An Aboriginal aliya (maybe)

Meet Warramoonga, the Australian Aborigine, who along with his wife and four small children are the Jewish Agency's ultimate success story.

By
February 28, 2007 10:57

Warramoonga is a hard man to track down. At any given moment, he could be anywhere-at the beach in Herzliya, spearing fish; practicing his boomerang tossing in Ra'anana Park; crouching low over some bare ground south of Ra'anana, trapping crickets or digging for edible worms and grubs; or maybe just relaxing in his Ben Gurion Street apartment, surfing the Internet on his sleek, new laptop computer. At this moment, however, he is to be found at The Coffee Bean cafe on Ra'anana's Rehov Ahuza, enjoying a lavish Friday morning breakfast with his wife and four children. Although there are still one or two empty tables at this early hour, the six of them squat on their haunches in a small circle, with their food and drinks on the floor in front of them. "What the hell," says Bindiboo, wife and mother, as she tosses back her head with a throaty laugh, "We're just more comfortable sitting this way. If this is what we like, then this is what we like." Bindiboo drains her large cappuccino with one powerful gulp, as the children quarrel noisily over the last of the French toast, and Warramoonga plays a soft, twangy melody on a small jews-harp he has pulled from the side of his loincloth. Warramoonga and his family are Australian Aborigines who, by a strange combination of circumstances, found themselves on an airplane to Israel some three years ago, classed as olim hadashim, or new immigrants. "We still haven't quite figured out how this happened," says Jewish Agency head Zion Ismyhomeski, shrugging his shoulders. "All we know is that there was some kind of computer glitch, a mix-up in our files, and a Jewish Agency field representative in Canberra who got to be a little too fond of Foster's Lager. Alright, let's face it, it's great beer, and those big blue cans are kind of hard to resist. Anyway, however it may have come about, they're here. The way I look at it, what with all the aggravation I face in this job 24/7, a bunch of boomerang-throwing Aborigines should be my biggest problem." While Bindiboo and the children-four boys, all below the age of five-took the rather abrupt change in their lives in stride, Warramoonga, somewhere in his early 50s, found the transition somewhat difficult to absorb. "I mean, think about it for a minute," he says, buttering the last of his whole wheat toast. "One minute, you're gamboling around in the Outback, dropping these really big stones off the top of Ayers Rock and braining kangaroos and wallabies down below, and the next thing you know you're in Economy Class on an El Al jumbo jet on you're way to God knows where, with a cute young stewardess screaming at you for having too much carry-on luggage." Nevertheless, Warramoonga remains philosophical. "Look, it wasn't all kinkajou stew back there," he wryly admits. "I'm an Arunta tribesman from Alice Springs. Bindiboo is a Tiwi from up north in Melville Island. We're a mixed marriage. Our families gave us a lot of hassle." Tzippi Bar None, housemother at Ra'anana's Absorption Center for new immigrants, smiles and chuckles as she remembers the Aborigines' time at the facility. "I'll never forget the day they showed up here - the whole bunch of them, naked as jaybirds. Funny thing though, their appearance that first day attracted hardly any attention at all, because at more or less the same moment they arrived a family from Canada came who were, if anything, much more peculiar." Social worker Bogdana Chmielnitzky recalls how quickly the family began to adapt to their new home. "We sent all four of the children to the nearest elementary school, whereafter their boomerangs were confiscated by the principal and they were given a little Ritalin, they settled down and did very well. Warramoonga and Bindiboo, meanwhile, quickly rocketed to the top of their ulpan class, leaving all of their Anglo classmates in the dust." She throws back her head and laughs a bitter, mirthless laugh. "By their second month, the two of them were speaking Hebrew almost as well as the Russians." Not that there weren't a few problems at the beginning. "They'd have these loud "corroborees" in their apartment, painting their bodies and dancing around a bonfire in their living room. They kept everyone up half the night with their drums and bullroarers," says Chmielnitsky. "Then there was the time Warramoonga dropped by and offered to show me his didgeridoo. Oy va voy, I thought he was talking dirty and threw him out of my office." And finally, there remains the as yet unresolved issue of the rare emu that went missing from Ra'anana Park's zoo at around the same time Warramoonga and his family decided to emulate their American neighbors and celebrate Thanksgiving. Despite these minor incidents, however, both the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption consider the Aborigines' absorption a resounding success, for which they jointly claim credit. Sunday morning finds Warramoonga on the 504 bus from Ra'anana to Tel Aviv, where he is employed as a technical writer. He is seated, as always, in the seat immediately in front of the rear door, so as not to be disturbed by people inconsiderate enough to talk loudly into their cell phones. He keeps his own cell phone, tucked into his loincloth, set on "vibrate." His spear rests against the window to his right; his boomerang hangs from the back of the seat in front of him. He pulls a pair of reading glasses out of his loincloth and begins to page his way though a copy of The Jerusalem Post, glowering angrily at the headlines. "I don't know where the hell this country is headed," he growls to no one in particular. "Scandal, corruption, government incompetence - this has been the worst year since I've been here. Sometimes I don't know why I stay!" As the traffic comes to a halt at Morasha Junction, Warramoonga gazes irritably out the window, grabs his cell phone and calls Bindiboo, who is attending an ESRA sponsored lecture on "Women's Empowerment" before doing a bit of shopping at the Mall. He reminds her of their bank overdraft; she reminds him that today is the third anniversary of their arrival in Israel and suggests meeting for dinner at D'Mangal, his favorite barbeque restaurant on Ahuza Street. Warramoonga snaps the phone shut, puts it back in his loincloth, and settles back into his seat with a sigh. He can almost taste the kebabs, humous and salads as he girds himself for another day at work.


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