Channeling struggle into something positive.
In addition to meeting countless other culture-seekers, we've been so lucky to have the opportunity to meet dozens of entrepreneurs and creators who have focused their culture-seeking into products that evangelize their heritage. We first fell in love with Lee Laa Lou's creative Holiday Activity Books, and reached out to seek permission to share them with the Root & Seed Community prior to the Jewish New Year. We had no idea what an inspiring conversation we would have with Amit, and it reminded us that beautiful things are often rooted in passion and perseverance. Amit was able to take the challenge he was facing with his immigrant identity and turn it into something that actually fills a gap in not only his life but the lives of many people who are looking to explore and reclaim Jewish culture and language for their families. We were honoured when Amit was willing to share his story with our community, in his own words:
Have you ever experienced a moment in your life, when you just stopped and realized that you’re not where you thought you’d be? There’s a famous saying: “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
I never thought I would end up establishing roots in Canada. When I did make the choice to build a life here, I also unknowingly chose to face a question of identity. Coming from Israel and adjusting to life in Toronto has been a life-changing experience. Staying connected to Israel and Jewish culture and traditions, outside of Israel, has proven to be challenging. I never had to “work at” being Jewish or Israeli, it all came naturally in Israel. It turns out that here, I needed to work at it.
When you grow up surrounded by certain traditions, customs, ways of life, you get accustomed to them. They feel familiar, safe, and make you feel like you belong somewhere. So, when I found myself in a new country and a new culture, experiencing new situations, over time, I started to feel a sort of emptiness and feelings that I wasn’t sure how to describe or to address. It didn’t feel very familiar, safe, nor make me feel like I belong.
My stay here was supposed to be short, until I finished my studies. But life, as it turns out, had other plans. In Israel, I was busy navigating my life between work, relationships, traffic, and looking for parking in Tel-Aviv. Wondering about my identity, who I am, what I am, and what I want, didn’t play a major role in my life. Not until I passed by a Starbucks in mid-town Toronto. It was a Friday morning. I was in the middle of my weekly call with my savta (grandma) “Bekka” (may she live a long life), when I passed by a pair of eyes and a smile that changed my life forever.
We got married two years later. Today we have 2 amazing kids, a dog, and a mortgage. Now, that we have built our family, I can look back with more clarity. It’s amazing to see my children grow up here. I feel blessed that we are in a position to expose them to cultural richness- but that came with a price.
It didn't take me long after meeting my wife that I realized my path had changed. Throughout that time, I constantly ruminated and chatted up anyone who would listen about my conflicting thoughts about being an Israeli, Jewish, and Canadian. For years I have been trying to figure out where I fit in this “holy trinity”.
First and foremost, I’m an Israeli. That I knew. But being a secular Israeli outside of Israel turned out to be a challenge. Adjusting to life here, apart from the weather and not being on the Mediterranean shore, turned out to be a long and winding road filled with many ups and downs. I wasn’t prepared for that.
As an Israeli I grew up during wars, terror attacks, on the beach, playing in the street, in the army, and mainly living life to the fullest. The culture around me and what I grew up with is one that really knows how to enjoy life. I think it’s because we know that life can end in an instant. But here, as I learned, it’s done differently. My drive, energy, wearing my heart on my sleeve, directness, and unapologetic tones were perceived as rude and impolite. What may have worked back home in Israel, was now not working for me anymore. It created more damage than good.
After several failures and some metaphorical slaps in the face, I realized that I can’t keep doing the same things I did in Israel and expect to succeed. I realized that in order to succeed I will have to redefine myself. But how do I do that without losing myself? Without losing the “Israeliness” in me or letting go of my identity? How do I do that without losing my emotional connection to a people, to a language, to a culture?
Turns out it’s possible. But nothing good happens without hard work. Or in the words of Matshona Dhliwayo: “Today's tears water tomorrow's gardens”. First, you put your ego aside. The process I have been through is sort of an unconscious or involuntary admission of ignorance (in Latin it’s called Testimonium Paupertatis). I realized that I am only one of many and that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Next, I started to research and slowly ask for help, mingle with the Jewish community, immersing in the local Canadian and Israeli culture. I took in every piece of advice I was given, just like a child that is learning how to act and speak. I read a lot and with time things began to fall into place. It takes courage to look in the mirror and ask tough questions. In 2018 was let go from 2 jobs in the time span of 6 months, and then another one when Covid hit. I see these as signs the universe is sending my way. It forced me to look inside, take a risk, and follow a passion that was always inside of me.
In October 2020 I launched Lee Laa Lou, a company that creates fun and educational products and content to make learning and teaching languages and cultures more accessible. It turns out that educational stickers, specifically language-focused, are very hard to come by. Even more so, finding ones that are modern, fun, and engaging for kids to understand and use in their day-to-day language learning activities. It had become something I wanted to create for my daughter as a way to stay connected to my roots and help her understand our rich culture, traditions, and language.
Through design, I found a way to combine Hebrew, English, and transliterations and turn a classroom sticker into something unique. We started with stickers, and now we create workbooks, activity sheets, custom kits for community organizations and more. Lee Laa Lou will soon be celebrating its first year in business, and the future is looking bright as we work to introduce more languages and cultures into our collection. Everything I experienced, and the people I met along the way taught me something and brought me to this moment in my life. I’m thankful to all of them (good and not so good). I just needed to be open and listen.
It takes time, determination, and perseverance. It’s not a sprint. There’s no end to this journey. It’s really a state of mind. Over time, I began to feel that Toronto and Canada became my home. And now, I discovered that my own cultural diversity is a superpower. I can be an Israeli when I need to, Canadian, and also a “mensch” (in Yiddish which means a person of integrity and honor). When this superpower is used in the right place and time it can move mountains!
Support Lee Laa Lou and learn more about a variety of Jewish cultures, customs, and traditions by purchasing your own Hebrew Sticker Activity Book on their website, and follow them on Instagram @leelaaloustickers