Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reminiscences of aliya

On Sunday we went to hear our friends Yoel and Tova Sheridan, who came from Surbiton near London, tell the story of their aliya to Israel during the Yom Kippur war. They didn't plan it that way, but it happened to coincide that they came during the middle of the war. People on both sides, England and Israel, thought they were crazy (meshuggah) to go through with it, but they did. That was 40 years ago in October 1973.

When they arrived they had no idea what was happening on the fronts. They of course found it strange, that everything was blacked out, but they remembered the black-out in London during the blitz of WWII. As new immigrants (olim) they still had to go to the various government offices and get the bureaucratic stamps required, and the war made no differerence to this. They had bought a house in Ra'anana that was being constructed, and of course construction stopped during the war, so they could not move in and it took a further 8 months to finish the house while they lived in one room in an absorption center. They became friendly with the builder (kablan) who was wounded in the war and was in hospital in Nahariya, so they went there, a three hour drive, with some friends to visit him (this could only happen in Israel).

When they went to receive their furniture at Haifa port things went smoothly, until as they were leaving they were selected by the customs for a thorough spot-check. But, they argued that they had to leave because the agent would only keep the house open for them until 5 pm and they couldn't leave their furniture in the street (you know what would happen to it). So after much argumentation the customs men got into their car and drove with them to Ra'anana to supervise the unloading of their shipment to check for contraband. But, it was taking too long, so the customs men ended up helping them to unload their goods, also only in Israel. Unfortunately, all Tova's (costume) jewelery was stolen, so they said well its not worth reporting in the middle of a war, but everyone told them, are you crazy, you must act as normal, as if the war is not going on, you must report it, which they did, although they never got any of it back.

These reminiscences unleashed some of my own memories of coming to Israel. When we came in 1963 on our first trip, one of the members of our group was very sick on the boat and had a high fever and was receiving a drip. So we arranged with the doctor to have an ambulance meet us at Haifa port when we docked. But, the customs men who came and set up a table on deck would not let us off the ship without a disembarcation stamp and told us to wait in line. I said "are you crazy, I've got a very sick person here, and the ambulance is waiting," so I managed to get to the top of the line, and the first time I arrived in Israel was by ambulance racing with a siren through the streets of Haifa.

When I went to the Weizmann Inst. in 1964 as a Fellow, it was customary for most of the visitors to pay an agent to clear their goods thru customs. But, since I was a poor British student then, I decided that I was going to do it myself. So I left Rehovot at 6 am and got to Haifa port by 7.30 am and went from one office to another, persuading and pleading and shoving and pushing, until I had all the necessary permissions, except the customs clearance. So I went to the huge customs shed and outside were men with trucks to rent. I asked one of the men if he could take me to Rehovot and we agreed on a price, but it was nearly 5 pm and I realized that the customs crew were finishing for the day. So I asked the driver what should I do and he said give me some money, so I gave him some and he went over to the foreman and I saw him try to give him the money. Then the foreman shouted at him and I saw that he was very angry that the driver had tried to bribe him. So when the driver came back I asked him what he said and he told me to forget it. But, I went over to the foreman myself and in halting Hebrew I explained that it wasn't my idea to give him money, it was the driver's idea and I desperately needed him to clear my small container because I could not come back from Rehovot for a whole day just for that. And he took pity on me, he said "OK, clear that one," to his crew and in a few minutes they did the paperwork and wrote on the box and it was cleared and we got out of there just as they were closing the gate.


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