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 – CXC. The Early Days (4 of 5)

On the second day, we purchased croissants and coffee and ate our breakfast with the Palachi in the dining room. This was a breakfast-meeting, and views were solicited from everybody. So what was on the agenda? Discuss what our (the Ezri family) options were. We were soon joined by another Egyptian. He was single, and in his early thirties. I no longer remember his name, therefore, I will call him Benjamin, or Ben for short. Ben also resided at La Veloce. He was there awaiting the arrival of his final immigration papers; his destination: Melbourne, Australia.

Ben asked us if he was intruding, and volunteered to eat his breakfast somewhere else. “Not at all,” was the collective response. Indeed, we made it clear that we would welcome his input.

The first question was where to stay? La Veloce was the obvious choice. We were already there, therefore why move? Also, how could we be sure we could find a better hotel? You have already been apprised of the advantages and disadvantages of this inn, and that was discussed at length. At the end of this discussion dad and mom agreed to stay put. What tipped the balance was that the Palachi and Ben found the place very welcoming. The owners and the staff were warm, and genuinely empathized with our difficult predicament. Since this discussion was conducted within earshot of the owners and staff, we communicated in Arabic only.

How to survive considering that we had very little money on us? There were three scenarios here: you were immigrating to another country outside of Israel; were going to Israel; or were going to stay in Italy (of course, for that you had to be an Italian national).

In the first instance, the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) paid for all your expenses, and as far as I know, helped you when you arrived in your new country. This applied to Ben who was going to Australia.

Under the second scenario, the Jewish Agency covered all your expenses while waiting in Genoa for the first ship going to Israel. In Israel, they took care of you for a long time after your arrival. This, at this stage, didn’t apply to any of us.

In the third case, the local Jewish community provided you with an allowance until you settled in Italy. This applied to the Palachi who were waiting for their first allowance – from the Genoa Jewish Community – to arrive. Indeed a Mr. Levy was going to call and arrange for a time to come and deliver their first cheque.

Nisso took this opportunity to call Mr. Levy and try to arrange a meeting to discuss his own situation. And this gentleman agreed to meet with my father on the day he was coming for the Palachi.

The meeting between Nessim and Signor (Mr.) Levy was something to behold. I happened to be there on that day, and since Levy was fluent in French, I didn’t miss anything.

Both were seasoned businessmen, and excellent actors! At the onset dad assumed that being Egyptian he would have the upper hand; but the gentleman from the Jewish Community quickly showed him that beating a Genovese (inhabitant of Genoa) businessman was no easy matter. After all these years, if I have to declare a winner, it would be Signor Levy.

So what transpired between these two?

Levy conducted the whole discussion calmly. He talked slowly to the point that you forgot after a while what was said earlier! It could have been a confusing tactic, a personality trait, or the fact that he spoke French (not his native tongue). After witnessing their meeting, I opt for the latter.

The first thing that Levy said was that the Genoa’s Jewish Community was small and not particularly rich, and that, therefore, the allowance they could afford to pay was limited. Nevertheless, he would make sure it was enough for a family of four to live on.

It was now Nisso’s turn to talk. Yes, he did appreciate the circumstances and was very thankful for the community willingness to help newcomers. That said, he hoped that Levy would take into account that he would need help beyond the rent of his room and food.

To this, Levy nodded his head many times.

Note that at this stage, not a word was whispered about money. Negotiating this amount would be Act II.

And it was my father that finally fired the first shot. I blanched when I heard the amount. But then I realized that this was only his opening salvo, he knew that he was never going to get that.

“If Genoa had many Jewish millionaires, I would gladly pay you that amount; sadly, many Jews here can barely manage,” said Signor Levy.

Dad lowered his amount and the negotiations went on. Nisso knew that there was a ceiling (for a family of four) beyond which this man was not authorized to go. But what was it? Hard as he tried, he could not determine it, for, early on, his sly adversary realized what Nessim was up to!

I have seen that happen many times when I helped my father in his business; therefore, when Signor Levy took his notebook and a pen, I knew that the play was about to conclude. He asked dad to dictate all his necessary expenses, and my father obliged him. Everything was there, and for variable costs such as transportation, Levy made a generous estimate. He then added the whole thing and handed it to Nessim who rechecked the addition made a few minor changes and passed it back to Levy. Mr. Levy nodded, and both men shook hands.

You know the expression, “one more thing.” Well, it was invented by Italians! “One more thing, Signor Ezri. This allowance is paid out if you settle in Italy. Do you really intend to live here?”

“If we can find work, and the proper accomodations, I would love to. If not, we will have to immigrate to another country,” Nessim replied

Before leaving, Signor Levy suggested to my father to try his luck in Milan. Milan is an industrial and business centre and it offered better opportunities than Genoa. We would indeed go to Milan, but before I talk of this visit, let me talk of Genoa, for that is where we spent most of our time while in Italy.

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