Interview: 21 Years in Israel

During my visit to Israel last November, I met up with an old friend, Paula Gaon, who has been living in Israel for many years now. She kindly agreed to an interview.

-So, how long have you been living in Israel?

21 years in September.

-Where did you live when you first moved to Israel?

I lived on a kibbutz near Jerusalem while studying in a university level ulpan (intense Hebrew language course) and working part-time on the kibbutz. It was a very interesting experience since most of the students were from the former Soviet Union. After ulpan, I even spoke Hebrew with a Russian accent. At the time, I didn't have much confidence about speaking to Israelis. So I tended to speak only with Russian speakers, a more level playing field.

-How long were you on the kibbutz, and what were your impressions of it?

I was on that kibbutz for only six months. This kibbutz was one of the large, veteran, very successful, kibbutzim. It seemed to have been very well managed - nothing wasted & kibbutz members very settled into their jobs. But, as an ulpan student and temporary resident, most members didn't take much notice of us, nor were they interested in getting to know most of us. Of course ulpanistim were given the least desirable jobs - like employees from manpower agencies & regarded as pretty disposable. In general, kibbutz members, at least at that time on that kibbutz, were quite closed to most things outside their world - including the need for common courtesy. I don't want to sound too negative here. The day-to-day life was really quite pleasant & it was wonderful having so many chores, like laundry & meals taken care of and very well done.

-Where did you go after the kibbutz?

After ulpan on kibbutz, the story starts to get complicated, at least time-wise. But looking back on it, I realize that it was really more the same. So I'll stick to the essentials.

After ulpan, I spent the next two and a half years on two other kibbutzim in the north, southern part of the Galilee. Both were religious and newer. Neither remained kibbutzim. As far as I know, both are now yeshuvim, settlements. I was actually up for membership on the first of the two, but soon saw that this was not going to be. In any case, I managed to get the kind of work on both that allowed me to hone language skills. So from there, I moved to Beit El in the Shamron Sumaria. Beit El was a large National Religious (Dati Leumi) Settlement. Understand that religious communities do not typically like single people, especially single women. So it was somewhat rare that I moved there. But they did areas that single people live in.

OK, so to continue with the Beit El chapter. I had been in Israel just over three years at this point. In all honesty, this is the time that I probably should have returned to the USA. Beit El was a very nice place, but I really came to understand the differences in Israeli and Ameriican mentality. For example, I was always invited by friends for sabbath and holidays meals. Why? Because a single person can't possibly manage. Have to admit that I did resent the fact that people wanted to feel sorry for me because I was single - couldn't understand that I've been alone most of my adult life and had long, long ago realized that that was not likely to change. They just couldn't get it and somehow felt that thay had to be partly responsibe for my well-being and at the same time resented the responsibility.

With all that, the four years at Beit El were nice ones. I came to realize that religious people are people just like everyone else - with the same challenges and obligations. And the people there are kind & decent folks.

My challenge was having to fall back on teaching elementary school English to earn a living. At the time, the Ministry of Education was so desperate for elementary English teachers that they financed certification courses for English-speaking academics.

I had substituted some, so they begged me to sign up for the certification course and teach a few hours at an elementary school in Jerusalem. This is the time that I referred to earlier as the time I should have returned to the USA. In all honesty, have to admit that I was worried about finding my niche in the American workforce, and being able to manage health insurance. Nonetheless, teaching in the public school system was a disaster from the very beginning - talking about a square peg in a round hole! The seminar did put me on probation for awhile, but they were so desperate that they even asked me to continue when I offered to quit. In any case, I did leave. But wasn't the only one. Most of those who went through this course eventually left. Looks like every body learned something from this experience.