Veterans: Mazal and Aharon Ben-Hamo

"Everything's good here, except for the wars."

ben hamos 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
ben hamos 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
When Mazal and Aharon Ben-Hamo talk about their son Yehuda, their pride is almost tangible. For the Moroccan-born couple who arrived in 1963 and worked hard all their lives - he as a hospital orderly and she as a child-minder - having a son who is the mayor of Kfar Saba is not something they take for granted. "For us, the children's welfare always took top priority over everything else," they say. Moving to Kfar Saba from Sderot in 1970 was in part to give their six children a better chance for education and all have succeeded in various trades or in business. But Yehuda is their pride and joy, having risen to his position through his work in the Histadrut and his early involvement with volunteering in the community. From 14 until he became mayor, Yehuda Ben-Hamo was very active in helping to run the hitchhiking station for soldiers set up by Ruth Reiss in 1972. His parents have good reason to be proud. PREPARATION The Ben-Hamos lived in Oujda, in eastern Morocco near the Algerian border. They spoke French and Arabic at home, and Aharon followed his father into commerce and had his own store selling clothes and shoes. In 1962 they were all set to leave on one of the clandestine journeys organized by Israeli agents living in Morocco and had sold up everything, sending much of their property ahead via France. Aharon had told his customers that the family was emigrating to Canada. "It was a Saturday night and we were taken as far as Fez, but our escorts were caught by the authorities and we were stranded there," recalls Aharon. There was nothing to do but to stay until another exit could be arranged. They rented a house and Aharon found work. Only after a year were they finally told they were leaving. THE JOURNEY They traveled through Tangier to Gibraltar, with four children including Yehuda, who was a babe-in-arms. For six weeks they stayed on the Rock under the guardianship of the Israeli consul, who organized Hebrew lessons and took them to synagogue. "I liked it there so much I wanted to stay," says Aharon, "but the consul said we were needed in Israel." They traveled in comfort on a Zim liner, arriving in Haifa in June 1963. ARRIVAL Mazal was desperate to get to Lod, where all her family had arrived nine years before. So the authorities sent them to a transit camp in Beersheba. From there a family member took them to live in Sderot, where they spent six years. SETTLING IN After a month, Aharon began to look for work. "I couldn't sit around and do nothing, just learning Hebrew all day; I had a family to support. We came with nothing and all the stuff we'd sent ahead a year before had disappeared. The Jewish Agency helped a bit, but with another child on the way I started to work at anything I could find - factories, building sites - wherever there was money." Mazal worked for a time in a factory but preferred to stay home raising her children. "It was very hard at times paying for things like school outings for six children, and Aharon suggested I might like to go out to work, but I refused. Who would bring up my children and be there to give them a hot meal during the day? You can tell which children have working mothers, they often look neglected." Only after the children were much older and independent did she begin to work as a child-minder. DAILY LIFE In 1970 they moved to Kfar Saba where they had friends and family. Aharon began working in the Gibor Sabrina textile factory and then he moved to Meir Hospital as an orderly, where he stayed for 25 years. "It wasn't always a pleasant job," he recalls. "I had to transport the sick people from the emergency room to the wards and at night remove any bodies and bring them down to the morgue. "One day I was on duty in the operating room and a certain professor, whose nickname incidentally was 'the butcher,' was in the process of amputating a leg from an accident victim. As I walked in, he thrust the leg at me to hold it and I practically fainted. When he saw my reaction he took it back from me and put it on a table. Later he told me to take it down to pathology which I refused to do. I told him there were limits to what my job entailed and there was no way I was going to pick up that leg. After that episode they moved me to the supply department and the maternity ward." He retired at 65 and sat around at home for a year and a half, but both he and Mazal disliked the arrangement and he knew he had to get out of the house occasionally. Today, three times a week Aharon sits at the turnstile of the local country club, ensuring that only bona-fide members get in. He always has a smile and a word for members coming and going. LANGUAGE "We just picked it up," they say. In Sderot a soldier/teacher used to come to the house as there was no ulpan, but because Aharon was anxious to start work he never officially learned Hebrew. Nevertheless they both speak perfect grammatical Hebrew. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "Everything's good here," they say in unison, "except for the wars. We have six successful children, our son is the mayor, what could be bad? It couldn't have happened if we'd stayed in Morocco. It's been a struggle but we have no complaints." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Don't rely on anyone but yourself," says Aharon. Even when times were really hard, I never went on welfare, I just went out and worked harder. And don't expect to get everything all at once. People come today and want everything, they're spoiled. We didn't allow ourselves any luxuries like a car until the children were settled. We worked hard for everything we have." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]