betty and rafi.
(photo credit: Meredith Price)
Raised in Zionist homes rooted in the Bnei Akiva ideology, Betty and Rafi Rosenbaum visited Israel as college students and dreamed of one day making aliya. After their marriage in New York, they purchased folding chairs and wall units that were easy to disassemble in anticipation of a move. But it wasn't until after the Six Day War that they decided to turn their dream into reality.
"Before the Six Day War, we deluded ourselves into thinking that contributing to Israeli organizations was adequate," explains Betty. "But after it occurred, we felt we had to be honest with ourselves and do what we had dreamed of doing - move to Israel and help from within. Instead of talk, it was time to act."
In 1968, the Rosenbaums arrived as tourists, and Rafi set up a few meetings in search of a job. "I ended up at Israel Aircraft Industries because of my background in technical publications," he says. "They wanted me to come the following month, but in typical Israeli style, the contract was finalized 10 months later."
Having a job waiting for him made the preparations infinitely easier. Two emissaries in New York helped the Rosenbaums prepare for their move, and they attended various support groups and lectures so they would know what to bring and what to expect.
"We had an ideal aliya because we had so much support from Israel Aircraft, our family and friends, and because we had 10 months to prepare and were so positively motivated," says Betty.
In May 1969, Betty, Rafi and their two eldest children, Eli and Ruthie, boarded the SS Americanis for a two-week voyage to Italy, Greece and then Israel. "Back in those days, it took a few weeks to get here, but it was a great idea to come on board ship because we got a suite of rooms on a luxury liner, met other olim, and also got a mini-vacation," says Rafi. "We were the first ones to sign up for the voyage, so we got the best rooms too."
On May 31, 1969, the Rosenbaums were greeted in Haifa Port by family members and a representative from IAI (today Israel Aerospace Industries). "We had a temporary three-room apartment in Lod that was given to us by Israeli Aircraft until we could find something of our own to buy," says Rafi. "They took care of storing our boxes until we moved and then delivered them to us in our new home."
After one week in Lod, the Rosenbaums were advised to buy something quickly, before more new olim arrived. "We were one of the last people to buy an apartment in this building in Kiron, and back then it was surrounded by green fields. Today, construction is everywhere," says Rafi. The Rosenbaums moved into their new apartment on August 1, 1969, and were happy to escape the heat and mosquitoes of Lod.
"Lod was a very primitive place. It didn't have a supermarket, and there were no paper bags for shopping. You had to drag around a large carry-all full of food," says Betty.
In Kiron, the couple found both a supermarket and a religious school for their children. "The school had very low standards, and we succeeded in setting up a new religious school with the Anglo and Israeli community here," says Betty. "It's a very well-integrated, mixed community and I can remember my children trading their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the Yemenite children, who brought spicy sandwiches."
Best Thing About Israel
Until her fourth child, Ami, started nursery school, Betty was a full-time mother and an extremely active volunteer helping other olim. The recipient of the Kaplan Prize for her efforts, Betty says she didn't want any recognition. She gave her time out of love for Israel and a desire to positively contribute.
Rafi headed the Graphic and Technical Publications Department at Israel Aircraft Industries. "It was an extremely difficult position because no one in Israel at the time was trained to do the work. I set up the department and started finding people to hire," he says. "The biggest problem was people who said they could do the job in an interview but then had no clue where to begin."
Both Betty and Rafi arrived with the ability to speak Hebrew. "In New York, I worked at the Israeli delegation of the UN, so I heard Hebrew every day, and Rafi attended Camp Mosad [a Hebrew-speaking camp run by the Histadrut of America] and eventually became a counselor there," Betty explains.
Having Hebrew made the transition much easier for both of them, and it gave Betty a chance to help others through translating and volunteering. "It would have been good to go to ulpan, but I didn't have the time," says Rafi, whose children teased him for speaking biblical Hebrew instead of the more informal speech of everyday life.
"The hardest thing about making aliya was leaving close family behind," says Betty. But within a year, her mother and her brother and sister-in-law also made aliya, so even that difficulty was surmounted.
"A lot of American families we knew weren't thrilled when part of the family wanted to make aliya, and that makes it much harder," Betty says.
Another obstacle that many of their friends faced was the time required to get simple appliances. "It could take two or three months to get a refrigerator, but we knew someone at the store so we were able to get ours faster," says Rafi.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
For Betty, bringing up her children here and being able to travel to the historic sites make everything worthwhile. "This is where I belong, and I love that my grandchildren are celebrating their bar and bat mitzvas here. I love being able to visit the places where things actually happened. It makes Judaism come alive in a way that it can't in America. It's more concrete here," she says.
For Rafi, seeing how his four children grew up compared to their American counterparts is the best thing. "The religious kids here are healthier, less restless. They have fewer flies in their brains."
WORST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
The political system is a disappointment. "The citizens are disenfranchised. We have negative leadership without any values. Everything is going down the drain due to corruption and crime, and the disengagement was a disaster," Rafi says.
"Honesty is lacking here," Betty agrees. "Everyone has to start doing their own bit to improve the situation."
THE REST OF THE STORY
Three of their four children have children of their own. Their son Eli is a physician and has six children. Their daughter Ruthie works as a speech therapist and has four children. Yoram is a rabbi and has four children, and their youngest son, Ami, still single, works as an investment adviser.
"All of our kids loved growing up here and thanked us for coming," says Rafi, who retired a few years ago. "Now, I do freelance editing work on occasion and enjoy cooking. Overall, we are enjoying our golden years."
Betty teaches English at Brookdale, a branch of Bar-Ilan University, and recently published a book, Ordinary Israelis: Extraordinary Deeds. "The book is a compilation of stories I collected over the years about people in Israel who never make the headlines, but who do incredible things," she says. "I like to talk to people and hear their stories, and one day I decided to start writing them down and put them together."
ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS
"Be highly motivated and remember your purpose," says Betty, who describes herself as the dedicated optimist who counterbalances Rafi's pessimism.
"Don't believe anything until you get it in writing, and don't expect it to be like America," says Rafi.
The couple agrees that the more money and patience new immigrants can bring with them, the easier their transition will be.
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