There is a tradition of rough beginnings among the Jews of India. The first Jews in India, according to legend, were oil pressers from the Galilee who were shipwrecked and stranded near Bombay.
The Reubens, who made aliya in 2001 from Pune, India - about 160 kilometers east of Bombay - weren't shipwrecked, but their aliya has demanded an abundance of true grit.
"My whole family was already here," says Susan. "I was the last holdout, but we always wanted to come to Israel."
"In 1990 we visited during our nephew's bar mitzva," Moshe adds. "We traveled all over, north and south. We loved it, and told ourselves we'd find a way to live here, too. So aliya was the plan, but it took Susan's youngest sister to push us into the final decision. She was visiting us in Pune, and just said, 'It's your turn.' She picked up all the papers, and we filled them out. But she was the one who said, 'Now.'"
Another factor was the poor economy in India. "I've been a commercial industrial photographer for 30 years," says Moshe. "Susan owned her own beauty shop. But both businesses were suffering, so that was another reason.
"Business was bad in India, so we came to Israel - can you believe that?" Moshe laughs.
"My father was the chief architect for the Ministry of Defense," Moshe says. "They lived in Delhi, then moved to Pune when he retired. I studied in Delhi, including all my photographic studies. I've also studied Chinese cooking, which I really love."
"I was born in Pune," Susan says. "Moshe and I met through a family friend. My family's aliya started with my eldest sister, the stubborn one. She wanted to come to Israel her whole life, so in the 1970s, she just did it, all by herself, as part of the Youth Aliyah. Eventually my three sisters, one brother and I all followed. Most of my family live in the Ashkelon area."
"Making aliya is like your wedding," Moshe adds. "You're in a daze, you're sort of stunned, can't really believe it's happening, but you just go ahead, even though you don't know how it will all turn out.
"All our friends thought we'd have no trouble finding work in Israel," he says. "Aren't professional photographers needed everywhere? And hairdressers? We thought we had the perfect professions for aliya. We had savings - it's just that we had no idea we'd both be out of work for over four years. It still seems impossible.
"The Jewish Agency chose Beersheba for us. They said the mercaz klita (absorption center) here was the only one who could take us. Now, we're settled in - we own our apartment, the kids have friends and good schools, and we're happy."
"We needed the taxi at the airport," Moshe says. "We didn't send a lift, but we had 28 bags, boxes and suitcases. We drove into Beersheba, the driver dropped us off, and we lugged everything up to the 3rd floor - did you know the mercaz klita is the longest building in Israel? There's no elevator. Still, it was fine - we had two bedrooms and all the basics. Where else in the world could you go, where the government gives you free airline tickets, a free taxi, and a place to live while you adjust?"
"The best part was all the people we met," Susan adds. "There were Argentinians, Russians, Ethiopians, and an American couple who became friends. It was wonderful to be with others who were going through the same things we were."
"Our families helped," Susan says. "They bought everything we needed to get started - things like bedclothes and shampoo. Then we all went out to a big supermarket to stock up on the essentials. Moshe's cousin in Omer brought prepared food for the first several days, which really helped."
"We stayed in the mercaz klita for two and a half years - as long as we were permitted," Moshe says. "Then we found our own home."
"Up until this February, I've been enrolled in some kind of classes." Susan says. "Ulpans, then a computer class, then training to become an import/export secretary. After that I paid for a course to get my Israeli hairdressing certificate. For over three years, I studied most of the day. Now, my full-time job is looking for work. I get the children off to school in the morning, run an errand or two, and then settle down to reply to every ad I can find, anywhere. I telephone, I fax resumes, for anything at all. I think I've done everything possible to find a job, but nothing has worked out."
Moshe, whose Hebrew isn't as good as Susan's, lets Susan do his job hunting. "She searches for me, too," he says. "My days are spent running the house - I shop, cook, clean up."
When the kids come home from school at 2 p.m., they eat and do their homework. "In the evenings we eat together, then maybe watch TV. That's about it."
"The truth?" Moshe says. "We're getting desperate. It never occurred to us we'd be without work this long."
"In the beginning, I was choosy," Susan says. "My sisters all work for shipping companies, import/export, so I thought that's what I'd do, too. But I couldn't find anything. Then I tried working for a beauty shop in Arad, but they laid me off, and anyway it was a long commute. Now? I'll take anything. I'm not choosy anymore."
Moshe, too, is open to anything. "I've had a few photography jobs, but nothing permanent. I worked in a spice factory, I've done some cooking, but nothing ended in permanent work."
"It's very difficult," he adds. "I don't know what's going to happen."
The Reubens bought their own apartment. "We did the numbers," Susan says. "We'd be paying just as much if we rented, with nothing to show for it."
Their apartment is a lovely new, light and spacious, 3-bedroom unit in an area of new high-rises in Beersheba. Located on the first floor, they have a sunny patio and a unique designer kitchen complete with hooded range. "It was the model apartment," Susan says. "Most of it was already built in."
"I love meeting people," Susan says, "But we don't have many friends. We're with our families on the holidays, but so far, we really haven't made any friends. People are busy with their own lives, I guess."
"We keep Shabbat," Moshe says. "But that's about it."
"I went to a beit knesset when we first arrived," Susan says. "But I wish I had someone to go with. It was an English-speaking congregation, but I didn't feel very welcome."
Susan is fluent in Hebrew. "In ulpan, I worked hard, and now I understand almost everything, including the news. I'm so happy at how perfectly the children have adapted. Both are totally immersed in Hebrew - sometimes it's the English word they can't remember. Shlomo's strength is in computers, but for Limor, it's languages. She took a six-month ulpan, and I thought she should have more, but the teacher said no. Now she gets top grades in both Hebrew and English - and she got the highest mark in the class in Arabic!"
Moshe struggles with the language. "I went to ulpan, but it's very difficult. I speak three languages already - English, Hindi and Punjab. It's just Hebrew I'm having trouble with."
"We are Israelis. We live in Israel, we are citizens. This is who we are now."
"The plan is to get a job, any job," Susan says. "I just faxed off an application for a telecommunications company in Jerusalem - maybe that will come through. I'm always hoping, working to keep my spirits up, but it's very difficult to not be discouraged."
"We had a dream," Moshe says. "We believed coming to Israel would be best for the children - and that's true, it is. Both kids are totally happy here, fully Israeli, completely at home. But for us? With our professions, we thought we'd have no trouble finding work. We've tried so hard. Where did we go wrong? Each day I see life passing us by. But surely, pretty soon, something will happen."
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