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 – Italy – CCXVII. Our Immigration Options (7 of 10)

Israel for many years was under incredible immigration constraints. To explain myself let me take Canada as an example.

Canada today has some 33 million people; for the last 20 years, it has admitted about 250,000 immigrants per year. That’s less than 1% of its population; and it is considered as a generous immigration policy when you consider how difficult it is to integrate newcomers in a country.

Israel never had the luxury of setting any quotas. If a Jew came knocking on its door, he was admitted.

Between 1948 and 1958 the population of Israel grew from 800,000 (including the Arab population) to 2 million. That’s an enormous jump, and any sane person will tell that it’s impossible to integrate so many people. But it happened, for there was no choice in the matter.

The Jews of Egypt left gradually, and many never went to Israel. Not so for many Arab countries. There was mass expulsions and hundreds of thousands came to Israel in a short time span.

Parallel to that, the communist bloc in East Europe allowed many of its Jews to leave. This was an opportunity not to be missed, for individuals in communist countries did not have the freedom to leave their states.

How do you integrate so many people? More so, if you consider that many of them were illiterate and had lived in primitive conditions. One cannot conceive a solution to such a problem; but the Jewish Agency (the agency in charge of immigration) managed to do the impossible.

Tents cities were erected to house the masses. I don’t need to tell you that there was no running water or electricity! To say that the conditions were primitive is to grossly understate the case. Some of my cousins who had arrived early in Israel told me horror stories; alas, space does not permit me to relate even some of them.

Work was sporadic; and often it was digging ditches, work in construction, or be hired by a moshav or kibbutz who needed laborers for their factories or fields.

Medical care was good for there was a lot of doctors looking for employment. Indeed, some of them were, well, digging ditches!

And that’s only some of the difficulties encountered by the returning Jews.

How was all this funded? Jews from across the world (but specially the U.S.) were sending substantial amounts of money. America, always generous, was sending grants amounting to billion of dollars. But all that still wasn’t enough. It was at this point that Israel received an offer it couldn’t refuse.

West Germany offered war reparation to Israel. It was to make up for the holocaust, albeit in a small way. Not only would the state receive funds for many years, but the holocaust survivors would individually be compensated for the horrors they have gone through. (The survivors received reparations wherever they were in the world, they only needed to apply and prove their case).

There was an outcry in Israel, for in the eyes of many, this was money tainted with blood. Nevertheless, the government of Israel did sign a reparation agreement with Germany. They rationalized the deal by pointing out that the Germany of the fifties was far removed from Nazi Germany; and that it was never implied that these compensations would wipe the slate clean. That, of course, was impossible.

Relatives and friends who had gone to Israel wrote to us while we were still in Egypt. Because Israel was at war with Egypt, letters were sent via other parties living in Europe or elsewhere; as well, they were written in a “code” agreed upon since they could be censored. But, the censors were not stupid, and on the strength of this correspondence, Egyptian newspapers were able to write detailed articles regarding the appalling conditions prevailing in Israel!

Thus, if letters didn’t inform us, the press did, while deriding their enemy! Simply put, we all knew what to expect.

Perhaps you can now understand why Israel was for many Egyptians a country to go to when all else has failed. Conversely, for many others, Israel was the only destination that made sense. They didn’t want to find themselves again among people who may or may not tolerate them.

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