Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Country that Eats its People (Part 2) by Aryeh Weiss

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...


A Jewish Homeland

Jews Should Follow Judaism to Israel!


News Service said...

A people that eats its country

Every country should strive to improve, and constructive criticism in the right forums is certainly welcome. Even better, however, then cursing the darkness: light a candle.

You have identified a defect and a need, so please help us fix it. Start an Ulpan in the United States where new immigrants can learn some Hebrew, using the principles you saw that worked so well, and start a second ulpan in Israel where those who want to learn Hebrew can finish their education. I am sure there are American philanthropists who can raise money to support this wonderful project, and hopefully their generosity will be met by the Israeli government.

It would be a signal contribution to the Zionist endeavor!

Many immigrants came here from many countries, and went through the same sort of tribulations that you have experienced and much worse. It should not happen, but it does. But many of those people stayed here despite the problems and became politicians and business people and educators and changed the way Israel works.

One American came here and complained of the lousy food, the weather, fellow Jews and everything else. Nothing was any good. But she stayed and made it better. She was Golda Meyerson, later Golda Meir.

Here is the story of millions of families who came to the United States - Jews, Irish, Germans and Swedes. Chinese... Nobody taught them the language and everyone exploited them and called them names. They got no housing loans and no tax breaks. The Irish and Germans were sent off to fight and die in the Civil War. Some of the German soldiers didn't speak English yet, but they fought for their new country. The Jews came and worked in the sweatshops and died in the Triangle fire. They got called sheeny and kike and were excluded from clubs and universities. They all STAYED and they made America great and changed America.

Many Jews came here in the 1920s and were dissatisfied with the service and their fellow Jews and went back to their comfortable homes -- in Vienna and Warsaw and Berlin. We know the rest of that story.

When my grandfathers came here, to Jaffa a century ago, there was no ulpan. They did not get greeted at Lod airport either (no airport) and they didn't get help from any Jewish agency. The Basha was even worse than the Pakid. They got barchash flies and Hamsinim, cholera, typhus, malaria and dysentery and Arab No Ulpan, no housing loans. They taught themselves Hebrew and taught it to others. One set of grandparents left after getting both cholera and typhus, but they never forgot the land and almost all of us came back here.

It should not have been that way. If the Zionist organization had more money then, and was better organized, it would not have been that way, but it was not. "Zeh lo tov, aval zeh mah yesh" - it is not good but that is what there was. Human institutions are not perfect.

After 1967 many Americans came here. The average salary in Israel was about $300 a month. These Americans, many from wealthy families, got almost free housing and free education, but many went back to the USA, sold their houses for substantial sums, and left us to pay the loans taken out for them. There are some who left for personal reasons, or because they could not adapt or whatever. That happens. But there are others who came explicitly to "work the system."

In the 1920s, most American Jews were against the crazy project of the Jewish homeland. Today there are still many against, and others who find excuses why they won't live here, though it is a good idea in principle they say, and others who think they are helping Israel by this sort of article.

Maybe what we have is a people that eats its country?

Please do help Israel improve!! Many things are bad here. Every immigrant could write a dissertation on the faults of the Jewish Agency and the government, not just a few articles. But these institutions cannot be improved by writing articles of this sort.

Admittedly it is not California or Switzerland yet here. Aside from our own shortcomings, we have some unpleasant neighbors and an unsympathetic climate. We are working on it though, and with your help we will get there. Everyone who remembers what Israel was like 40 years ago, and every tourist who visits a neighboring country appreciates our achievements. Palestine was once the armpit of the Ottoman empire, which in itself was not a great place. Zionism transformed Israel and the Jewish people, but the work is not done. It is just beginning.

Please come here and make a success of your Aliyah. Or become an important official in the Zionist organizations in the USA. Then meet the head of the Jewish agency and tell him how to improve Aliya. Or fund an Ulpan that will teach Hebrew properly. Better yet, fund a whole private Aliyah initiative for Americans and show us the way.

Bring 50,000 or a hundred thousand or a million Americans here and help us complete the work.

Ami Isseroff
PS - Some of us didn't like the way Israel does Hasbara, so we are trying to do something about it:
Zionism & Israel
Israel: Like this, as if (and others).

David Ben-Ariel said...

Thank you Ami for your contribution. I agree that it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness, but feel it is important for folks to see constructive criticism rather than only pretty platitudes about Israel or sticky sweet sentimentality because harsh reality will set in when folks move there so they should know what to possible expect and be determined to overcome all rather than be overcome by it all.

After all, the United States doesn't hide the horrible facts that you listed but have addressed them and improved our beloved country because of it. May Israel do the same.