Friday, September 24, 2010

Wedding and leaving Israel

The wedding was supposed to be a simple affair, but this being Israel it was more complicated than necessary. The date was fixed for February 24th in a wedding hall, Weiss on Rehov Herzl in the Hadar  (center) of Haifa. It would be catered, and Mimi’s mother would do the baking. I invited my parents to come from Scotland, but only my mother and my sister Beatrice came.
 Before we could get married I had to prove that I was born into a Jewish family. We had to have an interview with a Rabbi at the Rabbinate in Haifa. My proof of Jewishness was a couple of letters (or was it one?) from the secretary of the kibbutz, that he had known me for a number of years and that I came from a good “ kosher” family. Interestingly, and never investigated was the fact that the mazkir (secretary) of the kibbutz was himself not Jewish, being Lionel H who had joined our group because of a girl friend while we were on Hachshara in England.  The Rabbi made it clear to Mimi that the wedding could not take place without her going through the “ mikveh” for purification purposes.  Mimi balked at this and decided she would skip this step, and not obtain certification. It is customary to go to the mikveh as close to the wedding as possible. She said, “ If they will not marry us we will live in sin but no mikveh!”
A few days before the wedding my mother and Beatrice, my sister arrived. I think there was general fear on both my mother’s part and on Rutta’s (Mimi’s mother) part, on meeting each other. I think Rutta expected the “British Lady type” which my mother was not, and my mother really did not know what to expect. Whether they actually liked each other or not, I don’t know. I was probably very rude to my mother on her arrival in Israel, since having not seen her for many years; I was not prepared for someone so changed. Also she wore a ridiculous small hat, and her hair was dyed an unusual blonde color. I suppose I said something like “ what happened to your hair” which did not get us off to a good start. Both of them moved in with us, in our small apartment in Kiryat Bialik. I do not know how we managed. I am sure the atmosphere was quite tense.
The wedding day itself was a beautiful day. Mimi still did not have a certificate showing that she had been to the Mikveh and was under pressure from her uncle Yaakov to get one. This was a surprising turn of events, since Yaakov was one of the ‘Old’ pioneers of nearby Kiryat Haim, known for its secularism and socialism. I do not think he had ever been to “ shul” since leaving Europe in the 1930s. Mimi went to the Mikvah, offered to pay but not go in, and of course was turned down.  All of this fuss was for naught, since at no time did the Rabbi officiating the ceremony ever ask for proof.   Mimi was a beautiful bride, very radiant. The Rabbi turned up with a small chupah (canopy) and when he saw that the wedding was quite large, he had to send his assistant for a larger one, thus a delay in the service. (This would make a great cartoon).  I do not recollect who was at the wedding, except that a lorry load of people came from the kibbutz, both Mimi’s friends from the Kiryot and my friends from the Garin. It was a joyful wedding, lots of joking and dancing. During the service Mimi had a fit of giggling, and none of us were very respectful of the religious ceremony. I think my mother was shocked at our behavior.
 We went back to the apartment and my attempt to carry my bride over the threshold ended when I tripped over some barbed wire surrounding the small patch of lawn in front of the house, and ripped the trouser leg of my “ new” wedding suit. The next day it poured all day. This was my one day off work and our honeymoon. 
 One incident that does stand out in my memory for some reason occurred while we were crossing the road to get wedding photos. We were all dressed for the wedding when a young man stopped me in the middle of the street with “Milton. How are you? Have not seen you for along time etc.” here was I rushing to be photographed and this guy wanted a conversation in the middle of the main street in Haifa. He did not pay any attention to Mimi (in her white wedding gown) and seemed oblivious to what I was saying. He was someone I had met on the boat coming over, I think a sailor, and he just wanted to stand and talk. I had to apologize since Mimi began to fume; I broke off our conversation and ran to the photographers.  I do not know why this sticks in my mind. I never met this guy again, and do not know who he was.
My mother stayed for a week, and she and Beatrice did some touring. I don’t think she was impressed by Israel. I do not know what she expected, but Haifa to her seemed shabby, no large department stores, and I suppose it was backward compared to Britain. It was still a third world country, with crowded buses. I remember her complaining how everyone would talk to her on the bus, ask her questions, and just be themselves (Jews-Israeli’s), not like the reserve one finds among the British.   Yet my mother had the reputation of talking to strangers on the bus in Glasgow!
 This was a year fraught with problems, which actually turned out to be minor and had positive results. I am not certain of the order in which they occurred, but the effect on us was profound. After 6 months at work, I was told I would be laid off for one or two days. This was in order not to give me a permanent position, and thus not have to pay me fringe benefits, retirement etc.  Apparently although I was doing my job well, I could not be hired permanently since I did not have the required qualifications for the position. Although I thought this very unjust, this was an agreement between government ministries and the Histadruth, the Israeli trade union organization. The Histadruth did not seem to offer much protection for its workers. This pattern would continue no matter how long I worked for the government. I discussed this with Mr. Ben Adam, the head of the department, and he suggested the best course of action since I was still young was to apply to universities in Israel and the States, and that he would support such an application.  He suggested I apply to Cornell University in Upstate New York where he had friends in the Department   of Poultry Husbandry, a very respected department in a very good school. Of course I felt there was little chance of my being accepted, since I did not have a high school certificate. Mimi came up with the idea of my studying at home, she would be my tutor, and I would sit the London University matriculation exams (highers) that summer, with the hope of getting into one of the universities. She tutored me in Chemistry and Hebrew, and I studied ancient Greek History, and English. I did take these exams at the end of that summer, and passed in all the subjects. Thus I applied to the Hebrew University School of Agriculture in Rehovot, West of Scotland College of Agriculture in Glasgow, and Cornell University School of Agriculture.
 Sometime in that year, I think probably in March, my grandmother Mitchell, in Glasgow died and left me some money. Although we always thought of her as a rich woman, very little was found. I learned the story of her death some time after, which was a mystery and I am not certain I really know all the facts. However she left us I think 300 pounds sterling, which was quite a bit in those days. This was before we had made any decision about coming to the US. In fact it must have been a couple of months after our wedding, and our decisions to come to the States were not made until the summer of 1957. We decided we would use the money to take a vacation in Italy, something Mimi had been dreaming of for years. In order to do so we both needed permission from the army, since Mimi was of military age, and I was needed for reserve duty.
Mimi went to the office of the ministry of defense to get permission to leave and sat for a whole morning without seeing anyone. The secretary in charge announced that the office would close for an hour for lunch. Mimi lost her temper and barged in to the inner office yelling that she had wasted a morning of her precious time, and that she would report this to higher ups (Ben Gurion) since she was an employee of the Ministry. This threat seemed to work and she got her exit permit very quickly after the threat.  However she was asked stupid questions like, "why are you going to Italy?” On vacation, "Whom are you staying with?” No one, in a hotel, “which Hotel?” I don’t know. “What, how can you go abroad without knowing anyone?” etc. etc.
 I had no problems getting released, and there was some mix up at the office of the ministry of interior, resulting in my using my British passport to leave Israel. I will not go into this complication.
Mimi’s mother was also making plans to travel to the USA to join her husband who had been there two years. She had barely made a living all these years by being a dressmaker, and Salo had from time to time sent her some money.  She received notification from the income tax office that she owed them some astronomical sum (a few thousand dollars). She was in shock, went to the office, and was told, that this was just a technique to get people to come in, since if they sent her a bill for a few dollars she might not pay any attention to it. This was the way the bureaucracy worked.  In writing this it reads as if we lived in a Kafkaesque state. Perhaps it was at that time.  Anyone leaving Israel was looked down upon and was considered a “Yored”. Going down as opposed to an ‘Oleh’ ‘going up to the Holy Land’. For many years the status of Yored was an embarrassment.
We were very happy that first year of married life, and really did not like the idea of leaving Israel. We lived on a limited budget, but lived quite well. We had budgeted for all items, like buying books, buying records, going out to eat (very rare in Israel those days), and had planned our vacation in Italy. We were surrounded by friends both “ Anglo Saxim” and Israeli.  We even were invited to our first cocktail party by one of Mimi’s “ friends” in Haifa. Here we both discovered we did not like that type of entertainment or social group. We had no desire to get drunk or stoned.  We stood around holding our one drink and making inane conversation.  I suppose we were beginning to see the changes that were to occur in Israeli society in general (alcohol, drugs etc) but it seemed another world to us. These were kids with no idealism in a country still full of ideals. I suppose I have got used to the cocktail circuit, and enjoy a drink  or two, but still find the small talk tiring and stupid.
 In general we had a positive attitude, and were the center of social activity for those who had left the kibbutz. Our house was always open, and we had lots of visitors from the kibbutz. We also had a large family in the Haifa area, Mimi having aunts and uncles and of course lots of cousins about our age or younger. There were many “ funny “ things that happened to us and we took as a joke. We applied for housing for immigrants from Anglo-Saxon countries (since we did not want to live with Mimi’s mother for long, although that changed when she decided to go to the States). I was told that the organization of immigrants from Anglo Saxon  countries ( U.K. USA, S. Africa) could not help us, since we were a “ mixed” marriage, that is a Romanian Jew with a British one!
 It was now about July and I had not heard from anyone concerning my applications for study. Finally in July I did get a letter from Glasgow and from Cornell admitting me to their respective programs. The response from Glasgow was positive, but with a caveat that I might be called up to her majesties forces. From Cornell University it was admission to the Agricultural School, the Department of Poultry Husbandry, with credit for the course I had taken all these years ago in Glasgow.
The decision was an obvious one. We go to Cornell.  School started in about a month, we needed tickets and more important visas’ to the USA. The US consulate that issued visas was in Tel Aviv. I travelled down to Tel Aviv (I must have taken time off work) and found a long line of people, I assume wanting to leave the country. We were given a number and I was told it might take more than a day until my turn comes.  Each applicant would have to be interviewed by someone in the office. Even in these days it was difficult to get a visa to the US. I had one advantage, instead of applying for a temporary visa as students do today, I could apply for an immigrant visa under the British quota, which in that year was undersubscribed. Since Mimi also now had a British passport and was a British citizen, this would not be a problem. I physically pushed my way into the consulate.  I had to fill out an immigration application, sit a medical (both of us) and get our visas all within a month. This they could not promise. I returned after about a month, physically jumped to the head of the line (after all this was what most Israeli’s do) and I remember being evicted from the office. Finally I did get to talk with someone who was helpful and we had our immigrant visas just in time.  Next stop was New York and we thought Cornell, Ithaca..

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1956-57 Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz, and job hunting

1956-57. Sinai war, leaving the kibbutz and job hunting in Israel.
As recounted previously while in the Israeli army we had set up ambushes to try and stop the Fedayeen from crossing from Egypt into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks. In 1956 alone, about 250 Israeli’s had been killed due to this activity. Not only was there terrorist activity, but also Egypt under Nasser had blocked both the Suez Canal and the outlet to the Red Sea from the Israeli port of Eilat through the straits of Tiran. In the summer of 1956 he had nationalized the Suez Canal and had threatened shipping of other countries. Both the British and French previously had run the canal, and Britain had a large number of investments in Egypt. In order to build the Aswan Dam, Nasser had turned to the Russians after European powers had turned down his request for assistance. All of these events triggered a short war in October of 1956 known later as the Sinai or Suez war. Israel’s aim was to stop the fedayeen , destroy the Egyptian army, and open the port of Eilat on the Red sea. The French and British wanted to retake control of the Suez Canal .
As soon as the war started we were on alert, since having just been “ demobbed” we expected to be the first to be called up. However it took a day or so before this happened. We were ordered to muster in Haifa, and then were to be transported to a camp in the South of Israel. Haifa to my surprise was full of French sailors, with their red pom-poms, being carried in trucks, and giving the V- sign. This was unexpected, and of course we asked ourselves what did this mean? France and Britain entered this war a few days later ostensibly to protect the Suez Canal from damage, but really to control the area. I will discuss the ramifications of this later on. We ( he public) were completely unaware of any collusion between Israel and the French and particularly British, who only a few years previously had been enemies of the Jewish State.
We were sent as a group to Sarafand, an ex-British army camp, not far from Tel Aviv. By the time we got there, the war was half over, and I think there must have been a shortage of equipment, since we were told to wait for rifles, machine guns etc and instead of seeing action we sat and played bridge. I remember being very bored. The news was all up beat about victories in the Sinai, and of course Israeli troops reached the Suez Canal, with the French and British attacking Egypt from the other side of Suez.
Unfortunately the US (President Eisenhower) was not in agreement with the aims of the UK and France and through the UN ordered a stop to the war. There was fear that the Russians might intervene on the side of Egypt, as well as the feeling that the US could not condemn the ongoing Russian invasion of Hungary and at the same time support the “ imperial” powers. This of course bolstered Nasser, and instead of a defeat he would claim victory. This was an enormous mistake on the part of the US and had repercussions for a long time (and probably still does to this day). However Israel did prove that it had the power to defeat once again a major Arab power, occupy the Sinai and for some time prevent incursions of the fedayeen. Airpower and the use of parachutists was the major Israeli strategy. Israel demanded the opening of the straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Although there was unceasing pressure from the US to withdraw from the Sinai, and even threats of sanctions against Israel, it was not until Egypt agreed to open the straits that Israel withdrew from the Sinai. To a large extent, Eisenhower and his foreign secretary Dulles prevented Israel from enjoying the fruit of victory and if it was not for internal public pressure the US would have sided completely with Egypt.
Some of our group did see action. At least three members were parachuted into the Mitla Pass, the site of a major battle in the Sinai. These were Van Emden, Mike Leaf, and Phil Shearskey. Mike was seriously wounded but made a complete recovery. He today is a very well known artist with an international reputation with a studio in Safed. Van has remained a good friend, lives in Haifa, and for many years worked for ZIM the Israeli shipping company. Phil unfortunately died of cancer rather young.
Anyhow, I returned to the kibbutz after a few days, to Mimi waiting expectantly. It was shortly after this and after a visit to Kiryat Bialik and Mimi’s mother that we decided to both leave the kibbutz, and get married. Mimi had decided that she did not want to bring up children in the kibbutz and she had encountered some unpleasantness from one of the “ old Timers” about working for along period in the kitchen. However we really had not thought through our future, since I had no trade, apart from shepherding sheep and driving a tractor, and also no education, not even a high school certificate. What was I going to do, and how was I going to earn a living.? We must have moved out of the kibbutz and to Kiryat Bialik in November of 1956. At the same time there was a general exodus from the kibbutz, with Mike and Thilda and their baby Anat leaving the same day, on the same truck, followed a few days later by Una and Van, Lottie and Barry and my co-worker in the “sheep” pens, Les Collins. All of them moved to one of the suburbs of Haifa. I think it was like an infection that spread through the kibbutz, and led to the disintegration of the garin (group) and everything that we had dreamed and worked towards for the last 10 years of our lives.
I think this disintegration was a result of general dissatisfaction with kibbutz life, the reality, as opposed to the dream. We found out that people, no matter how idealistic, were human, and had human foibles. There was jealousy and nastiness, there were those who were more ambitious than others, and those who wanted to “lord” it over others. Some did not like the idea of someone else (whom they did not like or appreciate or really looked down upon) bringing up their children. The problem of having children sleeping together in children’s home at a very young age and not at home did not appeal to others. There were also economic considerations, the resentment that some members had more money than others from parents or other sources (reparations from Germany). These were not shared with the group. The girls in the group objected to working all day in the kitchen, washing up, or in the “ machsan” sewing and ironing clothes. As an economic unit the kibbutz was quite successful, although subsidized by the labor government of the time. However the overall economy was capitalistic, so that the kibbutz competed in the free market with other business. The culture that we had experienced in Hachshara, the intellectual discussions, the listening to music together was absent. Work tired us out.
I have often wondered what it would have been like to have remained on the kibbutz. Today, when I visit Amiad , I find that many of those who did remain do not appear to be very happy with their lot. They sacrificed a lot and have little to show for it. Agriculture is no longer the mainstay of the kibbutz. There is a factory and workers are paid salaries based on their position in the factory. Many of these come from outside the kibbutz. The kibbutz has undergone huge changes with privatization, private ownership of houses and other property, allocation of resources, pensions to older people, car ownership by private individuals. In fact everything is in flux. However even without these changes brought about by generation three of the kibbutz, life was disappointing for many. In many cases the children of the first generation (the founders) have left for the city or even for the USA or other countries. For those who stayed on I think there is a sense of betrayal and bitterness. Tommy B., my childhood friend from Glasgow is one of the few who seems happy. His children except for one have stayed in the kibbutz, He has grandchildren who remained, and for most of his life he has been an academic doing research in his own lab on limnology of the Sea of Galilee. This has offered him the opportunity to travel and work elsewhere. He even has a new species of algae called after him. Others of the group who remained are now teachers, or retired teachers, from junior colleges in the Upper Galilee. Most took classes as the kibbutz became wealthier and finished their education in middle age. In the end most of my group had managerial or teaching positions within the kibbutz or even outside, so that life changed, mostly for the women, but very slowly. I think the biggest blow, was seeing ones children leave, since sacrifices had been made for future generations. In fact the extended family has become the dominant unit within the kibbutz rather than the individual. This is seen in the communal dining room, which is now only used on Friday evenings or on holidays, where each family may occupy an extended table. To have your children leave the kibbutz is in a way a failure.

The first task after leaving the kibbutz was to find jobs for both of us. It was agreed that we would move into Mimi’s mother’s apartment in Kiryat Bialik. This was a small apartment with two bedrooms, a sitting room, and a small kitchen and sort of hallway. It was one of the apartments built very quickly to house new immigrants. It was in a three story structure with I believe 6 apartments per house. Mimi had designed the furniture, which was very modern, you might say Bauhaus style, , with contrasting colors of black and white wood. I slept in the living room on the couch before our wedding.
We had many plans for the future, all in Israel. We looked into the possibility of growing flowers for export ( a thriving business in Israel) on land left to the family by Mimi’s grandfather. This was land not far from Kiryat Bialik, bought by him in the 1930’s. Although zoned for agriculture, when we inquired about getting water to the area, we were told this was impossible for the foreseeable future. We were up against Israeli bureaucracy. So we quickly gave up this idea. This land is still in the family, still untouched, and being used by one of the nearby kibbutzim for growing grain. It should have been rezoned for building, but this has been pending for many years and nothing has happened.. Perhaps if we had settled down and thought it through we would have fought the bureaucracy and obtained permission to put in water, but it would have been a long fight, and we did not have the funds to hire a lawyer.
Mimi found a job without difficulty as a chemistry lab technician for Hemed ( the army research branch), and I went for interviews to agricultural schools for a position as an instructor in some field. I was offered a job at the agricultural high school in Nahalal to teach “ shepherding”.. This was a well-known agricultural school, but the position was only part time, and did not pay very much. Here one of my friends, Zvi Goffer intervened. Zvi had married one of our girls , Chava, while in the army and felt I could do better than this and suggested I turn the job down, find something else, and consider studying, which he was planning to do. Zvi had been our sergeant major in the army, was slightly older than I, and we both looked up to him. He was originally from Argentina, and after completing the army had looked into the possibilities of studying chemistry. Eventually he completed a BS and then a Ph.D., at London University and later afte, and worked as a chemical archaeologist at the Hebrew University. I thus declined the position at Nahalal continued job-hunting, and found a position in the office of the ministry of agriculture in Haifa. This was quite interesting work, to work along with a prospective Ph.D. candidate from the Hebrew University school of agriculture, Michael Taran, who was doing his Ph.D. on the effect of high temperature on poultry in the Jordan Valley, and also studying the incidence and genetics of leukemia in chickens. My job was to crunch numbers on coefficients of inbreeding, and to accompany him to the Jordan Valley ( Ashdod Yaacov, Kinnereth, Degania ) to obtain records of egg production and whether it was influenced by the heat of the Jordan Valley. It was a good job, and I enjoyed it, although I was once warned by a co-worker that I worked to hard !. The office was a small one on the third floor of a large building on “ rehov Atzmaut” ( Independence way ) or what had previously been called “rehov habankim” in the old section of Haifa. This was close to the port area and used to contain all the foreign banks of the mandate. It was very close to the old Arab area, which was partly destroyed and quite run down. I took a bus every day from the Tsrif in Kiryat Haim to downtown, a ride in these days of about 15 minutes. Today with traffic it would probably take longer. The Tsrif was the main bus terminal in Kiryat Haim and was a landmark known by everyone. It is no longer there but replaced with a real bus terminal and restaurants. I worked in the office with a Mrs Leiberman, who kept an eye on me in a nice way, and looked after me, and the head of the department was a decent guy, a Dr. Z. Ben Adam who later gave me some good advice and was instrumental in my being accepted by Cornell University. In these days I know very little about academic hierarchy, and interacted I suppose with everyone in an equal fashion. Mrs. Leiberman was a middle-aged woman, probably of German-Jewish origin, long hair tied back in a bun, and looked very strict. However she was very protective of me. In the office we talked a mixture of English and Hebrew, so that language was not a problem. When I started work I had not intenion of going to the States, and I was quite happy with the position.

We adjusted quite well to our life in Kiryat Bialik. We had two groups of friends, mine from the kibbutz, and Mimi’s high school friends, although at this time most were in the army. They were mostly Sabras and found it difficult to accept me , an immigrant from the UK into their midst. I likewise found them immature and childish, and this did become a source of friction between Mimi and myself. My Hebrew was not good and this made matters worse. With the passing of time, I have become more acceptable to this group of Mimi’s friends, and when we meet now I feel quite comfortable, despite my “ broken” Hebrew.