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Jonathan (32) and Diana (32) Mendrekar,Samuel, 5 years and Ruth Bat-El, 3 months.
In his native India, Jonathan Mendrekar served as chief administrator in India's Food and Civil Service Public Distribution System, the agency that provides food and commodities to India's poor. The Mendrekar family made aliya in November 2004, and now, after spending a year observing and experiencing Israeli bureaucracy, Mendrekar has high praise for Israel's system.
"My work in India was often heartbreaking," Mendrekar says. "We provided things like rice, wheat, oil, sugar and kerosene to the poor, based on a ration card system. I can't even explain the depth of the poverty.
"So one of the things that most impresses me here in Israel is how well things run, how smoothly the bureaucracy functions, and how well Israelis are cared for. Israel is very different from India - everything works so well."
Diana, who gave birth to Samuel in India and Ruth here, praises Soroka Hospital.
"It couldn't have been better," she says. "I was a little worried - I didn't have family here to help, and my Hebrew isn't fluent, but the doctors and nurses spoke English. No one could have received better care."
"My grandfather always wanted to make aliya," Jonathan says, "but never found a way to do it. My father also wanted to come, but he passed away in 1992 without having done it. I said to myself, 'I will. I'll do it.'"
Diana comes from a Christian family.
"Growing up, I never thought I'd live in Israel, but I'm very happy here," she says. "Both my parents and I are pleased that we have this opportunity. For them, the chance to see me living in the Holy Land, where Jesus was born, is wonderful."
The Mendrekars met at the end of 1995 in a church, and they were married in 1999.
"Life in India is very different," Jonathan says. "We lived very far from a synagogue. We weren't able to go very often, maybe only Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur."
"My boss was the one who encouraged me to come," Jonathan says. "He often dealt with Israeli officials, and he was always impressed. One day he said, 'Jonathan, what are you doing here? Why don't you go to Israel? There's so much opportunity there.' He wasn't Jewish, but he respected Israel. Not long after, I started the paperwork.
"It wasn't an easy decision. I had a very good job there, and here, we knew it would be difficult - no job to start with and no family support like we'd have in India - so I was prepared. But we knew that living here, in the land of our forefathers, would be worth it."
"We started to put things off," Diana says. "We'd planned on buying another home, but we decided not to. We didn't sell our home - Jonathan's mother and sister live in it. We didn't send a lift, but just took four suitcases. We took a few kitchen things and some toys for Samuel. That was it."
"The hard part wasn't leaving the clothing and furniture," Diana says. "It was leaving family and friends. It was very sad, but at the same time, I was happy."
"My brother, who lives in Ramle, flew to India and accompanied us on the flight to Israel," Diana says. "With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to my mother and aunt. My father had just come home from the hospital the day before, and I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. That was hard."
"We went right to the absorption center, and I did the paperwork, but I was hungry. All I could think was, 'What are we going to eat?'" Jonathan says.
"Our family took us out to lunch," Diana adds. "They helped us with some supplies, but we really had nothing. It was November and very cold. We didn't have any heaters or blankets, and my hands and feet were numb. After a few days, some neighbors loaned us some comforters, which was nice. Everyone was very helpful."
The Mendrekars are almost ready to move from their fourth floor, one-bedroom apartment in the center. Seven sets of steep stairs are required to reach it, but once there, the view is lovely, and in the summer, there's a welcome breeze. The apartment came equipped with a small refrigerator and a table and chairs.
"It's a great place to live," they both say.
Jonathan takes two buses to get to his professional Hebrew course, so he's up early.
"We all eat breakfast together, and we're out the door by 8 a.m.," he says. "I drop Samuel off at gan on my way to ulpan."
Diana cooks and cleans; Jonathan does the shopping, much of it at an Indian market in the Old City. Afternoons are filled with homework and a bit of relaxation.
"Once I get a job, I won't be able to relax," Jonathan says.
They eat dinner at about 10 p.m.
"We don't really have friends here," Jonathan says, "but we're friendly with everyone. On holidays we sometimes visit family in Ramle."
The Mendrekars are considering a move to Ramle for better job opportunities, and to be nearer to family.
"It's very tough," Jonathan says. "We had assistance from the government, and our family helps some, but we don't have much spending money. It's critical I get a job soon."
Both attended basic ulpan. "I can get along fine," Jonathan says. "Growing up, we spoke English or Hindi at home, and I speak three other languages. So now I'm learning Hebrew. It'll be easier once I'm working."
"I can manage," says Diana. "I'm trying really hard. We're teaching Samuel Hebrew and English at the same time. Education is very important to us."
Diana is Christian, Jonathan is Jewish. During Hanukka, they lit candles. They didn't celebrate Christmas.
"There are so many different cultures in India that being a Jew wasn't any different than being something else," Jonathan explains. "I was comfortable being a Jew there, and I'm comfortable being a Jew here."
"We're Israelis," says Jonathan.
"Definitely Israeli," says Diana, with a huge smile.
"Get a job," Jonathan says, noting that he's interviewing for customer service work with several companies.
"I'd rather have an office job, but my Hebrew isn't good enough yet," he says.
"We knew before we came it would be tough in the beginning. Everything is hard, when you first start. But Israel is a safe, beautiful, blessed place. We are so fortunate we are able to live here."
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