A bit about Efrat before we begin
I know Efrat from a few different settings; First of all, our girls study in the same class at school and secondly, Efrat was the project manager on an entrepreneurial course for new small businesses that I took about two years ago, which also gave me a chance to get to know her from a another point of view. I know that her story is one worth telling and that her experiences can be an inspiration to many!Efrat lives in Karkur with her husband and their two children.
Efrat, first of all thank you for your time and your willingness to tell your story here. As I told you, my wish is to, through these interviews and these personal stories, to show that there are many ways to do something. I see many, especially women, who are not satisfied with the situation as it is, but do not see another way. And I want to show that there is!
I call this a vicious circle – we get a job, at first it is interesting and challenging, we start to advance, work longer hours, then start to burn-out … but still feel that there isn’t another way. There is the mortgage, expenses, a certain standard of living. We love the income but not with what we do or want to do. But then it is already really hard for us to give up on that certain standard of living that we got used to by being the employees of someone else …. So we just continue to work those long hours even though we are not satisfied and almost don’t spend any time at home, with the children and with our spouse. And that is when frustration and bitterness starts to creep in…
What’s your story?
I started working in a private company, slowly moving up in the ranks to more senior positions. I worked a lot of hours and reached a point where I almost didn’t see my family. I am sad to say it but my daughter hardly ever saw me. My relationship with my daughter was almost non-existent as I was almost never home… I worked a lot!
Again, it is sad to say it really sad but I didn’t know how to deal with her. I was used to manage employees, inventory and large teams. I was busy at work and it was very hard for me at home. I can honestly say that in those years, my husband raised our daughter on his own. I felt frustrated that I could not communicate with my daughter and did not have time to build a real relationship. I felt that something was wrong in my life, but what could I do? What happened during that period of my life, I call my own private vicious cycle.
The company I was working was closed down and started to lay off workers, and therefore I was fired. The first week was really fun; Finally, some free time, but soon I had had enough of that. I was so used to work that I started to be bored really fast. In addition, it was hard for me at home. I could not communicate with my daughter and everything we did just ended up in tears, hers and mine! I was so frustrated that I even began to think that maybe I’m not a good mother, that maybe I shouldn’t have been a mother.
I realized that I had to make a change and the change must come from me. I decided that I needed someone to coach me. In that coaching process, I learned to communicate better, to contain and understand the significance of being a mother. In fact, I learned how to be a mother and I learned that a family you cannot manage like a business! The coaching world appealed to me greatly. I understood that it works and I decided to be a coach as well.
A year after becoming a coach, though, I still didn’t know exactly what I want. It was clear that I had to find something that would combine the things that I love: the business world and people.
While looking for that thing I wanted to do, I accepted a job offer from a large organization. The position that they needed me to do was to work with various organizational units and with the managers to teach them all the aspects of business like managing staff, inventory and business operations.
I got five such units and started working. The work included a lot of traveling. I would leave the house in the morning and return at night. It was good money, interesting and challenging work but I was back in the same place I had been before. I told myself that it does not make sense.
I remember the point where I decided that it really doesn’t suit me, that I can’t do it anymore: I was pregnant with my son and had gestational diabetes. I had to take great care that my sugar levels where balanced and it was important that I eat regularly and take my insulin throughout the day.
One day, while on the road, my sugar dropped. I felt dizziness, hot flashes and then everything was dark, I couldn’t see anything. I was just passing through a big junction in the north and couldn’t see anything. I prayed that I could cross the intersection and get safely to the other side.
I do not know how but probably through providence, I passed and got off the road. I took a shot of insulin, drank some water and ate something. I stayed in the car to calm down and after half an hour I saw that I really did cross the intersection and managed to pull over. I waited a little longer in the car and then drove home. All the way I told myself that I’m not doing that anymore, it is not worth it. I finished the project, gave birth and I stayed home with the baby for a year.
After a year I started working at MATI Hadera (Center to promote entrepreneurship) as a freelancer. The work environment suited me; businesses, entrepreneurship, people, creativity and innovation. I was responsible for project management and later held lectures, made business plans and business consulting. I felt I had found my place and that being a mentor, to accompany a person with a dream, and help him fulfill it with the tools and experience that I have, that’s what I want to do and that’s what I’m good at!
Later on I became an independent worker, giving me the opportunity to continue the same work but on my terms. Basically I took what I was good at, the experience I have, the love that I have for people and made it into a business calling it “Steps to Success”. After doing that for three years I felt that I to grow but without to lose the personal touch.
So how would I do that? Probably again this universe was aligned for me, because at that same time MATI lost a big tender and stopped all activity in Hadera. At that same time, I also met Zamir who became my business partner.
Before that I had been working with Zamir on several projects. He was worked in the Netanya branch of MATI in a position similar to mine. We discovered that businesswise we matched and complement each other, also in character. We decided to be partners and we established the business “MJ – A leap for businesses”. It is a business that accompanies entrepreneurs and business owners both personally and in their business. We help with everything related to the business world, business management and a lot of skills that a necessary as an entrepreneur. I believe that a person should be complete in order to be ready to succeed on his own.
We work with the whole population, but specialize in the Ethiopian community. Naturally, the needs of entrepreneurs and business owners are similar to the rest of the population but when working with the Ethiopian community it is necessary to understand the nuances of a different language, culture and background from which these entrepreneurs and business owners come. We specialize in this area and both know the nuances of the Ethiopian culture.
As I see you it, have the best of you on both sides: You are very Israeli but also Ethiopian.
I have one foot here and one foot there so I bridge between the two cultures, although others don’t always see it that way. For example, a while back we held a workshop for women from the Ethiopian community about women’s empowerment. In one of the lectures where we talked about paradigms and social norms, they told me: “You have no such problems because you married an Israeli (and not an Ethiopian)”. I told them, “I am also Israeli”. I am like I am, not because I married a man that is not from the community, but because of who I am, which has nothing to do with the origin of my husband.
Many times I also hear that “you are so Israeli that you forgot what it means to be Ethiopian”. People who know me well, know that first of all I am Ethiopian regarding all aspects like food, holidays, traditions and culture. I am very attached to my Ethiopian roots and think that it is the secret of my “Israeliness”, that I don’t run away from what I am! This connection to my roots helps me to be an Israeli ….
It took me a while to get to this understanding, because when I was younger I was not really connected to my roots. I really wanted to fit in. My parents did not speak to me in Amharic and I mostly grew up with native Israelis. In boarding school, I was the only Ethiopian in my year. Except for the color of my skin I did not bear any signs of being Ethiopian. At a later point in my life, I realized that something was missing in all this. I am Ethiopian so where does that come to show in who I am?
The change happened in my late twenties. One day I went to the bank and an elderly Ethiopian woman asked me to translate for her from Hebrew to Amharic and I wasn’t able! That I could not speak Amharic was not acceptable for this woman. She waited outside the bank branch and said very harsh words to me it does not make sense that I do not speak my own language and that I should be ashamed of myself. She used a lot of effort and very basic Hebrew so that I would understand. Here I was, an academic with a good job and very proud of myself but it only took her a few minutes to make me feel very small!
I realized then that it really doesn’t make sense and it gave me the will and desire to connect to the person that I really am, to my Ethiopian roots. Once I started to connect to the language and the culture that was when I also started to really grow mentally. Today I, my family and my children are very connected to our Ethiopian roots and they even have names in Amharic.
It is interesting that I had something similar when I just immigrated here. At first I wanted to be very Israeli, but then I realized that what I bring with me are also strengths and if I combine the old and the new, I can actually create a new identity that is all mine. Today I call myself an Israeli as well as a Dane. An Israeli that wasn’t born here, but still an Israeli.
I would like to take you back to that workshop you mentioned earlier. This statement that “you have no problems”, because of this or that, is something that has been mentioned in almost all the interviews so far. What are your thoughts on this?
I always do a comparison! In this case, with these women, we grew up in exactly the same conditions; same places, same buildings and apartments, same family structure. I show them that it is a choice. That if we come from the same background then we have the same opportunities, meaning that if I can, so can they.
In fact, I believe that anyone can, but often we get stuck in the present reality, in the same vicious circle … but also that can be changed! We must look forward, to decide what we really want and then begin to look there, create a plan, set goals and start making steps towards that, even small ones. That is the way if we want to translate a dream into reality! It is not easy but with planning, practice and persistence we can move forward and make a difference.
I know you’re a woman who works very hard and yet is there is a difference in your life and with your family between now and then?
Today everything is under my control! I have the choice, when to work, how much and with whom. It may sound trivial, but today I make sandwiches for school and kindergarten, I cook, play with the children, help with homework, read bedtime stories. It’s something I didn’t do before because I was not at home. My priorities have changed. Before this, work was the most important thing, today family comes first!
Do you think it is possible to be an involved mother and to have a career?
I believe it is possible, but again, it’s a matter of priorities and need to know what our boundaries are, both at work and at home. You have to understand that you have to devote time and effort to both these roles. When I’m home with the kids I don’t do anything work related, no calls, no emails. And when I am at work, I’m a hundred percent at work. I need to know when to wear the appropriate hat and when to take it off. So, yes, I believe that you can lead a normal life and have a career.
The other thing is to learn to say no and to learn how to compromise on certain things. It is impossible to be involved in everything. I also do not believe in multi-tasking; doing one thing at a time makes us more focused, effective and balanced and therefore gives us more free time. It’s not easy but can solve a lot of problems, save time and many headaches.
I am constantly in the process of learning and growing personally. I believe that you can make a dream become reality with plans, goals and objectives Then there is no reason it will not happen! That is how I operate, for myself as well as for my clients. I always try to see the positive side of things and is thankful for both the good and the bad in my life. I don’t believe that things just happen to us, but that they and are part of the universe or of God, and that there is a meaning for everything that happens in my life. Some of them I understand and some I do not and that is okay. The most important part is trying to see the big picture!
Efrat, thank you so much! What a story and what a journey! I really look forward to see how it all continues and wish you lots and lots of success!