derovan and his wife, Wendy, actualized their lifelong dream of moving to Eretz Yisroel. “We agreed we wanted to go, even when we were dating,” said Derovan. It took a good thirty years, but now they, and their four children, all live in Israel. On a recent business trip back in L.A., Derovan reflected on aliyah, living in the West Bank, and, as wife Wendy says, having a “front row seat in history.”

“I went to Israel back in 1972, before it was the thing to do during the ‘gap’ year.” Already, Derovan’s heart was in Israel, but his parents wanted him to go to college. Derovan earned his degree, then entered the building industry. He owned his own company for a few years before becoming a stockbroker and working for EF Hutton for 28 years.

But a strong Jewish identity, and a passion for Israel, were part and parcel of the Derovan family. Derovan’s father served as president of the Religious Zionists (RZA) of Beverly Hills, and as president of the West Coast OU (in the 1970s). Derovan attended both Hillel and Rambam, and his mother headed up the PTA for both schools. As an adult, Derovan was the ba’al tokeya at Beth Jacob for 21 years.

Meanwhile, Derovan’s brother, fine artist Daniel (Dvir), a”h, had already made aliyah in 1970. (Angelenos might be familiar with Dvir’s work – his murals line the walls of Yavneh Hebrew Academy.) A second brother, David Derovan, made aliyah back in 1983. He works in chinuch.

When it was their turn, the Derovans settled in Mitzpei Nevo, a religious neighborhood in the city of Ma’ale Adumim. Why did they select this community, in “the dreaded West Bank” (as Derovan puts it) as opposed to such popular spots for English-speaking olim such as Ramat Beit Shemesh?

“We picked it because the hesder yeshiva our son attended ,Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, is the cornerstone of neighborhood.” After attending yeshiva, their son did his army stint, and is currently studying at Machon Lev. The community also boasted an excellent school for their youngest daughter, Judy, who had just graduated from Yavneh.

Another daughter, Elisheva, preceded her parents to Israel and was married three weeks after the Derovans’ aliyah. Oldest daughter Ronit stayed behind in L.A., but after unsuccessfully finding work and a suitable match in L.A., her father said, “Come to Israel and you will find both.” Ronit made aliyah in January 2012, found a job, and is now both wife and mother. Her Brazilian-born husband, Daniel, is a veterinarian and works with horses.

Since Ma’ale Adumim is a desert community, the Derovans live in view of a Bedouin encampment on the barren landscape, where horses, camels, and “an Arab kid leading a flock of sheep” are the norm. Juxtaposed to this typical Middle Eastern scene is the Mishor Industrial Area – with warehouses and factories. (This is where Soda Stream used to operate before moving to Beersheva last year.)

Mr. Derovan’s combined experience with building and investing have led him to his current occupation as business development manager for American Israel Construction and Development, specialists in TAMA38 Projects. TAMA38 is a relatively new government program to retrofit old apartment buildings for earthquake preparedness. The buildings also receive other improvements, including mamad (bomb shelter) rooms and new apartments above the original ones.

Derovan is hopeful that his company’s efforts will put a “little dent” in a huge problem: a lack of affordable housing for young couples. “All of the super-expensive apartments being built in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not for Israelis, but for the tourists…it is all empty except for Pesach and Sukkos. People don’t have where to live.”

How is day-to-day life in Israel, especially for olim? “Everyone [in the family] is very happy to be there, and none of the kids plan to come back. Friends here [in L.A.] are saying how hard it is to buy a house, to live here, as young professionals. Education is much cheaper in Israel, and our daughter Elisheva (who has two children) is relieved to be there.” Elisheva’s husband works at Mobileye as an electrical engineer, as part of the team developing the driverless car. The family lives up the street from the Derovans.

“Moving wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. Everything is kosher. We did go from four cars in L.A. to one little car in Israel that all three of us share… I love Israelis; it is a different culture. The people don’t push as much as they used to. Now, in banks you take a number. I think Israel attracts the best of the best. To be able to live there is a big z’chut for myself and my family.”
How does Mr. Derovan and his family deal with the matzav? “Because of the current ‘knife intifada,’ my son – and quite a few people in shul – has his gun on him all the time, though it’s hard to get one, and once you have it, it’s hard to use. A complete psychological work-up is mandatory for gun ownership, and every bullet issued must be accounted for.”

Despite the unease, Derovan said people are leaving their houses, going to restaurants, and the like, but tourists aren’t coming. Consequently, there is less traffic.

But on the positive side, Derovan has observed how the tenuous political situation brings out the best in Israelis. “When we have these terrible tragedies, it shows the fantastic people who live in Israel. Mrs. Meir [Dafna Meir, Hy’d, who was stabbed to death in January outside of her home] was a phenomenal person, had her own kids and foster kids, and you don’t hear about these individuals until they’re killed.”

Derovan also emphasized the enormous kiddush Hashem made by Sarah Tehiya and Ariel Littman, three months ago, when they invited the entire country to their wedding just after the kallah’s father and brother were murdered by Arab terrorists. Derovan wrote (in a newsletter he sends to friends and family), “The genius here is what they did with their newfound notoriety. By deciding to invite the entire country…they united the Jewish people in a very special way…it was their way of shouting to the world that Israel and the Jewish people will not be destroyed…”

On the contrary, wrote Derovan, “We continue living here in Israel. We will not be forced out again as we were in 70 AD by the Romans. We were here before the so-called Palestinians, before Muhammad, before the Greeks… Am Yisrael Chai…The Nation of Israel Lives.”