Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And the Rest is History

Bear with me, if you will, for a bit of nostalgia. This will not
be my usual Plautian posting.

Today, Jan. 19, 2011, is exactly the thirtieth anniversary of the
day of my becoming an Israeli.

I thought you might enjoy the telling of that tale.

I flew out of New York in an ice storm on Jan. 18, 1981, and
arrived in Lod airport the following afternoon, local time. I had
come to the "Jewish Agency" offices in Cleveland two months earlier to
get set up. I entered the office of the "shaliach" or emissary for
those making aliyah. "I am moving to Israel in two months," I
announce. "No, you can't," he explains, "There is just not enough
time to get set up." "There is nothing to set up," I answer. "But we
cannot get you into an 'Absorption Center' in so little time," he
says. "That is ok, I do not want to go to any Absorption Center," I
say. "Well, ok, but we cannot get you into a Hebrew language ulpan in
so little time," he says." "That is ok," I say, "I already speak
Hebrew fluently." "Well, ok, but we cannot help you find a job in so
little time," he says." "That is ok, I already have a job there," say
I. "But we do not have time to help you find an apartment in which
to live," he says. "That is ok, I will go rent my own apartment, just
as I do here in Ohio, thank you very much," I say. "Well, in that
case, if everything is taken care of, what are you doing here?" he
asks. "I just need a form from you so I can buy a one-way El Al
ticket," I say. Thus endeth my "absorption" preparation.

Anyhow, I arrive at Lod airport on Jan. 19, the only immigrant on
my flight, during a month that held a record for the low number of
people immigrating to Israel. The local Ministry of Absorption
offices in the airport send someone to the gate to conduct me to their
"absorption" offices, meaning the place where I get an ID card. I am
also offered tea and stale bread and margarine. My suitcases were
left worryingly back next to the luggage belt.

"Ok," say I, "I am ready to head for Haifa." "No, not yet, we
cannot send off a driver and a taxi to take you to Haifa until we have
some additional immigrants to share the ride, so you have to wait for
the next flight to come in." "I would rather pay for the taxi myself
and get going," say I. "No, you cannot, it is against regulations."
So we wait for two more flights to arrive, on which there are no
immigrants at all. Finally I announce I am jet lagged and do not feel
good so I am leaving.

At that point they call out the Ministry of Immigration driver,
himself a relatively new immigrant from Soviet Georgia. "Where to,"
he asks. "To Haifa," say I. "Haifa, where is Haifa? How do we get
there?" the driver asks the fellow who just got off the plane. "I
will show you," say I.

And off we go to Haifa. As we get close, he asks where I need
inside the city. The Zion Hotel, say I, having reserved a $30 per
night dive back in the era many years before the internet. "How do we
get there," asks the old-veteran of a driver. "Beats me," says the
new arrival, "Can you ask those people standing on the sidewalk where
the hotel is?" "I can't," says the driver, "My Hebrew is not good
enough. But you speak Hebrew fine so you should go over and ask
them." (I later hear horror stories of new immigrants from Canada
who drove around Beer Sheba for 3 hours aimlessly cause their Ministry
of Absorption driver spoke no Hebrew.)

Eventually we find the hotel, which today has been converted into
an office building for municipal welfare services. I know that,
because I went back to visit it today. After I check in, I ask if I
can get something to eat. I get more tea, stale bread and margarine.
But the TV is on in the dining room, showing the news on the one
single Israeli TV channel that operates, which broadcasts only in
black and white so that Israelis will not spend money on color TV
sets. I sit back and watch. The Begin government that very evening
has announced the appointment of a new Minister of Finance, Yoram
Aridor. And Aridor is being interviewed about what his new policies
will be. He plans to expand money printing while freezing the
exchange rate and flooding Israel with new cheap imported consumer
goods to buy off the public that is sick of the rising inflation. I
run to the front desk. "Call my taxi back," I say after watching
Aridor, "I want him to take me back to the airport!" "Sorry, he has
gone," says the clerk.

And now, thirty years later, still in Haifa, the rest is history!

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