Carole Rosenblatt 88 224.
(photo credit: YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO)
'I didn't leave Miami to live in Egypt!" Carole Rosenblatt, one of the original group who made aliya to settle Yamit, made headlines in 1978 with her incisive comment to an American reporter.
Four years previously, Rosenblatt and about 30 other North Americans had accepted the State of Israel's invitation to make aliya to help build Yamit, an idyllic new community on the Mediterranean in Sinai. They came, invested their money and their lives and then were evicted in 1982 when the Sinai was turned over to the Egyptians as part of the Camp David Accords. Today, 30 years later, the pain lingers just under the surface.
"I was 34, a divorcee with three kids, ages 10, 12 and 14. I'd never been to Israel. I didn't know the language," Rosenblatt laughs. "I was incredibly naÃ¯ve.
"I'd always wanted to visit Israel, but as a young family, we never had the money. So after my divorce, I went to the shaliah [emissary] and told him I wanted to make aliya. He laughed at me. I'd starve on the streets, he said. I'd never get a job. He put me off for a year and a half, until Yamit came along. A new development city was being opened, he said, one that would welcome all kinds of people - singles, divorced and families.
"I went to an organizational meeting, met people and became friends with several. Another meeting was held in Philadelphia during the winter of 1973-74. 'Who wants to go this summer?' they asked. I hadn't really been serious about aliya. I had a home with a swimming pool, and all kinds of obligations, including an upcoming bar mitzva. Then they showed photos. The Sinai was incredible - blue water, white sand, palm trees. I raised my hand. 'I'll go!' That was it."
Rosenblatt's journey began with her European-born parents, her father from Ukraine, her mother from Hungary. "They met in New York. Yiddish was their only common language, so my parents would speak to us in Yiddish, but wanted us to answer in English, so they'd learn. My father was a butcher, and in the early years, we were very poor, living in a tenement with my grandmother and aunt. As my father's business grew, we eventually moved to Long Island. For eight years, I attended Hebrew school where I was active in Young Judaea. They never mentioned the Holocaust, but talked a lot about Israel."
"I came with $3,000 and three kids, and didn't know enough to be worried. We arrived at the absorption center in Beersheba at 7:30 a.m. on August 1, 1974. Part of the garin [group] was already there, and someone rushed up and said, "The Jewish Agency is coming to take us out to see the site. Do you want to go?" We dumped our bags and got on the bus. Nothing at all was built there yet, just that exquisite beach, blue water and white sand."
"We spent 14 months at the absorption center learning Hebrew and helping plan the new community. I'd been a super-duper secretary, so I ended up as the garin's representative to the government, working with people like Moshe Dayan, Arik Sharon, [Menachem] Begin and [Yitzhak] Shamir. I worked long hours, and basically they only paid for my gas. One day I was at the Absorption Ministry in Tel Aviv and the manager said, "It's late. Why are you still here?" I said, "Because I don't have money to put gas in the car - you haven't paid me!"
Rosenblatt, with her family background in food service, found a young Israeli partner and opened what became the local hangout. "The Beach House became very successful. I courted tour guides, because they'd bring their buses in, but of course when several buses arrived it would be pure chaos. The tour guides learned to pitch in, helping to get everyone served. I loved the tourists. Sometimes I'd lay it on a little thick. They'd ask about housing, and I'd tell them it all had to be bullet proof. That wasn't true, but they liked the stories.
"Yamit didn't seem dangerous to us, but the government built a perimeter fence and we all did guard duty. I became friends with my Arab employees from Rafah, and we frequently visited each other's houses. At first, we weren't allowed to remain open at night, when army trackers would walk the beaches, checking for footprints, to see if anyone was sneaking in. But we knew we could make a lot of money at night - there were about 500 families in the area, and no place else to go.
"One day we made up posters: One free drink and belly dancing at the Beach House Friday night! We put the posters right outside the government offices, so of course they were upset. 'You can't open at night! We'll arrest you!' So I said, 'Are you going to arrest the 500 families who come, too?' They sent a big shot to talk to me, and he was reasonable. He told me I really shouldn't have done it, but because we'd done the advertising, they'd let us open one night only. So we stayed open that Friday - it was packed. Everyone came; the soldiers had a ball. From then on, we were open every night. No one said a word."
"When we learned Yamit was going to be turned over to Egypt, we were stunned. All along we'd been assured that wouldn't happen, and then it did. The government treated us very poorly. They paid off several people at first, just to get them to leave. But those of us who had businesses, more complicated situations, they refused to pay. I had the parking concession at the beach, and had prepaid the government for it. When the closure hit, I wanted my money back. They refused, saying I couldn't prove I would have gotten the concession again - it was insane. I sued them, and lost. I wouldn't leave, so they turned off my electricity, water, phones and sent someone to arrest me. They sued me so often, I'd walk into court, and the judge would say, 'What did you do now?' I wasn't about to go quietly.
"The bureaucrats were awful, but the hardest part was the way Israelis treated us. Everyone assumed we'd planned this, to come to Yamit, then be paid to leave. Afterward, they thought we were all rich - when landlords heard 'Yamit,' the rent went up. For years, my kids refused to admit they were from Yamit. The assumption was we'd scammed the government. The truth was exactly the opposite."
THE REST OF THE STORY
After leaving Yamit, Rosenblatt opened a dairy restaurant in Beersheba that became so successful she had to sell it. "I was working 17-18 hour days. It was too much," she says. "Then I bought a 5,000-dunam [1,250-acre] sheep ranch, and lived on that for five years, with no electricity. That was a big mistake. I finally had to sell my home in Omer to pay off the debt so I could get rid of it. Then I bought a run-down house in Beersheba in a neighborhood near my work. I figured if I had to sell my car, too, I could at least walk to work."
That didn't happen, and today the completely remodeled home has one of Beersheba's most exquisite private gardens, a wonderland of greenery and blooming plants, dotted with shady nooks for barbecues or relaxing.
For the past eight years, Rosenblatt has worked as an export manager for a plastics factory. "I work long days, and it's very hectic. What I didn't realize was that most Israelis make sure they have a real job with a pension. Now I'm 68, and I'd like to do more traveling, but if I don't work, I can't afford it."
"My major motivation in coming here was my kids. I could see that if I stayed in the States, my kids wouldn't marry Jews. That was successful: I have 17 Jewish grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, plus another three 'grandchildren' from another girl I raised. Even so, I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I hadn't come. When things are blowing up, when we're calling to check on each other, it's hard. Now one of my grandsons is guarding the Gaza border, and that worries me. We cry a lot more here - more easily, and more often - but still, we have a better life here than anywhere else."
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