Home in Morocco for Soly Anidjar was an apartment with servants and family holidays. When her family arrived in Israel, they did not have electricity, running water, a paved road or enough beds to sleep in. There are lessons there for today’s French immigrants: they have it comparatively cushy – yet substantial numbers return to France every year. (With thanks to the author and to Michelle)
Every year, more and more French Jews decide to settle in Israel: a sometimes painful choice, often dictated by the rise in anti-Semitic acts in France. Many French Jews who came to settle in Israel eventually leave, often after having a difficult time integrating. They have left behind language, work, money, family, country of birth, school, friends, classmates, neighbours, the synagogue, Sunday as the official day of rest over a lifetime. Plus they have the headache of finding accommodation. Where can we put the sideboard, the Louis XIV and Louis XV armchairs? In Israel the kitchen is the dining room. In short, they feel fobbed off, stifled. The young people didn’t want to leave France – their parents decided for them.
Nobody promises Eldorado. Aliya is complex and difficult. Wages are low compared to France, plus you use up all your savings. The reality of everyday life is far from what they dreamed of. When you arrive in Israel, you have to start from scratch. Then there’s the abrasive Israeli, who doesn’t say thank you, jumps the queue, he’s rude, very rude. But he is always giving up his seat on the bus and always keep his door open, and comes knocking on your door to offer you bread and cakes all warm from the oven to wish you Shabbat shalom and happy birthday.
When it came to overcoming hurdles of language and qualification, I’ve learned to speak Darija Moroccan Arabic, so they could understand me – few spoke French in Ashdod.
The airplane ticket made provision for us to bring in three giant-sized suitcases, but we had the right to only one suitcase. Dad paid back the price of the tickets to the Jewish Agency over ten years.
The Sal Klita, (absorption basket to help new immigrants with their basic needs) of approximately 4,000 euros for a single person was beyond our wildest dreams. In 1966 it did not exist.
The tax breaks did not exist in 1966.
Free social security for the first year did not exist in 1966.
French schools and lycees did not exist in 1966.
Family allowances did not exist in 1966.
It’s not because you’re a patissier in France that you will become a patissier in Israel. The job centre will encourage you to learn an extra trade and try your luck for free. Besides they’ll give you a paycheck (Avtakhat Akhnassa), for the long months that learning the new job will take.
We had a nice apartment with two servants in Casablanca and holidayed in Spain every year.
Here no-one knew about holidays. We lived in a tiny apartment of 48 sq.m (the size of our balcony in Casablanca). We were allocated four iron bedsteads, four mattresses and army issue grey blankets, an oil stove and a table measuring one metre squared. There were five of us, but they must have thought we would take it in turns to sleep.
Our household goods stayed in Haifa for months. We were not in a hurry for them as we had no power: the fridge, the washing machine, the television and the gas oven did not budge. The cost of transporting them by truck from Haifa to Ashdod was exorbitant.
The economic difficulties, and the hardships of integration are part of aliyah whether it takes a year or 50.
I came in 1966. There were five of us – Dad, mum, my two sisters and me. I’m the eldest.
Rising out of the desert, Ashdod today
For six months we lived without electricity and on an untarmacked road, mountains of sand surrounding the fifteen houses that existed in the Gimel neighborhood where I lived. The houses were not yet finished, there were no shops, the grocery store did not exist. Once a day a cart passed by with bread, once a day a pickup truck came with blocks of ice that we put in dishes, laundry bowls and bathtubs. The milkman and oil merchant came with their wagon hitched to a donkey. Dad was without work for the first few months. In Casablanca, he was director of the Water Board. Here he watered the JNF trees for four hours. He was 40 and this was the era of mass migration of Jews to Israel form Arab countries and Europe. Later he did his military service and entered the police force.
One year after our arrival, the Six-Day war broke out. It was new for us all : we finally had electricity but it was war. We were not used to this – it was the end of the world, the sky was falling on our heads.
In the 1950s and up to the 1970s the conditions Sephardim lived in were very hard. It took a few decades for the Ashkenazi political establishment to publicly recognize the huge mistakes that they had committed in their reception and integration of Sephardim from Arab countries. For years we were Morocco Sakin.
The Israeli Black Panthers began their movement in 1971 in Musrara, near Jerusalem, in response to discrimination. Saadia Marciano was our spokesperson. Improving living conditions for Sephardim wasn’t considered a priority by the government. For them, we didn’t exist.
The Sephardi cities of the south of the country, a real desert – Dimona, Ashkelon, Beersheva, Ashdod, Yeruham, Netivot, Kiryat-Gat, Kiryat Malakhi – have risen to the challenge. They have greatly contributed to the social and economic development of Israel. Our Ulpan teacher told us that his father arrived in Israel in 1921. He had to drain the swamps in the Jezreel valley (Afula). When I walk in that place with its wonderful and majestic landscapes, I say to myself, “it’s amazing what we have achieved in the past hundred years”. I hope that future generations can do the same. Israel is a human adventure, unique and unprecedented. It’s a bubbling human lab where ethnic groups from the four corners of the world have learned to live together.