THE LIFE STORY OF JEANNE
Recorded July 1990
“It was really funny because I was just talking to a good friend from high school. My class had their twentieth reunion last year, which I missed. I would like to have gone. And she said that when she was telling them about the things I had done and where I had lived, it’s like ‑ Jo Anne? Are you sure you’re talking about Jo Anne? The Jo Anne we know. Quite, level‑headed, calm, the good girl.
I don’t think it’s anything that inspired me. Sometimes I think it’s just something that happens to be circumstance. Sometimes I feel like my whole life is just one series of circumstances. If somebody had told me in high school what my life would be like, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Where I was born doesn’t really matter. My main memories are of growing up as a child in a small town, in Springvale. I was the second of five children. I have an older sister and three younger brothers. My parents in many ways I would say were fairly strict, traditional, very strong believing Catholics, churchgoing. We went to Catholic school through elementary school and high school. Actually I went to Catholic University for two years also before I transferred.
We had a very homey kind of life, family. I was very close to my older sister, who is a year and a half older. And we grew up best of friends. We lived on a dead end street, had lots of place to play. Nice big yard. Fireplace in the back that my dad built. We used to go camping.
Family, very family type activities. That certainly affects your outlook on family life.
One of the things, which, I know when I went to school things were a little less strict in the Catholic religion as they had been previously. And I remember most of my teachers through high school telling us that the most important thing is how you live your life, living what you believe. Although not that many people have that view of the Catholic Church, and certainly not Jewish people, don’t usually have that view of the Catholic Church, I do remember having that kind of an attitude.
I do remember once being very very upset when I went to this, it was a girls’ high school, a girls’ class and we had gone for a weekend, a few girls who wanted to, to a convent. And I was talking to one of the novices there, and at the time I was teaching a fifth grade religion class, the weekly, the kids from the public schools who had to take class once a week. And 1 had problems with a few kids always talking about the Jews killing Jesus and things like that. And I asked this Nun, at one particular point, I said, how do you explain to these kids, how do you get them to realize that Jews did not really kill Jesus. And she said to me, ‘Well they did.’ That sort of hit me. I didn’t like that answer at all. There were a few other things that sort of bothered me. But, I guess sometimes I look at my own kids and they’re growing up the same way. They believe what they’re taught, without really thinking about it.
I didn’t know anything else. Growing up in a small town in Maine, in a very close‑knit family, it never even occurred to me to explore other possibilities. And I really didn’t. Although there were a lot of things that I didn’t accept or that I didn’t necessarily believe in 100%, this is what I knew.
I continued going to Church even after I left college. Because I did believe very strongly in God. That I definitely got from my family. In fact, later on, when I actually did convert, a lot of people asked me, they said, well you know what a switch, wasn’t it hard? I said “no,” in many ways it was much easier for me than it is for a Jew that doesn’t believe in God. It doesn’t matter. I have that basic strong belief and I just transferred it a little bit. That’s all. It wasn’t really a switch.
Another thing probably that I think really affected me was coming from a large family. It came from my family life and childhood. There were five kids in the family and I always wanted to have a lot of kids. It was, I don’t know, I mean I suppose I didn’t really as a child have all that much to do with my younger brothers. But, my brothers themselves, especially the two that are close in age, they grew up very, very close. And even though they had their own groups of friends in high school, they always included each other, which is rather unusual. And I don’t know, I always had the feeling that I liked coming from a fairly large family. So that certainly affected my outlook to a certain extent also.
My parents really enjoyed their children. You know, the fact that they just, um…. Like the first year that we went camping. My mother had never been camping before. They bought a huge tent for eight, packed us all up, and set out for two weeks, and the family was taking bets on how long my mother would last. And we had a great time. We really had a great time. So my parents were very kid‑oriented and family oriented. We certainly didn’t get the feeling that we were in their way, or that we were bothering them, or that we were extra, or that they didn’t care about us, or anything like that. I would say out of my childhood that was one of the thinqs that probably influenced me the most.
On the other hand, my husband comes from a family of two. He has one brother five years younger. And he always felt cheated. He wanted more and closer together. So, that worked out really good. I don’t think you can dream of what having a family is like until you have kids. It’s completely different than what you think of. But I certainly don’t regret it.
I’m really not guite sure I know how to pass along values to children. I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort or if it’s just something that kids automatically absorb. I really don’t know. So I can’t say that I actually do anything special or specific. Well like I mentioned about building the house. Everything that I did then. Nothing I ever planned, it just sort of happened. Like going into the Peace Corps when I went to Honduras.
I happened to have been in the physics building at school and I had been considering changing universities but hadn’t really decided. And I looked up on the bulletin board and I saw this ad for a Peace Corps college degree program where you could get Peace Corps training and finish your college degree at the same time.
I had heard of the Peace Corps. I remember having thought once in high school, maybe that would be something interesting to do after college, but I hadn’t really decided. But I saw this application and I said, all right, I’ll take it and I’ll write in for information, and I went. You know, something like that.
I went down as an education volunteer. When I was in college they gave us special training to work with elementary teachers. And in many cases, especially in outlying areas, the schools maybe go to third or fourth grade. Some of them go to sixth grade. In Honduras. I visited one school that went to third grade and the teacher had finished sixth grade. And the other schools, many schools that went to sixth grade, the teachers had finished high school. Now and then there were some teachers who had gone for special teacher training later on. Obviou~ly it depends on where you are.
We went out to areas that were pretty far out. One school that I visited that went to third grade that had a teacher who finished sixth grade was like a two hour donkey ride over these rocky mountain paths. I couldn’t walk for two days!
So basically what we did was we, in Honduras, we were supervising, we organized courses for teachers and wrote guides in Spanish and helped them and showed them the things that they could teach without any materials. Because they don’t have books and they don’t have all this fancy science equipment. So we would do things like write up units about animals or the stars and constellations.
Magnets we could get anywhere so we would do things with magnets. We did thirlgs with batteries we could get anywhere. We did things with electricity and batteries. Things like that. Math games. We were mainly math and science volunteers, so that was the kind of thing that we did.
Because we happened to choose to live out of the city and in small towns, we got very involved in vegetable gardening also. Because we had our own garden. The foods that we could get were limited. So we started our own garden and eventually we started helping other people plant gardens and we got involved in that a little bit too.
When we first went, we weren’t married, we lived in separate towns. When we went back afterward, I joined my husband in his town. So we lived in this little house. ~t had two rooms. No running water, there was a cold water faucet outside. There was an outhouse that they dug after my husband had moved in. And when they built this house, they put this high pipe in for a shower and they put this little hut around it. Except because it was only cold water, my husband told them not to build a roof. You’d take a shower in the middle of the day and the sun was shining in. It wasn’t quite so cold. Or in the winter, if it was cold, we had to heat the water. And also the sun would heat the water in the pipes. So at least when you started out it wasn’t that cold.
One of the things that we had to get used to was animals all around. They had chickens and pigs and cows and every thing like this. The house was built so that one side of it, it was basically two rooms, one side had a door in the front and a window and the other side had two doors. So in order to have air and light in the house we had to open all the doors and the windows. And of course there were no screens, it’s just a wood thing and I used to keep everything open. So I used to shoo chickens out of the house and things like that. One day I had gone to hang up some laundry and take in some laundry and I came back in and there was a cow in the house. You used to stamp your foot and go sh, sh, sh to shoo away the chickens. So I instinctively did the same thing to shoo away the cow. The cow looked at me as if, who are you? ~inally the owner came back looking for the cow. That was a little bit hard to get used to.
Another thing was very hard to get used to. Kids basically went around naked until they were about three years old, till they’re old enough to be trained. When they’re old enough to be toilet trained, then they start wearing clothes. ~ut because of that, and because everybody has all the outhouses, the little kids go around naked all over the place. There were times when I saw a little kid squat, leave his deposit, and then a pig would come along and scoop it up and eat it. It’s like, oooh. I stopped eating pork even before I converted.
I think every single culture in every single country seems to have, at least the ones I have been to, seems to have people who are better off and people who are not so well off. In Honduras, I saw this in extreme. Now I know it exists in America and I know it also exists in Israel. But in Honduras is really where I saw it. In the cities you have big beautiful homes and swimming pools and everything like you would find anywhere else in the world. But where we were living there was no electricity, there was really minimal nutrition, minimal medical supplies. I remember this one woman where we used to go to eat sometime, we were eating there once and she was ironing something. They used to have these irons that you put hot clothes in and she looked at us and went, ‘Is it really true, I’ve heard it, is there such a thing as an electric iron, is it really true?’ So we told her, yes it was, and then afterward Scott was saying, we didn’t tell her that there are electric knives and electric toothbrushes. She had a hard time believing that there was such a thing as an electric iron.
I think it really struck me one day when I was in the doctor’s office and I saw another volunteer sitting with a little baby she was holding, a little Honduran baby, and I was thinking to myself, well the baby’s probably about five or six months old or something like that. It turned out that this baby was almost three years old. The mother had died at birth and the father had fed the baby tortillas and coffee, which was their standard coffee beans and corn tortillas. And when this other volunteer told me how old this kid was, this baby was, it was like, oh, it just sent shivers and creeps, and she was trying to find a place to help the baby but none of the orphanages would take the baby because she was so brain damaged from lack of nutrition. Just total ignorance. That was where I actually saw it. You hear stories of people in Appalachia, and poor towns here and there, who are really bad off. I would say that’s something similar in most cultures
We lived in New York for six years. In fact right now the apartment that we’re renting is just a few blocks away from the old one that we lived in for six years. And I look around and I say to myself, I could never live here. Never. At the time my kids were small. And we did have a small porch off of the kitchen they could go out to play on, and there was a front porch that they were allowed to play on. At the time it was enough, but now it wouldn’t be enough.
I remember the first time, before I was married, when my husband took me to New York to meet his family. His parents live on the fifth floor of a twenty‑three story building. ~o, first of all I was not used to going in an elevator going to a home, I had been in an elevator in office buildings but I had never associated an elevator with home. When you walked down the hall I felt like I was in a college dormitory, with the apartment doors all along the hall. Once you get into the apartment, it’s a very nice apartment, but that feeling of going in the elevator and all of these doors off the hallway was very strange for me in the beginning, very emotional, really a weird feeling.
Our parents are very different. His mother’s a traditional Jewish mother. She pesters, she nudges, she wants to get you to do something. Although she’s beginning to accept the idea that we do what we want to do. She doesn’t do it to annoy. She’s a very loving person. And she’s very helpful, she’s very kind. She really sacrifices a lot for her family, to help. Those six years that we were living in New York, one afternoon a week, every single week, she would come and watch my kids for me so I could go out shopping. Now I could either do a grocery shopping without the kids or I could go shopping for myself. Whatever I wanted. I had that afternoon free. How many mother‑in‑laws do that? You know. She’s really a very, very special gal. But it took me a long, long time to get used to her, a very long time. Because my parents, you know they did their best bringing you up. Once you reach a certain age, you make your own decisions. They may express an opinion, give advice, if they feel it’s called for. They do it once and that’s it. lt’s your decision. So I found his mother very, very hard to get used to in that sense. Because it was just a completely different personality. I wasn’t used to it. Completely different. And his whole family’s like that, not just his mother. His mother’s sister, his aunt, is just exactly the same.
And they discuss openly things that my family would never talk about. Asking you if you’re going to have another baby or telling you maybe you shouldn’t have another baby. or this one had an abortion and this one uses this kind of birth control. It’s like, I wasn’t used to this, at all. My husband doesn’t like it either. He’s very much a private person. So in that sense things have worked out because, you know, I can’t take that. Certain things are private, and certain things are for an individual person to decide or a couple to decide and nobody else in the family has anything to say about it. That’s the way I was brought up.
On the other hand, like I said, she is extremely helpful and very dedicated. She’s really a wonderful person. And I’ve gotten used to her now and she’s gotten used to me. So we worked that out. That was a very difficult adjustment.
His parents, they love the family. Our six children are the only grandchildren they have right now, and they are extremely attached. And in a way my kids are more attached to them than my family because they’ve come to Israel to visit a few times and of course the years that we were living in New York, they saw his parents more than my parents. So the family is very, very close.
And my family, you know, my family is very close. Last weekend we had everybody here, my three brothers came, we had all the seventeen grandchildren, we got a picture of all of the family, all of them with Meme and Pepe, grandmother and grandfather in the picture. That was really special. It wasn’t an official portrait, just snapshots, but hopefully some of them will turn out.
People ask me if I still have contact with my family. I say I live far away and I don’t get to see them very often but I still have contact. My mother, although raised as a very strict Catholic, is very comfortable with the idea that there are other religions. Mummy and Daddy have the attitude that they’ve done the best they can bringing us up and when we reach a certain point our decisions are our own. It’s common to our whole family. To me that’s normal.
Well, I met my husband in Peace Corp training. He was sort of running away from home. He had always wanted to visit Israel and he never had. So that was always in the back of his mind. Another thing that was always in the back of his mind was that he didn’t grow up religious. But he always had this attitude that before he would abandon the Jewish religion that he would study it or learn more about it. He always had the feeling that there was something lacking.
His mother kept kosher but they ate non‑kosher outside. She lit candles for Sabbath but they didn’t really observe the Sabbath. Obviously they didn’t eat on Yom Kippur and they ate only Passover foods on Passover. So he had that much, but without any meaning. So he always had in the back of his mind that he would want to learn more about it.
He sort of put that aside. In the Peace Corp we both went to the same country. We both went to Honduras. We came home after a year, and got married, and went back again and started writing for information to the Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education. They sent us some pamphlets.
And then when we got back, we decided that we would study together. Before we got married, there was no mention of me converting or anything. And when we started studying it was, you know, with maybe the possibility that I would, but we wanted to study first and then make the decision. In a way, it was a conversion for him also, because he hadn’t grown up really religious. We were lucky that it worked out that we happened to agree and we helped each other along and we did things together. We know lots of couples who have broken up over differenc~s.
So that’s basically how it happened. It was a gradual process that we agreed on together. He always wanted to visit Israel. 1 agreed, it would be interesting. We decided to live on a kibbutz for six months and learn some Hebrew and during those six months we decided that we wanted to stay and live there. So again, it wasn’t anything planned out, it was, all right, yeah, let’s go.
Basically, although it seems very often there are a lot of things that don’t make sense, at the time it was, everything seemed to make sense. There were reasons for things, explanations for things. And when we sat down and read the first five books of the Bible, the Kabbi and his wife explained things and I said, Oh, I never even read this stuff in school. We learned a little bit about Abraham~ Isaac, and Jacob and then you learned the New Testament in the Catholic School. I had never even read the five books of Moses before. And to me it was like, this is it, all the major religions of the world accept the Old Testament, Christianity does and even Islam does. So it was like this is the basis for everything. And what do you do with that. So little by little we built on that, and some origins of certain practices. And things like that, sort of, I don’t know, I felt like everything fell into place. And then I reached a point where there were certain things I didn’t nn(ler,tand….
It’s almost like you’re making a puzzle. One piece by itself you may not know what it is, brown, black, or red or yellow, you can’t always tell what it’s a part of or what that piece of the puzzle means. Once you have most of the puzzle there, even if you have one piece and you don’t know what that one piece is, you can see that most of the picture makes sense and everything’s okay and if you can’t see every little piece right away, it’s okay, kind of, for an analogy. So I guess 1 sort of reached that point where I felt like this was it, this was the picture that I wanted, and even though I have some pieces missing right now, that’s okay, I’ll take it.
Sometimes I really feel like, especially in my family, because both my husband and I lack the background, that we don’t have the same feeling and the same tradition and the same practices as families that have been doing this all along. So sometimes I feel that there’s a little something missing there. On the other hand, when the holidays come up, Chanukah and Purim and Passover and everything, you know the kids are all involved and that’s part of their life. After thirteen, fourteen years, we’re making our own traditions, to a certain extent. But sometimes it does, you do feel like there’s something missing when there’s not that continuity of your childhood traditions agreeing with the traditions that you have now. I don’t know, a little bit funny, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint and explain, but other than that, I feel very comfortable.
Talking about philosophy, you’re talking about hours and hours and courses and courses and a lot of it I don’t know. I would say basically a belief in God, a belief in the Bible as the word of God. But Judaism has its tradition in the written law and the oral law. The written Bible is sort of like the lecture notes. In somebody’s lecture notes, there’s a lot missing. And it has to be filled in. That was one of the things when I read the five books of Moses for that vcry first time, there were many places, especially in Deuteronomy where it says, and Moses told the people all that God had told him, or Moses explained this to the people according to what God had said.
And it doesn’t go into all the details. Judaism has this tradition of an oral law, that was not written down, that was passed on from Moses to Joshua to the elders and on and on and on to various committees of knowledgeable people down through the ages until it reached a point around the destruction of the Temple when people were afraid that it would be lost and they wrote it down. So you have to combine the two. You can’t just look at one and neglect the other. You have to really look at two.
Another thing that I really like about Judaism, you have to combine the relationship of Man to God and Man to Man. And the ren Commandments are actually sort of divided. The first ones on one side, the first five, are considered between Man and God, and on the second side are Man and Man. Like to keep Sabbath, to not worship idols and things like that, and the other ones, don’t steal, don’t murder. And the main thing is, they have to be combined. You can’t just have this, what’s it called, this humanistic, this philosophy that human beings on their own are going to be nice to each other. Because eventually, somewhere along the line, that won’t work.
You have to have the other one also. But you can’t only have Man and God and do everything ritually correct and eat kosher and cheat when the next guy’s going to pay you. You have to have a complete balance. And that was something else that 1 found that really attracted me. And also the idea that, unlike Catholicism, where you have priests and nuns being sort of being in a sense “more holy” than others, you don’t have that kind of an idea. Rabbis are supposed to be married and have a family. You couldn’t be a judge in the Sanhedron, in the main Jewish court, unless you were married and had been a father, with those certain qualifications.
Like the attitude toward family life. The whole idea of life is not to completely give up your physical life. God gave you your body and your physical life too. And there are things to enjoy. There are limits on enjoyment, obviously, there are rules and regulations to follow. But there’s not this attitude that this is sinful and that is sinful. Everything within its certain limits. And it’s up to you. What you do with it is what determines it.
To tell you the truth, on a day to day basis, I’m so busy through with the kids and work and the house and cooking, cleaning, and shopping. It’s not always a thing that I even sit and talk about or even think about. It’s just sort of there in the background.
I’ve been there for five and a half years. Well, five and a half years this time. My husband and I were there for two and a half years previously, ’76‑’78, my two oldest children were born there. That was after we were on kibbutz and we stayed. And then we came back, we thought for a visit. My husband decided to take a computer course in New York and we thought we’d stay here six months to a year and it dragged on for six years. So we moved back to Israel with five kids in ’84.
Well, the community that I live in Israel is quite an American community. There are sort of two streams of thought for immigrants to Israel. Israel absorbs people from lots of different countries. Some people think your absorption is more successful if you get right into Israeli society. Other people say that unless you feel comfortable with people from your own background, that your absorption won’t be, your life in Israel, won’t be successful. So my husband and I felt the most important thing was for us to be happy and comfortable in lsrael. Our children grow up there ‑ they’ll learn, they’ll know the language, they’ll get involved in the culture and all of the attitudes and everything else if we’re happy and we stay there.
So that was the main reason behind our decision to live in a mostly American community, or at least a community with an American neighborhood. We felt that there are people we can communicate with, that we come from the same background and everything elsc. So to a certain extent, some people call our neighborhood like a little American ghetto. On the other hand, our kids are involved in school and all of the activities and everything else. So hopefully … You know, our main goal was that the children would be happy there and grow up there and stay there. We felt the most important thing was for us to be happy in Israel because if we weren’t that would affect our children also.
Also , Israel, I suppose maybe similar to America in a sense, has people from all over the world. There are Russians, there are Ethiopians, there are people from Moroco, and people from Europe, and people from America and from Australia, and all over the world. So everyone comes from their own cultural background. Now there are people who have, their families have been in Israel for generations and generations and generations. But if you’re going to talk about culture, you know, there’s such a huge mixture there.
It’s true in America, there are Chinese and there are Puerto Ricans and there are Mexicans, and there are lots of groups in America. And in many places they stay together, Chinatown, and you have in Florida concentrations of Puerto Ricans and Spanish‑speaking. People tend to stay with people who speak their own language and come from the same background. I think in Israel you find more people mixing, although they do keep their own culture somewhat also. So it makes it very hard to talk about.
The political situation and the economic situation are not very good. There’s a lot of disagreement on what should be done about it. People claim that in times of crisis everyone unites. I don’t know. A lot of times it depends on where you live. Your outlook can vary tremendously depending on where you live.
Your outlook can vary according to your religious beliefs. If you believe that the land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, and then where are you going to put the borders and things like that, then your outlook is golng to be different than someone who thinks that Israel is a country created by the United Nations forty‑something years ago. Your going to have a completely different outlook.
If you live along the West Bank or if you live in the Golan Heights or something like that, your outlook is going to be completely different than if you live in Tel ~viv or in Haifa. So you have so many different things involved in it, that again it’s hard to say where the problems lie and why you believe what you do.
On the other hand, you can still feel a little bit sympathetic to people who live there you feel who don’t belong. I don’t know, it’s very difficult. I myself have not resolved how I feel about it. On the one hand I feel that the land of Israel is the land of Israel. Judea Samaria is part of the land of Israel even though technically right now it’s still not part of the modern country of Israel.
Sometimes I feel very bad about things that are going on. I certainly would not want to live in a country where because I have a certain color license plate, I’m stopped by the police before I can pass by, by the army. I certainly wouldn’t like that feeling at all.
On the other hand, there are so many incidents and terrorist activities that you have to check. I mean look what America did to the Japanese during World War II. They rounded them up and put them in camps. Is that right? Is it wrong? Is it….? You know, you can understand something and still feel uncomfortable with it.
Also, the other thing that I find is that people who don’t live in the area tend to view things completely differently. Sometimes people tend to forget that the “Palestinians” as they’re called today, it’s not as though
Israel took away their country, they never had a country there. There was never a country there, and as it was, in the end, Israel agreed to take less than what the British originally promised anyway. rhere are so many Arab countries, if you compare the land, compared to Israel, it’s like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times larger. What is the big problem? Why this one spot? I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s very, very difficult to understand. I haven’t figured it out in my own mind.
Where we live, obviously, I mean, our town is on the West Bank, between Qalqiliya and Nabulus. Since we’ve moved there a new road has been built bypassing Qalqiliya so we don’t have to drive through Qalqiliya. There’s one route out of town, a zone that we do have to drive through. They’re in the process of building a road that bypasses that. It’s not necessdrily going to solve any problems. There may be a little less stone throwing but I don’t know in the long run that it’s going to help anything.
Another thing that I don’t like is that my kids, I can understand why they feel that way, but they’re growing up with an attitude that Arabs are bad, and I don’t like don’t know, it just has that taste of white against black, the old American attitude that you’re not valuing a human being for what they are. But the political situation being the way it is, you can understand why your kids feel that way. They pick up certain things from school also. The kids go on a school trip in Israel and you have to have armed men accompanying them. And that’s not only where we live, that’s any school, even in Israel, accepted Israel, a school trip has armed guards because there’s always a threat of some terrorist activity.
I have a lot of neighbors who have had their windshields smashed. So it’s there and it’s close to home. On the other hand, these people stay whcrc thcy are and they still live there. And they don’t seem to be frightened. I don’t know if it happened to me how I’d feel. In the meantime, even though it’s close, it’s still distant. I don’t know. People automatically tend to have that attitude that it’s not going to happen to them.
I don’t know if I would call it brave. It’s something that I don’t think about too often. It’s like people say, what are you going to do when your son has to go into the army. ro tell you the truth I don’t think about it. I’ll worry about it when the time comes and then I’ll probably worry and cry and worry and cry. I don’t know.
There are a few differences. Arab terrorists are known to have their training schools in real schools. They are known in demonstrations to encourage young children to participate, which causes a lot of problems. You always hear these stories about how these little kids were hurt. lt’s really sad. It’s terrible. What were they doing there in the first place? I’m not really sure. I don’t know. On the other hand, if you expect a peaceful demonstration, people go, any kind of a march, any kind of a thing like that. Families go.
I’m not political at all. Not at all involved in any of this. Well, to a certain extent now because I live there. But it’s not anything I ever really thought of when we moved there. When we decided to build our house there, I knew it was in Samaria. We don’t usually like using the term West Bank because that implies that it goes with the East Bank. You can look at it two ways. Historical Israel included the ~ast Bank. Now people tend to think of the West Bank as belonging to Arabs. It’s a little bit ironic. But most of the time people who live in our area discourage using the term West Bank.
There’s historical precedence and Biblical. Originally they were offered some place in Uganda. The purpose was not just to have some place where the Jews could go and be free. The purpose was that it was Israel. The culture in Israel is very much affected by the fact that they have absorbed thousands and thousands of people from many different cultures and backgrounds. And also the fact that they’ve had so many wars affects the culture too. There aren’t too many countries in the world that have absorbed that number of people in such a small area and space of time. One of the political reasons, modern political reasons of Israel, was to provide a place.
There are a lot of extremely religious Jews who would absolutely refuse to move to Israel now because they are completely against the secular government. They are against the government of Israel. But they would still have that connection to the land. So there’s a little bit of a difference.
And the politics there are so different too. Because you vote for a party. You don’t vote for a president or a prime minister. You vote for a party and the party that gets the most seats in the Knesset or can form a coalition with other parties to have a unit, a majority unit, so that the person who’s on the top of that list gets to be Prime Minister. You don’t have direct elections. I can’t get used to it at all.
I wanted to say you were asking about being involved in politics and things like that. I knew where the house was going to be. I had never been there. But at the time, things were rather peaceful. I obviously never anticipated the problems that we’re having now. I don’t know, if things were as they are now, or if they had been what they are now when I had to make the decision, maybe I would have decided not to build the house there, I really don’t know.
But now I feel like that’s my home. This is the first house that we’ve ever owned, that we’ve ever had. Its one of the places that we’ve lived in the longest. And this is where my kids are growing up. And I really feel that that’s my home.
If 1 had to make the decision now with the political circumstances being what they are, I don’t know if I would move there. I really don’t. I did not move there to make any kind of political statement or express any kind of political belief. It happened to be a nice area, an opportunity to build a house that we could afford, so that’s what we did.
I didn’t pick up Hebrew so easily. I picked some up when we first went for those first six months that we spent on kibbutz. So we spent half a day in Hebrew class and half a day working on the kibbutz. So I picked up some Hebrew there. Then when we came back to the states, in between, I forgot most of it. I took a Hebrew class a couple times a week a little bit, it wasn’t very much. My main problem now is that I live in an American community and the people who run the grocery store and the pizza place are all American. I talk English most of the time. I just speak some Hebrew at work although I teach English. So I try to speak English even with my students as much as possible. But I speak some Hebrew to the other teachers. 1 guess it helps a little bit and it gives me some contact, outside, which is nice. I still don’t feel immersed in Israeli culture. But that’s the way it is.
And we have one particular Israeli family when our community was being established, the neighboring community of Israelis got a list of the families and they chose families to adopt according to the ages of the children. So while we were still living in the immigrant center I got a call from this woman 1 didn’t even know. I didn’t understand half of what she told me over the phone but they sort of adopted our family and we’re very, very close friends.
Like whenever I have any type of problem with school or with some Israeli establishment or bureaucracy or anything like that I always go to her for advice on how to handle it. Especially school problems, should I speak to the principal, how should 1 say this, because things are a little bit different, you know you don’t always know how to go about things. Should I feel insulted about this, should I feel angry, I’m very upset, do I have a right to be or not? She’s a very stable person. She’s been a tremendous help to me.
So I feel that I have that, you know, I have some connections. And the kids have a lot of Israeli friends who they go to after school and they come to the house.
I have a sense of belonging to this particular community yes. I think in general I’m not hard to get along with. Many of us have sort of formed our own family because a lot of us are there without families. A few of the women, for example, organized this little organization and everyone who wants to be involved is, and what they do basically is when a woman has a baby or if there’s a family member in the hospital they provide one hot meal a day, for that length of time, if you have a baby, it’s for two weeks after you come home from the hospital. You get a main meal brought to you in the evening. They take turns. They organize it and call you up and say can you cook for so and so on this day and things like that. We also contribute a minimal amount of money every month so that if the woman is in the hospital or after she has a baby you get four hours of help on a day that you choose.
So there is a very strong sense of community and helping each other and things like that, very definitely. Because most of us are there without family. A lot of people do have family in Israel and there are people even in our community who have, my neighbors across the street are parent, daughter, and two sons, all from California and they all built houses together. So some people do have family, but most of them don’t, at least in our community. So there is a strong sense of family, which makes it nice.
There are lots of big families in Israel. My family’s not so big. In our community I’m in the upper end. Our community is way above what most of the rest of the town has. If you take into consideration the next town, which is all religious families, and the town that I teach in, there are lots of families with eight and ten kids. Because of religious beliefs and the importance of the family. Maybe there’s still some attitude of replenishing after the Halocaust. These families would have this number of children regardless of where they live.
As I get older, the transitions are getting harder. And even things about coming back here are really funny, like the small things you don’t really think about. I went shopping the other day in New York and I added up what I was buying as I went along and when I checked out it turned out to be like eight to ten dollars more. I stood there like a dummy going through each item till I got to the end. It was the sales tax. I had forgotten about the sales tax. In Israel it’s really built into the price. Things like that get very annoying.
Or I’m used to being able to buy wine and beer in the local grocery store, for the Kiddush, the Sabbath, so here I am in Brooklyn, in Borough Park, and I went to the grocery and they don’t have wine. You have to go to a liquor store to buy wine. So I had to go like seven blocks to buy the wine. All these little things that you don’t think of but I find very annoying sometimes.
And the first couple days I was here, I thought my husband was going to laugh at me when I told him, I said, you know what, l can’t get used to it, everybody’s talking English. I keep thinking, oh they’re talking English, they’re talking English. I thought he was going to laugh at me. He said he felt the same way when he came. It’s funny, little things like that.
Even though I did live in the states for a long time, I’m not used to the products anymore. I have to look around. Certain things I remember, but it takes much longer in the supermarket. I took my kids to the store today, this was so funny. There were all six of them, at Bradlees, and then we went to Shop and Save. In Bradlees, my kids aren’t used to, first of all, these big stores. In Israel, you have a couple of big department stores in the major cities. Usually you have very small specialized stores. If 1 go to town and I need four or five different things, I have to go to four or five different stores. You can’t buy everything in one store like you can here.
So first of all they’re completely awed by the store, then they’re not used to someone ringing up the order and somebody else bagging. So here we were at Bradlees, the check out girl, the cashier, is ringing up all of our things, and she’s giving it to this other woman to put in the bag. My six‑year‑old who’s watching them and watching them, he starts getting this worried look on his face. Finally he said, She’s giving them all of our things. He didn’t realize that she was just putting them in the bag for us!
Then of course the scanners at the supermarket they have never seen before, so they were fascinated by it. It’s been a real cultural experience. My sister got a big kick out of it the other day because we didn’t know what Marshmallow Fluff was. Oh, it’s more of an interest to the kids. But it’s been an adjustment being moved all around. We rented an apartment in New York but it wasn’t ready so we had to stay in a basement apartment for a week and then we came here.
Living here for the coming year while my husband works in New Jersey would have meant moving the whole family. We won’t, mainly because, especially Tzippy and Yosef, their English is not up to par. Their English is not at all what an American’s could be, although their Hebrew now is getting pretty. ‘l’he younger kids especially are doing pretty good. Sarah and Miriam because I gave them private English lessons, they would manage fine. But the older kids, because of when we went, and they had to concentrate so much and we didn’t continue the English right away, they really lost out. But they’re managing okay. After six years of living in Israel, they have New York accents. Which is funny, because even my husband does not have a strong New York accent. But other people in his family do. And there are a lot of people in our community who come from New York. Don’t see these experiences as being separate simply because in your memory thinqs qet so muddled. You sort of smoosh things together here and there as you go along. Like when we first went to Israel, there were so many things that were so similar to Honduras.. There are similarities inland in the hills, and the major industrial cities are on the coast. It’s exactly like in Honduras. In fact, for almost the first year we were in Israel, we kept referring to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Tegucigalpa and San Pedro. We were calling them the wrong names. I don’t know. You look back. What would you do differently? I don’t know. I’m not the kind of person that, and I don’t think our parents were, to say, ‘Oh gee, if only I had done this, I should have done it this way. I should have been this. What would have happened if I had done this?”
I think we got some of that from Mummy and Daddy too. You think things out as best as you can before you make your decisions and afterwards you have to believe that you made the best decision you could at that time and that’s it. There’s nothing else you can do about it. And Mummy and Daddy were always very happy. Not complaining. I don’t even know that it was a conscious effort, or any kind of planning again. It’s just where it seems to be going. Live according to your beliefs.
I happened to see that notice about the Peace Corps specifically at that time when I was thinking of changing universities. It appealed to me also because I got to graduate early, because we went through the summer and they paid for the summers, I saved money too.
I don’t know, 1 didn’t see it as a risk. It just seemed like something interesting. I don’t know. I don’t think that there’s anybody in my background or anything I did in high school or anything that.
On the other hand, I probably would have been perfectly happy marrying somebody and living in Sanford and growing up in one little country town.
There’s a saying in Hebrew, a very popular saying, not a proverb. rt comes from what they call the ‘Sayings of the Fathers.’ It sounds funny when you translate it. Basically it translates, “Who’s a rich person? The person who’s happy with his lot.”
The person’s who’s happy with his lot is rich. But thank God I’ve never been starving, I’ve got a nice husband, reasonably nice normal kids, it’s easy for me to say. You know, when I was in Honduras it was just my husband and I. It was an adventure. It was exciting. It was something different. It was temporary. I have never had to put that saying to the test when I was struggling, really, really struggling.”