Veterans: Simy Benarroch Houminer

"After 2,000 years, we have to fight to keep this small piece of land."

Simy Benarroch Houminer  88 248 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Simy Benarroch Houminer 88 248
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
From Madrid to Tel Aviv, 1961 • Text and photo: GLORIA DEUTSCH Simy Benarroch Houminer grew up in a comfortable home in Madrid, complete with servants and a cook, was sent to finishing school in Switzerland as a young girl and didn't have a clue about keeping house or cooking. So that Israel, in which she arrived in 1961 for the wedding of a good friend, was even more of a culture shock to her than to most people. "I took it in my stride," smiles Houminer. "Even before the wedding I had already been introduced to my future husband - and after the wedding I never went back." At 23, the pretty young woman was introduced to many eligible bachelors by the friend for whose wedding she had made the journey. Once she met Amnon Houminer, a young lawyer and later a district court judge, she never wanted to return to Spain. SETTLING IN She arrived in March and her own wedding took place in June. The family came out to meet their new son-in-law and she remembers the preparations for the wedding, which they did according to the book, not seeing each other for a week and fasting on the actual day. Although not observant, they wanted to make the start of their life together as correct as possible. They moved into a small apartment in Tel Aviv which his parents gave them, on the fourth floor without an elevator. Houminer lives there to this day, although the apartment was enlarged over the years and, a few years ago, an elevator was added. "It was a new family, a new country and new friends, but from the beginning I felt at home," she recalls. "I loved living in Israel, but as I had no idea how to cook, my mother sent me a French gourmet cookbook and my lucky husband got these fantastic dishes which I made according to the recipes. I'd go to the corner shop and get the ingredients - if something was unavailable I improvised - and eventually I became quite competent." DAILY LIFE She decided to devote herself to raising the two children who were quickly born, so did not work outside the home initially. She also had to learn how to run a home as they were too poor to afford any help and she had no idea how to wash floors or anything else connected to housework. "But I loved it," she says. "I always felt very privileged to live here and was sorry I came too late to do army service. My husband was in all the wars and did his reserve duty regularly. "I loved the casual way of entertaining, people dropping in without warning which was common in those days. I'd been brought up in a very formal home, so I loved the change. We always had an open house and I still do." After many years of working as an independent lawyer, Amnon was offered a judgeship."He was very worried about accepting it although he realized it was a great honor," says Simy. "I tried to convince him and because the salary of a judge is so poor, I offered to go out to work to help support the family. He finally agreed and I worked for several years as a secretary so he could become a judge in the district court." OBSTACLES "Although I was very happy, it was terribly difficult being without a phone. It's hard to imagine today when everyone has a cellphone, but it was almost impossible to get a line back in the '60s and to be there in the apartment with two small children and no phone was dreadful." LANGUAGE Simy studied at ulpan when she first got married and quickly learned good Hebrew. But she is a natural linguist, with Spanish, Portuguese and English among the languages in which she is fluent. LIFE SINCE ALIYA With her husband established as a judge and the children growing up, she was able to study things she loved, although she never wanted to make an academic career for herself. She considered raising her children, caring for her husband and entertaining friends a career in itself. She took a course in the history of art at Tel Aviv University, another on antiques and another on jewelry. "I try to learn what I like," she says. Eight years ago the idyllic life ended when Amnon became ill with cancer. "He'd never been ill in his life and suddenly this horrible disease attacked him. It was devastating for me but I had to be strong. Until the end he was surrounded by loving people." She mourned her husband for two years. Then six years ago she met Joseph Epstein, a professor of chemistry, who was a widower, and they have been together ever since. "The funny thing is that the same friend whose wedding I came for back in 1961 introduced us. So on two occasions in my life she has something to do with my destiny." BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "It's the feeling of being a minuscule part of this huge enterprise. After 2,000 years, we have to fight to keep this small piece of land." Putting her actions where her mouth is, Houminer joined the Civil Guard and patrolled the streets of Tel Aviv with a rifle until an operation a few years ago put a stop to that. ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Try to get to know the new country and forget the one you left. It's no use comparing life there and here. It's different and you shouldn't expect it to be the same as what you left behind." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: