“The young generation is smart and ready to change the world. I’m always amazed by listening to the conversations my teenager kids have with their friends: they are so intelligent and mature, and they have a different perspective of the world than we had at their age. They see the wrongs and discuss the way that that can be changed. They volunteer to help families in need, and they stand up for their friends. They give me hope, and they will make America love again.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ally (Ayelet) Nathaniel, founder and CEO of AN Better Publishing. Ally is a #1 bestselling author who sold over 40,000 copies of her book and topped Amazon for 16 weeks straight. She was also invited by Amazon to be a panelist and lead their social media campaign “Lunch with Authors.” Ally is an immigrant.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born privileged. I realize that now. I have the “right” skin color, my parents were part of the “right” political party, and I always had food, clean water, and shelter. Saying that, as a child, I never felt good about myself or believed I could achieve anything in life. I didn’t have a clue that people were allowed to want anything for themselves, let alone work hard to make it happen. I gave up on wanting things at a very young age.
I grew up in a small community in Israel called a “Kibbutz.” The Kibbutz members, about 300 people, worked together, ate together and raised their children together. They believed in Karl Marx’s Socialism “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” which means that people worked as much as they could and they would get what they needed: housing, food, and education. It’s a specific interpretation of equality.
Looking back, I think this might be a noble idea, but it didn’t work very well in reality, which is why “Kibbutzim” doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in the same way. I was born and raised on a kibbutz and left when I was about 23 because I was told I couldn’t go to the college I wanted to because it was too far away.
Growing up in a “Children’s House,” you’re forced to learn a few harsh lessons to survive. Let’s put it this way: it’s not your average upbringing. I was born on a kibbutz, and that meant at three weeks old, I was separated from my parents and moved into a communal facility to live with other kids.
I got to see my parents for three hours every day, and that was it. The rest of my time, there were other kibbutz members taking care of the other children in the facility and me. Needless to say, they didn’t love us as parents love their own children.
That’s where the books come in. I had one safe place, and that was my own mind.
I recall one night in particular. Little me, sitting up in bed, my favorite book, The Hobbit, caught between my fingertips, even as I tried to catch my breath. You see, Bilbo had found the ring beside that lake, deep under the Misty Mountains, and Gollum was close at hand.
The characters in that book were my best friends, and we traveled through lands far away from the dark, lonely place I lived. But my love for reading ultimately took me on journeys outside of my imagination and into the real world.
My first book provided an adventure unlike any I had read before — this real-life story that I lived. A truth: real life can be just as strange and wonderful as our favorite fiction books.
During the process of creating my first book, I learned how to overcome the mental “demons” which had plagued me since my early days in the kibbutz. I learned to trust myself and my voice, and I grew in confidence in my teaching. I realized that I could impact other women just like me.
And that’s exactly why I’ve chosen to follow this career path: helping to empower women and teaching them how to make a difference by using their story to become leaders in their field, build their businesses and change the world.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you immigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
After my second son was born, we realized that it was almost impossible to make ends meet. I had a part-time job as an online magazine editor, and this allowed me to drop off my kids in the morning at the daycare and pick them up when the day was over at 4 pm. I didn’t want a stranger to take care of them, after all, they were my kids, and I wanted to raise them myself.
Back then we lived near Tel Aviv. That’s where everything happens in Israel — that’s where the jobs are and where most of our friends lived. The problem was that even though we had good jobs, after paying the bills we had very little left…
The only option to buy our own house was to move back to the Kibbutz, which I was not thrilled about.
At that time an opportunity came — we had an offer to relocate to the US, and we decided to take the chance and go for it. Even though it was hard leaving our family behind, we knew this decision is all about giving our children and ourselves a better future. It was about advancing ourselves financially. After 11 years in the US, I can say that we’ve made the right decision.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
For the first time in my life, I purchased a one way ticket. It was a strange feeling — I didn’t know when will be the next time I’ll see my parents and siblings, not to mention my friends.
My husband left the country a couple of weeks before to start his new job and find a place to live, and I was left behind with my two boys. You see, I had to sell everything I could and empty the apartment we were renting. My boys were 4 and two at the time, and those were the craziest to weeks of my life — looking back I’m not sure how I did it…
On November 16th, 2006 my boys and I went on the plane that will take us to an unknown place. A place I’ve never been to before — New Jersey. We said goodbye, hugged everyone (even shed some tears) and within 12 hours we landed in JFK, NY to reunite with my husband. Reunite as a family in a foreign place that we will, someday, call “home.”
Wow, everything here was soooo much bigger–the cars, the malls, the parking lots, the houses. We rented an old single-family home, and that was a dream come true for me — not only we had our own backyard, we had dears, bunnies, and squirrels running around in it. Nature was everywhere, and it made me happy.
Although I was thrilled to start my new life here, not everything was easy. Winter in the northeast was a whole new experience for someone who grew up in a country where temperatures rarely go under 40 F.
There were so many rules we had to learn, and we didn’t have too many people we could ask — when snow hit for the first time we had no idea it was our job to shovel the sidewalk, and we got a warning. We honestly thought the town would take care of shoveling, after all, they did plow the roads.
We also had no idea we should put the trash next to the curb on certain days, and for two weeks the garbage bags were piling up outside, and we were not sure what to do about it.
Food shopping was an adventure — I had to get familiar with local brands I’ve never seen before, and every trip to the local supermarket took way too long because I had to read every label. Not to mention that certain foods tasted very different than what we were used to; the bread is sweet, the cottage cheese is sweet, relish is sweet. I think it’s safe to say that many products had a much higher sugar content than we were used to. After buying six different brands of bread in less than a week, I decided to buy flour and bake a loaf. Till this day I can’t eat the sliced bread here– it’s more a cake to me than a piece of bread.
Costco, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target and other stores seemed like amusement parks — I was not used to the size and abundance they had to offer. Even today, 11 years later I still love those stores.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I will always be grateful to Anna Mazzoccoli, who gave me my first job here in the US. Back then she had a small chocolate store in town and was willing to hire me even though my English was rough and I was six months pregnant with my youngest daughter.
Anna, an immigrant herself, understood the importance of welcoming and supporting new immigrants. After all, she moved here from Italy with nothing but hopes and dreams and was able to graduate college, start her own business and build a family — what else can you ask for?
Her chocolate shop was a second home to me — we created a new line of truffles together, coated pretzels and laughed a lot. Her store and her friendship were an island of sanity in the chaos of settling down in a new country.
So how are things going today?
I couldn’t ask for more, and I’m happy to say that I call this place “home.”
After many years of struggles both emotionally and financially, raising young children with little-to-non support and reinventing myself over and over again, I’m finally in a great place — I have a business that I love, a family I adore and friend I cherish.
When looking at the whole immigration experience, building up a social support network is, by far, the hardest thing. Only someone who left family and old friend behind can understand the tremendous effort needs to be put into such a task.
I was not able to be here today without the support of many women along the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My books are all about empowering women to be as big as possible and to embrace who they are. Whether I’m writing to young girls or grownups, the message is always about embracing yourself and never give up on your dreams.
Regardless of hardships and obstacles, every woman can achieve her dreams if she’s willing to do the work and confront her limiting believes. For many women, a bit of support and guidance can go a long way and is all that is needed to test their limits and break through.
For me mentoring women and helping them become leaders in their field by writing a book is all about paying it forward. It’s about supporting those who need help and holding their hands through the process, so they could overcome any fear that keeps them back from being as big as possible.
My own journey to success allowed me to confront my fears, learn how to play big, show myself and never give up, and that’s why I created the Unleash You event for women- to break the isolation and promote a real and therefore uncommon conversation about success and what it really means.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
My experience was nothing but pleasant, and I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to become a citizen of the US.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Improve your language:
Being an immigrant means that you agree to make radical changes in your life to peruse a better future for yourself and your family.
Speaking the local language is the key to success. I know, it takes a lot of hard work, and you’ll never be as fluent or eloquent as the locals, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try getting there.
When I started my first business, I decided to take the risk of being ridiculed for my accent or my grammar, since speaking in front of people is the best way to improve. Back then I was teaching cooking classes for kids (I’m a pastry chef), and the kids were fabulous teachers to me — they corrected me whenever I made a mistake. This experience gave me the confidence to speak on stages and share my knowledge later on.
2. Ask for help
I wouldn’t be where I’m here today without the help of so many wonderful women, some of them immigrants themselves.
Anna Mazzoccoli (an immigrant from Italy), who gave me my first job in the US.
Sossie Dadoyan Arlia (an Immigrant from Lebanon), who not only took my daughter into her daycare but allowed me to work with the kids and teach them cooking classes while I was working on my cookbook.
Mandy Schumaker my first business coach and many others.
I asked for help, and they opened their heart which allowed me to advance my career.
3. Never fear “no.”
The only way to get a “yes” it to put yourself out there and ask for what you want. Along the way, you’ll probably get some “NOs,” but if you give up after the first one, you’ll never get the YES.
I love speaking and sharing my knowledge -this is the best way to let people know I exist and can help them — in my case write a book to become a leader in their field.
To get on stages, I need to contact event organizers, introduce myself and suggest they’ll hire me to speak. The thing is that for every “YES” you get a few “NO THANK YOUs,” or you don’t get a response at all.
The only way to get more yeses is to keep trying and remember that every no is just another step on the road to a YES.
4. Be proud of who you are and where you came from
Being an immigrant is not something to be ashamed of, on the contrary, it’s something to be proud of.
Think about it; you did something courageous — you took a risk to make your life better. You didn’t know what life in the new country would look like and you gave up many things to potentially have a better future for yourself and your family — this is courage.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not fluent, or if you don’t know the rules — all this can be changed if you’re willing to do the work and if you’re open to learning.
My goal is to improve on a daily basis, even if it’s learning one new word, and I know that if I respect myself, there’s no reason other’s won’t respect me too.
5. Welcome failure
Failure is just another step toward success. Every time you fail you get a little closer to your goal.
Think about a baby who’s trying to walk for the first time — they never done it before and after the first step, they fall.
What would have happened if they never try again?
Luckily the babies get up and try again, they fall (fail) and try again until they succeed. So why are we so afraid to do the same when we grow up?
Get up and try again!
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there three things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. People are friendly and willing to help — I’m always amazed by the kindness of people here in the US, and it gives me hope. If it’s about helping someone getting a stroller to the top of the staircase in the subway or raising money to support a family in need. The US is nothing but the sum of its citizens and residents, and that’s hopeful.
2. It is indeed the land of endless opportunities
If you have an idea and you’re willing to go for it, nothing can stop you. It’s not about who you know and how much money you have, it’s about being creative and putting yourself out there.
If a “Kibbutznik” from Israel could make it, why can’t you?
3. The young generation is smart and ready to change the world
I’m always amazed by listening to the conversations my teenager kids have with their friends: they are so intelligent and mature, and they have a different perspective of the world than we had at their age.
They see the wrongs and discuss the way that that can be changed. They volunteer to help families in need, and they stand up for their friends.
They give me hope, and they will make America love again.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would love to have a cup of coffee (or herbal tea) with Sheryl Sandberg to discuss women’s issues and how can we help more women show themselves and play big. I would also like to ask her about how growing up Jewish in the US was, and discuss antisemitism and how it affected her.
Another person I would love to invite for a heart to heart conversation over breakfast is Oprah Winfrey. I’m in awe of people who experienced adversity, especially sexual abused at a young age, and were able to rise above the circumstances and help others.
Dr. Christiane Northrup is someone I would be honored to meet for dinner (and a glass of martini) — her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom changed my life in so many levels and allowed me to connect to my emotions to heal.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.