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ISRAEL: 1975 - Idit

How did you come to the United States?: I was attending Tel-Aviv University when I met John. I was working at the library and he got some books in and out, and we started talking, started dating, and then lived together. It was clear that if we were to get married that we couldnıt stay in Israel because he couldnıt speak Hebrew well enough to lecture in Hebrew.

He wasnıt an Israeli citizen? No, John was an American. He was a visiting faculty. In Israel, the university regulations are such that you cannot teach only upper level, graduate degree people. You have to rotate and teach undergraduates and in order to teach undergraduates you need Hebrew. Graduates can be taught in English. So we knew that if we got married, Iıd have to come here.

What was that like? That was actually mixed because I wanted to get away from my family and wanted to see the world. I was 25 and that in and of itself explains a lot. But I was also really scared because the United States was so far away from them. In addition I felt that leaving the country was tantamount to betrayal of country and family.

It must have been a big decision, a lot of turmoil with that decision. The decision was around the getting married because getting married meant Iıd have to come here. So, yes, there was a lot of turmoil because getting married was more complicated than just getting married and moving to the next town. They say that love is blind and whoever said that was right on the mark.

So you gave up a lot to marry him. I did. More than I realized at the time. I think that at the time, I wasnıt so clear on what I was giving up. It felt like "Iım ready to get away". I was 25 and we had been living together for two years, so I was very sure about my decision. But at the time I was very much in love and he was just wonderful, wonderful. Leaving my family also meant that I grew in wonderful ways that I would have never expected.

So you got married over there and then you flew over here fairly quickly? Yes, we got married over there, and rather than have a big wedding, we had a very small wedding. There were maybe 15 people, something like that. There was my sister and her husband and two kids and my brother and his wife and the two kids that they had at the time and my parents. About 15 people, something like that. But we took the money and we went to Europe for a month. I had never been to Europe, and almost everybody I knew had been to Europe, so it was a big thing for me. I really wanted to go. I was very willing to give up the fanfare of a wedding. So we spent a month in Europe. We went to Italy, stayed in Italy for several weeks in several different places then went to Holland then to England and then came here.

What was it like when you first got here? I was bewildered. Everything was big: big distances, big cars, big meals. I didnıt know how to get around. We shared a car, but on days that John had the car, because I had not yet learned to use the public transportation system, on those days I felt particularly lost.

I spoke to my family frequently but I was unable to share the difficult parts of my experiences with them and that made it particularly lonely.

What surprised you the most about coming to the United States? How separate people were. There was no sense of community. Having grown up in Israel, there was a sense of invasive community and here it felt as if there was nothing. Neighbors barely said hello, people kept to themselves. That was shocking. I didnıt have an easy way to meet people and that seemed very strange especially since I regard myself as a friendly, gregarious person. That we didnıt know anybody seemed really strange.

You did become a citizen? Yes, after three years. Because I was married to an American, it was just three years, which was also a weird process. How so? Well, there were things that I totally didnıt realize. For example, one thing that I had to prove was that I was a good, upstanding citizen so I had to ask friends to testify for me at the courthouse. I asked my best friend at the time who happens to be a lesbian. I didnıt know that gays and lesbians were prohibited from becoming citizens. She was newly out and appeared in the courthouse to testify for me wearing cowboy boots, tight jeans with a belt and large buckle, a vest and this very dyke-y looking spiky haircut. But she was American born so I guess they didnıt say anything. Then they asked John if, to his knowledge, I had had affairs. How weird. It was. So that part was weird. The other part that was weird is I had to demonstrate my knowledge of English and in order to do that I had to write a sentence, "This is a house". That was it for the process, but the internal implication was great.

How often did you go back to Israel? At first, I went every year, and then after the girls were born, it was every other year, pretty regularly. Actually, when my older daughter was two I had the younger one so I might have missed that year. Almost everybody came over [to the US] at different times to visit. My parents came, then my sister came, then my brother came. Then it was every other year [going over there] until the kids got older, and they were fed up with going to Israel. They were the only kids on the block that said "We donıt want to go overseas!"

Do you feel like youıve ever experienced discrimination because of not being born here? It depends on how you define discrimination. If you define it as not having gotten work or something, I donıt think so. But there were many not so subtle nasty comments made. Comments like, "There are enough people in California already". Or another I remember is while working a booster at the High School I worked with a nurse who said that she hated working in the nursery with the newborns, and I said, "Oh that is something that probably many people love to do Œcause people love to hold newborns". She said the reason she hated it is because there were so many babies of all "these newcomers". Given my accent, itsŠ Or things like, comments from people. I remember a dinner party with university faculty people where you would think itıs pretty cosmopolitan. Someone made a comment about how in the South people are not accepted unless theyıd been born there and lived there for a hundred years. Of course that meant that I could never belong no matter what. But you know, I have a feeling that that lady would not have considered an American Indian good enough to sit at her table. So I consider myself with good company. So comments like that. Itıs not institutionalized discrimination, but itıs very much there. You are left feeling bad about who you are and there is nothing you can do to change that.


Do you feel like thereıs been discrimination because of coming from Israel? Those are comments about being foreign born but do you have any sense that there have been any specifics because of being from Israel? I think peopleıs feelings are pretty fickle. It depends on what happens politically. I remember I had a plumber come after the Intebi strike. He was like, "Well, you Israelis get your people out. Youıre good, you know, you donıt let your people just rot there." On the other hand I find myself at time being held "responsible" for decisions the Israeli government makes. So the comments have been on both sides, probably equally so, so I think its more that, there isnıt enough room in this country for any more people. Itıs a mentality that says: now that weıre here, letıs close the gates.

Do you see yourself more as Israeli or more American or does that enter in? Youıve been here a long time now. I have, and that still is a really painful place because Iım both. Iım very much -- my kids are American. They were born here and they are American and they see themselves as American. On their dadıs side, theyıre third generation. When I hear about Israelis being killed, my heart goes out. Or when I hear of an act of terror, I get terrified. When you speak of Israel, itıs not as if you speak of Holland.

Do you still feel the loss of not being there? I really do. At this point, I miss not having my family, and itıs not all positive, God knows. But I miss it that my kids did not grow up with cousins. I see my sisterıs kids and my brotherıs kids, theyıre good buddies. They find work for each other, and they find girlfriends and boyfriends for each other. They recently went traveling together, so theyıre good friends and my kids donıt have that. Whenever my kids get together with their cousins, thereıs no history in common. So I miss it for me, but I miss it also for the sense of family. Also my family came to Israel -- my father came in 1927. People who have been in Israel for that long, you feel as if your family came on the Mayflower. Itıs that sense. And sometimes I miss not being able to speak without an accent Œcause when I go to Israel, I speak without an accent, and here, I canıt get rid of it. So thereıs a way you can just fit in there but thereıs always something that makes you feel different here. Uh huh, Uh huh. Itıs hard. Yea.

Do you think youıll ever go back to live? I canıt imagine it Œcause my kids are here. I donıt want to leave where my kids are, so no, I donıt see that, and thereıs no way they would go to Israel, thereıs just no way.

I know there are certainly Jewish customs that you keep, rituals that you keep. Oh yea. Is there anything that is specifically Israeli that you celebrate? Israeli customs are often intertwined with Jewish customs. There are however small things that I do that are specifically Israeli like flowers for the Sabbath are specifically Israeli. So I suppose there are things that I donıt even think about, and that I just do them in a particular way thatıs Israeli.

You spoke English back in Israel too didnıt you? Right. Yea, I grew up speaking Hebrew but my undergraduate degree was in English and American Literature, so I spoke English well. So you didnıt come here with a language problem. No, no. With an accent problem, but not a language problem.

I know you see that your kids are American, theyıre not Israeli but is there anything about being from Israel that you want your kids to sort of hold onto in some way? What I would like for them to have, and I donıt know that they do even though there are times when Iıve tried to give that to them, but the sense of being responsible for your community. Community service is one thing. Also seeing yourself in relationship to those whom you are with. An example might be when my daughter played softball, I remember a particularly hot day when the kids were practicing. One mother had twin daughters and she brought them some soft drinks. She did not bring anything for the rest of the team members. Now that is incomprehensible in an Israeli society. Either you bring it to all the players or you bring it to none. Also, I guess thereıs a sense in Israel of political awareness. One of my children has that. So I donıt know that Iıve done a real good job about that. Sort of caring whatıs going on around you. Itıs very Israeli to be very political. There isnıt anybody in Israel without a political opinion, a strong political opinion. That is important to me. Maybe there are other things that I canıt remember, but that 's what comes to mind.

You still donıt have a whole lot of other Israelis that you socialize with? Yea, I do. So you did sort of develop a connection to a sub-culture? Yea, to Israelis in my city. And there are things that are sort of done together. For example, when Rabin died, one woman who had been in Israel brought a tape and she just invited everybody to come watch the tape together. We sometimes get together on Friday nights to have Shabbat dinner together and have an informal sing-along. So yea, thereıs sort of an Israeli sub-culture but half the people are married to Americans, soŠ Or when the war was going on, the gulf war, weıd get together to watch the TV and talk and who got what news from whom. We often get together on Christmas day ­ for obvious reasons.

Do you usually speak English or Hebrew? Hebrew. And sharing books and things like that. Do you still read books in Hebrew? Oh, yea. Do you get publications from Israel? Newspapers from Israel are very expensive. The weekend newspaper is $5.00 a pop, and thatıs very expensive, so every once in a while Iıll go to the news stand and just get the paper because I like it. Also on the Internet you have the Hebrew paper. You get editorials so I read that. I donıt regularly get periodicals, but I regularly get lots of books. Israelis read a lot. They are obsessed with politics. There are five daily newspapers in a country thatıs as big as New Jersey or smaller. I think Israel has the highest newspaper publications per capita in the world. People just read! So thereıs a lotŠWe also have a book club that meets once a week. The Bay Area also has various Israeli cultural events that at times we travel to together.

Gretchen Morgan, stories at immigrantjourneys Dot com, P.O. Box 661467, Sacramento, CA 95866-1467

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