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..