Updated: Apr 30
Chaya Masha Hleap I grew up with Polish-Russian-Colombian parents, who were pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, but not religious. At the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, my doctor father dropped everything to volunteer to help Israel. The war ended before the ship took off from Venezuela, but his commitment was strong.
Out of 4 children, I was the only one born with a profound interest in Judaism and Israel. In high school I traveled to Israel on teen tours every summer, my love for Israel growing. Whenever the tour group would stop briefly in Tzfat, I would get an unsettling feeling that I didn’t want to leave, I wasn’t sure why. After a few trips, I was ready to begin keeping kosher.
I studied accounting at Boston University. I spent my sophomore year at Tel Aviv University, and gained a deeper understanding of the Middle East conflict and Israeli history, and took an intense “ulpan Ivrit, “ which was my first exposure to Hebrew. After a life-changing year, I decided that Aliyah was in my future.
In 1994, divorced with one son, I decided this was the right time to make Aliyah. We moved into an apartment on Rehov Ibn Gvirol in north Tel Aviv, and I worked as an accountant. My Aunt Sonia lived on Rehov Hayarkon; I loved taking long walks on the newly constructed Tel Aviv boardwalk with her.
My son Arie, who was eight years old at the time, learned Hebrew very quickly but struggled in school. At that time the public school system in Israel wasn’t equipped for ADHD kids. We returned to Atlanta after 2 years.
My passion for healthy cooking began in Colombia, South America. Mom’s wholesome cooking and love of the kitchen, combined with the exciting flavors of my home country defined my own pursuits as a chef. It inspired me to start cooking healthy as a means of staying in top shape. I have a holistic outlook and believe food is the best medicine.
I built a successful healthy, Latin, glatt kosher meat restaurant called FuegoMundo. The restaurant didn’t start out as kosher, but after 2 years I made the huge decision to make it certified kosher. It was the first time Atlanta had experienced a “conversion” by an upscale restaurant. Although the odds were stacked against success, the restaurant became more popular, appealing to Jews and non-Jews, meat lovers, vegans and gluten-free consumers, and revenues and profits soared.
Many miracles large and small occurred after that leap of faith. I developed a piercing desire to learn Torah and Kabbalah and start going to shul. In 2015, I became a chozeret b’teshuva. I jokingly say that “I made the restaurant kosher, and then it made me kosher.”
After I sold the restaurant in 2017, I moved to be closer to the ocean and my aging mother. I discovered a small and wonderful Chabad community, and continued catering and pursuing my Jewish studies. My deep love for Israel resurfaced, and I began exploring the possibility of returning to Israel.
At a friend’s wedding in Florida, I met Shlomo Godsi who told me about an upcoming retreat he was hosting. The idea of visiting Tzfat excited me, and I decided to go. The retreat was wonderful, and it uncovered my deep love for Tzfat. It was a life-changing trip.
I finally made the move to Jerusalem, and despite many obstacles, I experienced intense kindness. Strangers and neighbors assisted me greatly and made it possible for me to remain in Israel. In 2019, I moved to Tzfat, 40 years after my very first visit. I feel extremely blessed, overjoyed and honored to call Tzfat my home, and to be a part of this growing, exceptionally kind, talented, and spiritual Anglo community. Chef Chaya Masha has over 20 years of experience as chef, restauranteur, executive chef, and caterer specializing in innovative and crowd-pleasing, healthy gourmet; Latin & Mediterranean cuisines. Available as a private chef for upscale dinners, cooking demos, and special events in Tzfat and throughout Israel. WhatsApp: +17708337471 Phone: 0586719430 Email: email@example.com