Monday, April 16, 2007

A Country that Eats its People (Part 1)

This story is about an American family

that made Aliyah

Arrived 1987 - Departed 1989


There were moments when our timetable seemed impossible to handle. As the targeted date for departure drew closer, our exuberance increased. We spent long hours discussing our future. It was a exhilarating time.

We reminisced about the Jewish lifestyle of our childhood and recapturing it in Israel.

The preparations were many and took months, and I will get into that latter on in the story.

For the moment achievement, participation, the satisfaction of joining with others to help in the growth of our new country, was all that mattered.

The day for departure arrived. Early that morning our luggage, ourselves, our dog and parrot, were all loaded into the minivan I hired. With an atmosphere of bliss surrounding us, the journey was actually under way. There was no more uncertainty. Thirty six hours from now, the beginning of a new life waited.

What happened to our dreams? What became of our lives? That is what I will sorrowfully describe, trying my best to objectively convey the turmoil we are journeying toward. We would come to Israel in all innocence, unhesitatingly taking her to our heart. The reverse never occurred.

One day, shortly before returning to the U.S., Isaac, a Vatic (old timer) and I were sitting on a mountain top looking down at an ancient caravan trail. During our conversation I heard him say, “Ahretz ochelet yosheviah" (a country which eats its people). Isaac looked at me sadly, and said, “that should be on the cover of your book.” The meaning of those words are ominous.


During our flight to Israel, heartwarming, emotional experiences began. Flying east, quickly brought us to a second sunrise, time of morning prayer a ritual barely remembered from younger days.

Men, rose from their seats, donned Talus and Tzvillum, (prayer accoutrements) assembled in the rear of the cabin, and dovined (performed the morning prayer). We are not religious people, but the nostalgia of the scene overwhelmed us. The feeling of kinsmanship it provided, reinforced our convictions that the journey just beginning, will succeed.

The long flight was further enhanced by discussions with others making Aliyah. We spoke of our backgrounds, and tried to communicate varied reasons for going home. Anticipation of realizing dreams, buoyed everyone. Finally the announcement was made to fasten seat belts and prepare for landing. All buckled up, anxiously waiting for touch down, and the new beginning.

Our lives start in Israel as we stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, November 24, 1987. Were exhausted from the long sleepless passage. Nevertheless, no sooner had our feet touched the ground of Israel, a spiritual revitalization surged through us.

An American volunteer welcomed our group, and guided us to the immigration offices on the second floor. There we heard our first Hebrew words, spoken by friendly greeters, enthusiastically welcoming us to Israel. Sandwiches and coffee were ready, and immediately devoured by all. The animals, dogs and cats everyone brought, were coming too from their tranquilizers, and began doing their business everywhere. The Israelis said not to worry, its O.K., it can be cleaned up. What a relaxed society.

Processing was quick and efficient. Some chose tourist status, we requested citizenship. Without fuss, computers whirled, identity cards appeared, we were Israelis.


With a feeling of exhilaration, joy overflowing, our adventure was unfolding. Again, we, our pets and luggage were aboard a minivan, this time on our way to the Merkaz Klita (absorption center) in Karmiel. The Merkaz (center) will become our home for the next six months. Although it was dark, our eyes strained to see all we could of our new homeland as the Van drew ever closer to our destination.

It was just about midnight when the driver brought us to a stop. There was the building our apartments were in. He unloaded our possessions, brought them into the lobby, said “Shalom” (goodbye), and departed.

We stood by an empty counter, until an American couple, watching television in an adjoining room noticed us. Coming to our assistance they greeted us with “Shalom" (hello) and went about locating someone to admit us to our apartments. There should be one for Naomi and myself, and one for Sarah. These were supposed to have been confirmed, and ready. They weren’t, instead there was confusion. After much conversation in Hebrew, accomplished with the help of the American couple, one room was released. The Americans helped carry everything to the room, gave us some coffee and cookies, wished us well, then bid us “lyla toy” (good night).

We stood amidst our luggage, in the center of a concrete cubical eyeing three beds. After frantically undressing in the freezing room, each of us collapsed on a bed and succumbed to much needed sleep. We were home, we were happy.


Sleep should have held me for the next twenty four hours, but no sooner did the sun rise, so did I, not the least bit tired.

Invigorated, ready to explore, dressing quietly without waking the girls, I slipped out of the room, anxious to take my first stroll in Israel. Filled with emotion, seeing Israel's flags waving in the breeze, signs printed in the Hebrew language I would soon learn, the surrounding mountains and the picturesque plaza, was overwhelming. Tears of joy welled within me.

I sat down on a bench, and became oblivious to time, just letting the aura of my surroundings permeate my soul.

Returning to our room, I found Naomi and Sarah awake and dressed. They too were unable to sleep, so together we strolled, soaked in the atmosphere about us, and were joined by an all encompassing feeling of happiness. We really were home, eager to advance along our path to fulfillment. A path of togetherness with Israel, our reason for being here.

It was still early morning when we returned to our room, arms loaded with groceries. Shopping and discovering you are functionally illiterate, was quite an experience. Fortunately, I remembered how to read Hebrew, so this was a great help. Naomi would tell me what she wanted. I would have someone translate it to Hebrew, then we went about the enjoyable task of finding it. If the package had a picture, all the better. When nothing else would do, sign language was resorted to, and it too worked. It was fun, but demonstrated our need to learn the language quickly.

The three of us will reside in this single room until a similar room for Sarah is found.

A very important word was taught to us this morning, almost like a warning, savlanute (patience). In time its true meaning would be indefensible.

For now our concrete box must be made livable. Every bit of luggage (twelve huge pieces) was opened to find what was needed right away. Closed again, some were slid under the beds, others stacked to resemble end tables were covered with throws and set beside the beds. While Sarah and I kept busy with that chore, Naomi organized the kitchen niche, learned how to use the two burner stove, and shortly announced lunch was ready. How happy we were, not a single inconvenience mattered.

Just as we began to eat, there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said, "its open." In came Moshe with his wife Shoshanna.

Moshe introduced himself as representing the A.A.C.I., stating he was the official greeter of American Olim to Karmiel. “How nice,” we said, and welcomed the first guests to our new home in Israel.

They sat on one of the beds, and Moshe began talking. In minutes, what he was saying made no sense. First Moshe asked if we were converts. Why? . . . I didn’t know. I really didn’t know if I had ever met a convert, nor what difference it made. We sat befuddled, not answering. Moshe continued in his inimitable way. He intimated that without his approval we could not become part of his inner circle, American Olim in the so called Karmiel Country Club. Then Moshe advised, that at my age benefits counted on to sustain us temporarily, are not available. Shoshanna was preparing to formally invite us to her home, but backed off after getting the eye from Moshe.

This visit had to end. Courteously, but with obvious annoyance, he and his wife were shown the door. This representative of the A.A.C.I. left us deeply shaken.

Immediately after his leaving I went downstairs to the public phone in the lobby and nervously placed a call to the A.A.C.I. in Haifa. They were informed of Moshe's visit, his conversation and our consternation. Their answer was, “I guess he is not your Cup of Tea also.” “What do you mean by also,” I asked, only to be told that there were other complaints.

Questioning if anything was being done about it, the answer I received was unbelievable. “He is a volunteer, they’re hard to find, so you see correcting the situation is not easy.”

So on day one, we had our first unsolicited contact with a representative of the A.A.C.I., the prime organization, described to us in the U.S. as our life line. What a way to find out that our life line was a decayed piece of old hemp rope.

So began our introduction to uncalled-for pressure, coming from the very organization we needed and expected to help us through absorption.

In the days to come, other Americans, told of their fruitless experiences with the A.A.C.I. . Their best suggestion was to seek the help of the British Olim Society. Although that organization couldn’t act in any official capacity for Americans, they would lend a sympathetic ear and offer helpful suggestions.

The Sabras (people born in Israel) and the Vatic (old timers) told us how very much they wanted Americans to stay in Israel. They were puzzled by our practically non existent support system, couldn’t understand it, and questioned it. “How come,” they would ask, “America with its ability to organize, doesn’t have as good an Olim organization as all other Olim have?"

In a well meaning, but ineffectual way, they did their best to fill the gap. Unfortunately, crucial help needed on a daily basis, just wasn't there. Looking back, I have no reason to doubt that one of the major causes of our demise, and the outrageous rate of return, to a large part can be attributed to the A.A.C.I.. They are a self serving bunch, staffed by indifferent unprofessionals.

The rest of the day was spent familiarizing ourselves with the Merkaz and the surrounding areas. We met many other Olim from all over the world and remarked to ourselves how congenial an atmosphere life here seemed to possess.

Later on we had our dinner and then went down to the club room and watched television. We met with more Americans and long lasting friendships began. We had met and conversed with more neighbors in one day than in the past ten years of living in the U.S..

Sleep was now overtaking us and we retired to our room. This time we all slept the clock around.

to be continued...

No comments: