This story is about an American family
that made Aliyah
Arrived 1987 - Departed 1989
Our Second Day in Israel
After brunch we went to the plaza and spent the morning sipping coffee with a lovely American couple, Pal and Sibyl. They were retired and had been living in Israel for a few years. They knew of Moshe, his doings, and resented him.
Calming our anxieties, Pal advised us to ignore Moshe, and not let the experience color our perceptions. Taking the initiative they showed us how to open a bank account, manage at the supermarket, what services the post office provides and finished by inviting us for dinner that very night at their home.
Thanking them profusely we then excused ourselves to keep an appointment with the director of the Merkaz Klita.
We entered Simcha's office. She was an impressive woman, with the ability to speak many languages. English however was something else. Though her words sounded good, concepts were a struggle.
During a one hour lecture, the programs we were expected to engage in and their time frames were spelled out. She then informed us, Ulpan (intensive language school) would start in two days.
Suffering jet-lag, never having been in Israel before, we wanted a little more time to relax and calm down, before starting such an arduous program.
The encounter that followed was never expected. Rather than understanding our condition, Simcha treated us like errant children, wanted obedience, and insisted there was no choice. Her manner was unnerving, certainly unreasonable. The situation was ripe for an argument to develop. No adult wants to be dismissed with a do as your told attitude.
Not wishing to begin our six month stay at the Merkaz in conflict with its Director we yielded and agreed.
We’re now aware that this was the complex process, innocently called Klita (absorption). Later on we discovered, the schedule forced on us, was not justified, nor demanded of everyone.
You rapidly learn, rules here are made to order, depending entirely on whim or relationships. To protect yourself, one must forget calmness. If you don’t like what is being proposed, say so boldly. If that doesn’t bring results Shout Your Objections as loud as possible, its expected.
There must be documented rules some place, but they are kept a deep dark secret. This concealment no doubt allows them to perpetuate their deceptions under a protective umbrella of confusion. Before our second day in Israel ended, the system managed to bend us a little further out of shape. Fortunately, that evening we went to Pal and Sibyl’s home, the couple that invited us to dinner. Friendly people. good food and helpful conversation, enabled us to recover from the days ordeals. Naomi, Sarah and I have always been able to quickly rebound from life's glitches.
As we strolled home, our feeling of contentment was firmly regained. How could we have known, we were not rebounding from mere glitches. Oh no! this was how it will be, for ever and a day.
Our Third Day in Israel
At eight A.M. this morning. Ulpan began. There were only three Americans in a class of forty. Boker tov (good morning) said the teacher, the class answered in chorus.
This is going to be fun we said to each other, and contentedly settled down to learn. It didn’t take long, less than an hour, for the American Millionaire innuendoes to surface.
There was nothing subtle about it. Clear as a bell, the class let us know their way of thinking. As unlikely as it seems, rather than discouraging destructive innuendo, the teacher acting as though it was amusing, joined in. Well it wasn’t amusing, and before long we will understand what was going on, and the unhealthy mismatch existing between Eastern European Immigrants and Americans.
If we were going to learn Hebrew in this environment, and we must, anti-Semitism, the most invasive kind, from another Jew, something new to us, would have to be handled.
To make matters extra difficult, I was beset with personal problems. The room lighting was terrible, the bare stone walls echoed the teachers voice. Wearing thick glasses and hearing with only one ear became a detriment to learning.
After class ended, I told the teacher of my problem. The manner in which she answered, frightfully displayed the restricted mentality I must live with during this most important phase of life here.
It's a pattern of the performance embedded in almost all governmental employees in almost all governmental departments. Their attitude will inevitably cause a destabilization of your progress and annihilation of your dreams. Before the six months are up, you will be close to being certifiably loopy.
Our third day, no different from the first two, was full of pressure, yet we turned it around once again to create a pleasant evening.
For the moment this seemed to be the life style at the Merkaz. Newness and determination, allowed us to believe future unpleasantries could be handled and taken in stride.
Going forward, even the hard way, became acceptable. Surely these incidents were aberrations, confined to the Merkaz Klita. In time, after we leave this place, things would be different. That this was naive thinking would soon become quite evident.
Nevertheless, after each new wounding incident, we continued countering with uplifting solutions. This wasn’t easy. and couldn’t continue forever. Expose yourself to rapid changes of hot and cold without let up and soon you will become a very sick person.
Fortunately, the free time we had every day allowed us to make new acquaintances from activities in the Merkaz and when sipping coffee on the plaza. The surrounding view was remarkable and the conversation was warmhearted.
Time Marches On
As the weeks passed. It became unmistakably obvious the half truths we were subjected to in the U.S. by our Sheliah. was (to put it politely) nothing less than undependable.
I wrote a letter to him describing our problems. In time, a reply was received. He begrudgingly admitted the programs faults. and told of attempts to bring it to the attention of his superiors. The letter only justified our frustration, it had no other value. Our concentration must be on the future. Contact with society beyond the Merkaz had to begin.
The Merkaz Klita, not the best place to learn Hebrew, was a mecca for gaining insight into non-American cultures. On first blush, the differences were no more than interesting, sometimes fascinating. In time however, a major problem surfaced. Their code of morality and ethics, understandably a result of coming from countries that required a practice of deceit to survive, will obstruct our progress.
The thought of counteracting this behavior continually, was disappointing. To join with them (a predominant part of Israeli society) and live by constant deception was objectionable. Could we, should we live in Israel by regressing to that level?
Watching this alien way of life practiced at the Merkaz. helped us decide. No way could we survive in such a stressful manner.
Sabras and Vatics that I spoke to agreed with us. They too detested the callousness, deceit, and distorted purpose these new immigrants are weaving into the fabric of today's Israel. I heard them lament, “once upon a time Israeli's worked together for a common good.” These saddened citizens of Israel wish the truth were known.
In the beginning we stuck to our convictions. It was a mistake. In the end we were forced to learn their ways in a hurry.
Let's Return to the Ulpan Enigma
Eastern Europeans no smarter than us, nevertheless appeared to be. Coming from societies requiring them to beat the system every day to survive, they used their training well.
At the Merkaz, they meshed perfectly with the system. They were amongst their peers. Americans were odd man out. Their apparent rapid advancement at the Ulpan belied the fact that they were not learning to read, write and speak Hebrew overnight.
One day I had just about enough, and asked a supposedly brilliant student to let me see his study book. I was holding a transliteration fraud in my hands. I showed the teacher what was going on. Guess what, the teacher became agitated with me for displaying the material. You see, the teacher has a duty to speed the class through a specific amount each day, and would be severely reprimanded if she didn’t, so the student who cheated helped her accomplish the days work.
Example: the town we lived in, written in Hebrew on the left can be said in English with the transliteration ... Karmiel. If your entire lesson was transliterated into whatever language you speak, as you recite your lesson it will appear that you are speaking in Hebrew. Get it?
For the moment each day is a struggle. For example: the teacher will introduce a list of new words, then ask the class, “atem mevinim” (do you understand). They answer, “ken” (yes). Three Americans truthfully say “lo" (no). The teacher, part of the system that stymies us, not wanting interruptions, becomes obnoxious and instigates a Stupid American Millionaire Session.
She may begin by saying, “you Americans will never learn if you keep thinking in English.” I know she's baiting me, nevertheless I’m compelled to answer. I’m sick and tired of this craziness I sit through day after day." Having gotten that, off of my chest, there was no reason to remain in class. I threw my study book across the room and left. This incident will trigger them into an attempt to cut our financial aid which I will get into later on.
Any hope of continuing in Ulpan seemed unlikely, until we learned of Miriam, a teacher who was to begin a class that might be good for us. A transfer to her class was demanded.
Miriam an Sabra, a teacher in our Ulpan, disclosed to us that her years of fighting the system might finally bring results. She was granted permission to demonstrate her methods in a separate special class. This was only to be an experiment.
There progress was rapid, and learning became enjoyable. Miriam spoke many languages, including English, which by the way is the mandatory second language in all Israeli schools. Although she was a scrappy individual, always fighting for what was right, her methods weren’t allowed to last. She was vulnerable and quickly told to stop such teaching.
She sort of complied, she had to, or suffer consequential pressure. Her class however, not immediately disbanded. New retribution was in the works.
That week, Miriam and class, were abolished to no mans land. This caring teacher and her bright group of non-adherents, were moved to an empty, cold room on an upper floor. There, without a proper blackboard, only a single bulb, no heater, students wrapped in heavy overcoats, became our punishment. Though we were resolved to endure it the class was finally disbanded, the opportunity to learn snatched from us.
Meanwhile ensnared in this environment, we are still trying to achieve critical goals.
Along with frustrations of no progress, polarization of the Merkaz society adds to the dilemma. Americans are constantly bombarded with the question, "Why did you come to Israel?" Sooner or later you stop answering. They never understand what is told to them. They don’t want to. They have their own opinions.
To be continued...