Updated: May 27, 2021
Aliyah Date: 2015
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Current City: Tel Aviv, New York
Israel has its way of sneaking up on you and stealing your heart. When you least expect it, life often leads you on a different path than what you had imagined.
And for many Jews, that path leads to Israel.
Johnny Denver Levine began his story in Toronto, Canada, growing up like many others do, without much education surrounding Israel, without the strong connection that he feels today. It wasn’t until his first encounter with Israel on a Birthright trip that Israel stole his heart, and the seed was planted. His experience in Israel led to the unraveling of a new journey for Johnny, one that seems none other than led by fate.
It was on a plane ride back home from Europe after his trip to Israel that things got interesting. After a long and interesting conversation with a Canadian businessman who had made Aliyah himself, Johnny was offered a job right then and there, opening up doors for him in Israel. To Johnny, life was directing him right back to Israel.
Although he never took that initial job, Johnny did make his way back to Israel quickly thereafter and spent five months interning on Masa’s Destination Israel internship program. After five months on the program, Johnny was ready for the real deal and decided to make it official. He made Aliyah officially in 2015, and settled in Tel Aviv, although half of his time he still spends abroad.
While many of us dream to settle in Israel, create a full-time life here and never look back, many of us are unable to, or don’t want to walk away from parts of our lives before Aliyah.
Making Aliyah can be a gradual process as well, instead of a jump. And Johnny, like many others, has learned how to do this in stride. As a professional ski racer since childhood, Johnny didn’t want to give up his passion for the snow and the professional opportunities he had in the sport. He has been traveling back and forth ever since.
Today, Johnny is living in New York part-time while coaching the ski team at a US university, and works as a freelancer in sports tech while back here in Israel, using many of the connections he has made through Masa! Although it seems Johnny has successfully found the perfect balance of two of his biggest passions, he does plan on fully committing to Israel in the future, and sees himself settling down here full-time.
While here, he has taken the time to work on a passion project of his, a hat and apparel fashion brand. As someone who has worn hats most of his life (in all of that snow!), Johnny has always been looking for good quality, fashionable hats here in Israel. Johnny’s brand, Legends of Today, is fashion with a deeper twist, as it celebrates Tel Aviv and the different stories, or ‘characters’, of the people around Israel, especially in Tel Aviv. Israel is a country of such unique and diverse people, with different stories, backgrounds, and Johnny intends on celebrating that.
“I was bartending at a bar in Jaffa, where I saw a ‘legend’ come visit me every day! One very special man, named Mario, came each day to our bar to collect the empty bottles and cans. Over time, we became friendly and got to know each other. Mario became a known figure by us at the bar, and that gave me the idea to base my brand on all the different stories and characters, like Mario!”
How has Aliyah been for Johnny?
While moving to a whole new country, especially Israel, definitely comes with its challenges, many of those exact challenges are the things Johnny loves most about Israel! The Israeli chutzpah may be a bit of a barrier at times, but it’s one of his favorite things about Israelis.
Johnny believes in embracing it all. The culture shock, the directness, and even the troubling bureaucracy at times!
“Go 100%, all in, from attending the random Shabbat dinner a stranger invited you to, to taking on some of that Israeli chutzpah yourself. Take chances and step out of your comfort zone.”
But nonetheless, never ever forget who you are and where you come from, as the businessman from that first plane ride wisely told Johnny (and they are still in touch today!). As we step into a new identity, we don’t have to walk away from an existing one, as we can bring all parts of ourselves together!
As Johnny continues on his journey in making a life here in Israel, while he may be traveling around the world at times, he knows he will always come back home.
“There is something about stepping off the plane as you arrive in Israel. You are home. You belong. I have been to almost 30 countries around the world, and there is nothing like Israel.”
**If you would like to learn more about an internship program with Masa, click here!