Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Israel – CCXXXV. The Ma’abarot Stage (11 of 26)

Before we even visited the offices of the Soukhnout in Tel-Aviv we were on a war footing; and we were not alone in this “war.”

The din in this place was incredible.  If you were timid, nobody paid any attention to you.  This, however, was a problem that didn’t affect any new immigrants.  Points were made by shouting and banging on tables.  The benches in the sitting rooms were fixed to the floor; otherwise they would have been overturned or worse still would have been hurled across the room.

The police were called numerous times every day.  One had to wonder why they did not have a detachment stationed there on a permanent basis!  That said, I never witnessed any arrest.  Gentle persuasion was their weapon of choice.  They played the role of good cops only; bad cops were nowhere to be seen.  They must have learned from past experience that peacemaking rather than policing worked better.  Once the police came on the scene and discussed the issues with the immigrants and the officials, concerns were alleviated.

We considered the officials we dealt with as adversaries from the get-go!  No matter how often they said yihyeh tov (it will be fine).

The multitude of languages spoken was not an issue; many languages were spoken by the Soukhnout’s employees.  Origin was a different story; the race card was freely used.  Thus, you heard an immigrant shouting, “You are not granting my request because I am Sephardic.”  “You are automatically assuming that I am devious because I am Romanian.”  (This to a Romanian-speaking bureaucrat!).

You had to be very dedicated, or badly in need of a job to work there.  When I look back today, I have to admit that the Soukhnout, given enough time, solved all our major problems.  Then why the bad blood that existed back then?  The simple answer was that it would have been impossible for the JA to alleviate all the troubles of the newcomers.  The olim, on the other hand were in pain:  Inadequate housing; no money; back-breaking work; long-waiting time to be sent to a vocational school or an ulpan to learn Hebrew; and so on.  It was simply put a very difficult situation for both parties.

Was there ever discrimination?  Yes, plenty.  When we were finally moved to Bat Yam near Tel Aviv, we found a ma’abara where Polish olim dominated.  The few Romanians, Hungarians, and Yugoslavians, complained of discrimination.  There were a few (well-educated) Egyptians who joked about the fact that they were beginning to learn Polish!

While I am not excusing the discriminatory stance taken by the JA, I am reminded that we root for our own.  We are human after all, and many polish officials in the JA had clout (or so it was rumored).

To give you an actual example, let me turn to Nessim’s request to the JA to help him establish a business.

The first bureaucrat asked dad if he had any money.  When he was informed that dad had only the clothing on his back, he suggested the obvious, a loan.  But then he quickly added that the Soukhnout had little money to spare.  Nisso countered that he had extensive business experience and that their loan would be secured by his inventory and other assets.  The official advised us that he had to consult with his manager, and to come back on another day.  But my father stood his grounds; there was no way he was going back to Kfar-Saba empty handed.

There was a meeting with a manager who told dad that because no business opportunities existed in Kfar-Saba, he needed to reside closer to Tel-Aviv.  “Well, this   is our top priority,” said Nisso.  The manager assured him that strong consideration was given for such a move.

After a few more trips and meetings, the loan was given tentative approval.  Why tentative?  He had to obtain a richayon (permit) first.  So how can he acquire a richayon?

More trips, more meetings, lots of yelling, and banging on the walls and tables by both dad and mom!  I’ll spare you the details; the bottom line is that richayonim (permits) are precious; many criteria must be met before one is handed out.

Eventually a solution emerged.  First, we had to move near Tel Aviv; they promised us that this would be happening soon.  Second, it had to be a business that was needed in this area.  So far so good.  Finally, dad had to enter into a partnership with a disabled person, for they get priority when it comes to richayonim.  This took us by surprise, but dad agreed.  His question though was how can that individual deal with all the work involved in running a business.  The reference apparently was not to a person in a wheelchair; sightless; deaf; or otherwise with limited capacity to function.  Nisso smartly did not ask additional questions.  There would be plenty of time to find out what they meant by disability.

Despite the dead-ends we came across, the Soukhnout managed to help us settle in Israel.  True, it took years; but they did it for us and countless other families.

So what happened in our case?

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