steve freedman 88 224.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Steve Freedman of Westcliff-on-Sea, England, left school at 16 and believed that he would never rise above the tedious clerical jobs to which his lack of higher education condemned him. But Israel has a way of making dreams come true and today, at 63, he holds bachelor's and master's degrees and is pondering the feasibility of studying for a doctorate.
Among the many jobs he held after he made aliya in 1972, he was an outside auditor (read spy) for the Income Tax Authority and he used to strike fear into the hearts of the local retailers. I once bumped into Freedman, skulking behind a tree not far from the local grocery store.
"Hi Steve," I said cheerfully.
He put his finger up to his lips and shushed me. "I'm on an operation," he said. "I want to know if the next customer coming out is given a receipt."
I slunk away, chastised.
His parents were both from the East End of London and he was born when his father was serving in the army during the war. His mother had been evacuated to a country house in Leicester in the Midlands which had been turned into a wartime maternity home as the V-2 rockets were exploding in London. After the war, the family moved back south to Stoke Newington.
While he was working at various clerical jobs, his Zionist feelings were awakening with the youth group he joined in London, the Jewish Lads' Brigade, and later, after the family moved to Westcliff, the Federation of Zionist Youth. He visited Israel in 1969 and again in 1971 and finally came as a new immigrant in 1972.
"I just bought a ticket and came," he says with his toothy grin. "Oh, and I also brought a bicycle as I knew I'd never be able to afford a car. In those days it was less dangerous to be a cyclist as there were fewer cars on the roads."
"I took the train from London, crossed the Channel at Dover to Calais, and took a train to Venice. From there we took the boat to Corfu, Piraeus, Turkey, Cyprus and Haifa. It took eight days."
He went straight to a kibbutz ulpan and after a year of working in the fields picking bananas and avocados, and in the kitchen loading the dishwasher, he was rescued from this routine by being conscripted into the army. The Yom Kippur War was just over and he had to serve for a year in the artillery. On release he tried a variety of jobs - kitchen hand in a hotel, receptionist in another and a few clerical jobs. At the end of 1974, he came to live in Kfar Saba and has been there ever since.
Meeting his wife, Roni, in 1975 was a turning point for Freedman. She is a nurse and the scion of one of the most distinguished families in Kfar Saba, the Scheinfeins, who were founding fathers of the town. Her grandfather, Itzik, was an agronomist who planted the two landmark eucalyptus trees on the main drag, Rehov Weizmann, back in 1906. Her parents were always involved in charities; her mother, who began volunteering in 1941, founded Yael, the hospital charity which gives a helping hand to patients, runs canteens and lends books; her father was active in local politics and, before independence, had been imprisoned in Acre. A public garden next to the Central Synagogue is named for the family.
A few years after his marriage, in 1978, Freedman joined the Income Tax Authority and spent 18 months "in the field." He tells of some hair-raising episodes like being threatened with a knife on a few occasions, but by 1980 he was promoted to inspector and sits safely in an office. The Freedmans have three children and once they were teenagers, he felt he could continue the education he'd missed in England and study for a degree.
"In 1996 I was released from work one day a week and studied for a degree in humanities and social science at the Open University in Beit Berl," he says. It took three and a half years and later he studied for his MA in democracy studies, which took another three and a half years. For the high-school dropout he had been, the sense of achievement was tremendous.
Both he and Roni are today very active in raising funds for Yad Sarah, which provides medical equipment to the needy. For a time, Freedman was the chairman of the local chapter of the Hitahdut Olei Britannia and the couple enjoys patronizing the local theater. Friends are both English- and Hebrew-speaking
"Being in the army and living with people who have five words of English was very good for my Hebrew," he says. "From the beginning I read books in Hebrew and always read a Hebrew newspaper as well as The Jerusalem Post."
"At the beginning the bureaucracy was just unbelievable. When I moved here from Haifa right at the beginning, I went into the Absorption Ministry and they said I would have to go back to Haifa to bring my file. I knew that couldn't be right as I'd been a civil servant in England and that's not the way we did things; they should have had the file transferred. I went back to Haifa as I wanted to visit my brother and sister who were there at the time, so I brought it back.
"Then there was the culture shock of coming here and being pushed in queues and things like that. You have to be very aware not to lose your English manners. Also people tried to block me at work; they're a bit xenophobic."
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
"I like the fact that it's a very open society; it's casual and there's no standing on ceremony; everyone's on first-name terms. And somehow you can use your own initiative more in this country."
ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS
"Grin and bear it!" he smiles. "No, I'm kidding. You just need a bit of patience. One thing I'm very proud of is that I served in the army and later I was in the Civil Guard. It's a great feeling to be able to contribute to the defense of your country."
"I'm toying with the idea of doing a PhD. I've just about finished helping my kids get through their studies. And I'm looking forward to my retirement in a few years and enjoying the grandchildren."
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