Helen and Roby Osimo met at Kibbutz Hagoshrim during the Six Day War. The Jewish Agency volunteer program has probably been responsible for enough marriages to rival any Jewish dating agency, and many of those idealistic and patriotic youngsters who left their jobs and homes to volunteer during that traumatic period in 1967 returned to become some of the most successful olim from Western countries.
Helen was born in London. She was working as a secretary for Marks and Spencer and preparing to train as a buyer when news of the war in Israel spurred the entire staff to action.
The board of M&S at that time was mainly Jewish and Zionist, and those employees who went to Israel to help in the war effort were given guarantees that their jobs were waiting for them. When they returned, they discovered that they had been paid their salaries in full during that period.
Helen had already done the Shnat Sherut program at Kibbutz Usha, and so had a little knowledge of Hebrew. The English group was sent to Hagoshrim, where they were joined by volunteers from all over the world, including Italy. There, Helen and Roby began a romance that has lasted a lifetime.
Roberto Osimo’s second name, Salvatore (Savior), is unusual for a Jewish boy, but it was indeed his mother’s pregnancy that saved the family during World War II and allowed them into Switzerland after the borders were closed.
In 1945, they returned to their home in Alessandria, a small town between Turin and Genoa. Their home and his father’s dental clinic had been destroyed. In 1954, his father died suddenly, and with no social benefits, the family had to move to Milan, where there was a bigger Jewish community and better work opportunities. Roby, the youngest of five, and his siblings were helped by Jewish organizations to finish studying for their professions.
He completed a course in electronic engineering and computers and was conscripted into the Italian Army.
Just before the Six Day War, he had intended to go to England for some strawberry-picking and to learn English. Instead, he volunteered to go with a group to Israel in spite of his family’s concern. After a short period at a moshav where the volunteers did not have enough to do and were treated as guests, the group was transferred to Hagoshrim.
“I had intended to go home after a month, but I liked Helen and I liked Israel – I’m not sure which came first,” quips Roby.
Roby was contacted by the Defense Ministry and referred to Elbit, which at that stage was a start-up computer company in Haifa. He was apprenticed there, but before finalizing aliya, he returned to Italy to see his family and on to England to marry Helen.
“My parents were very opposed to me marrying an Italian and making aliya. They thought it had been a holiday romance,” says Helen, “but when Roby drove in from Milan, they were swept off their feet.”
Immediately after the wedding in 1968, the couple made aliya, and Roby worked at Elbit until he retired a few months ago in the position of program manager in integrated logistic support.
For Helen, the transition was more difficult.
There was no family to support them, and it took time to make friends and feel at home.
“I had volunteered young and single on the threshold of a new career. Within just over a year I was an Israeli, a wife and a mother,” she says.
There was a point when Helen could easily have settled back in her home country: Roby worked for Elscint in England for two years, starting in 1973.
“I was back in my comfort zone. I had lots of friends and could have gone back to my job,” she recalls. Roby, however, was anxious to return to Israel.
She did utilize that time to complete studies in teaching English as a foreign language, a new discipline at that time.
On their return to Haifa, they began to make friends. Helen, who had just given birth to her third child, attended the local mother-andbaby group, where there were a number of English-speaking immigrants, and they joined the Moriah Masorti Synagogue.
But life changed in February 1979, when they were driving to Netanya and were hit head-on by a car speeding out of control.
Their three children were badly hurt and hospitalized for a month. But for Helen and Roby, it was a seven-month trauma in the hospital, followed by months of rehabilitation.
Roby suffered internal injuries, and Helen was in traction with spinal and other orthopedic injuries. It was a test of their relationship, that at their request, they were cared for in the same hospital room for all that time.
“All these years later, I am still piecing together the puzzle of what happened that day,” says Helen. “I remember setting out from home, and that is all. For the first few days, both of us were barely conscious.”
Both their families arrived from overseas to help, but it was the ongoing support of so many friends that kept the family functioning.
“Some of these were new friends, but they all came, to help with the children, to visit us, take care of everyday problems,” she says.
During her long convalescence, Helen started to study for a BA in English literature and language, later taking her master’s in linguistics and recently receiving a PhD. Her doctoral thesis has been published.
With her first degree, she worked at the Technion, and in 1984, she embarked on a career at the Oranim Academic College. For several years, she taught and was coordinator of English for Academic Purposes, lecturing in applied linguistics in the English department.
Now officially retired, she still teaches some courses, presents at conferences and writes teaching materials.
SOCIAL LIFE AND INTERESTS
Helen loves folk dancing, walking on the beach, and gardening, and she and Roby belong to a hiking group. Helen has belonged to a book club for over 30 years, is learning Italian and now takes a course in textile art.
“Why do you get up so early?” asks her granddaughter, and Helen replies that there’s so much to do, it’s a pity to waste time sleeping.
Roby also wasted no time after retiring. He goes swimming regularly, cooks, volunteers at the National Insurance Institute in advising the elderly, teaches Italian and is now serving a second term as chairman of the Masorti Synagogue.
One of the greatest joys they share is enrichment activities with their nine grandchildren.
Their son lives in England, while their two daughters are in Israel. Roby teaches the children to make pasta, and Helen involves them in her own activities; she likes to take them to ballet and teaches them English.
After 43 years in the country, Helen sums up: “Israel has really developed, it is more sophisticated, but I still have a problem with behavior of the public.”
What keeps them here? The two agree: “We have very good friends and a wonderful social and cultural life. We don’t agree with the politics much of the time, but on a personal level we are very happy.”
Adds Helen, “There is a also feeling of fulfillment.
I feel I have made a small difference through my professional life. I wonder if I would have gone down the same path had I stayed in England.”