Veterans: Susie Miller

"I feel that I'm safe and protected here. We have our army, our flag and our national anthem."

Susie Miller 88 224 (photo credit: David Deutsch)
Susie Miller 88 224
(photo credit: David Deutsch)
Generations of pupils grew up learning their English from Susie Surprise, the animated doll of the famous Neighbors television program of the early 1970s who drummed the present continuous - I am walking, she is eating - into their heads with movement and song. Susie Miller, who acted as Susie Surprise, never stopped teaching English, and still creates and markets fun learning courses which she sells from her store in Tel Aviv. These days she is very busy promoting and performing shows with the newly revived Ha'ahim Veha'ahayot (The Brothers and Sisters) singing group which also made its debut over 30 years ago and was known for its close harmonies and for putting the words of famous Israeli poets to music. For the 17-year-old who made aliya in 1971 it's been 37 years of challenges, education and fun. Today, with her children grown, she's as busy as ever, singing, creating and performing. Quite an odyssey for the teenager who couldn't get here quick enough the minute she graduated high school in Long Beach, California. PREPARATION "I came here at the age of 15 to visit my brother who was on kibbutz, and decided then that I would come back as soon as possible," she says. She grew up in a very Zionist family and belonged to various youth movements and a Conservative synagogue which encouraged its members to settle in Israel. JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL "I flew alone and went straight to a kibbutz where I stayed for six months, learned Hebrew and was adopted by one of the kibbutz families. I've always been very independent," she says. SETTLING IN She enrolled at Tel Aviv University to study English literature and theater, lived in the dorms in Ramat Aviv and generally had a great time. "There was a student festival at the university and I sang as I have been doing since I was a child," she recalls. "My accent was so strong and funny that I caught the attention of Gidi Koren, today a professor of medicine in Toronto, but then just a medical student and a brilliant musician who had already created the group but wanted to change the line-up." DAILY LIFE In 1975, just about the time that Susie Surprise was getting her own TV show, Sing a Song, Suzie met her husband, an accountant, at a show put on by the US Embassy about American/Israel friendship. (Today they have four children and two grandchildren and live in a house in Ramat Chen.) By this time something of a celebrity, Susie appeared on many of the one black-and-white channel shows, singing, playing or as a guest on talk shows. She performed at Jacob's Ladder and other festivals. The name of the group, the Brothers and Sisters, was inspired by the Mamas and the Papas and its sound and lineup, two men and two women, has even inspired comparisons to Abba. After five years she left the group which finally broke up in the 1980s to be reunited 20 years later. OBSTACLES "With the education I got from home, there was never any question of giving up and going back, no matter what happened," she says. "My parents told me that every country has its problems, but this is my country and I have to make it work. So I did." LANGUAGE "I did the six months kibbutz ulpan and I'd learned in Hebrew school in California, so I could speak fine but with a strong accent I will never lose," she says. She speaks English to her children, but says their spoken English could be better. LIFE SINCE ALIYA Soon after she left the group, she started her own business, Susie Miller Ltd., and today produces more than 2,000 products to make English teaching fun and exciting. Teachers from all over the country come to her busy, crowded and untidy office in Tel Aviv to buy all her various teaching aids - discs with accompanying work sheets, books and games. "If a child hears a song he's familiar with by Sarit Haddad or Haim Moshe translated into English, he's going to smile and want to learn," says the dynamic Susie. "I've taken rap music and given it English dialogue. In every school there should be an English learning room, and it can be like Disney World with some of our teaching aids, posters in English, CDs with work sheets and interactive games." She also has a lively Web site where her products can be bought on-line. About two years ago Saraleh Sharon, the sing-along guru, begged Susie and her fellow singers from the Brothers and Sisters to do a one-time performance with a slightly different lineup and the next day orders for shows began pouring in from kibbutzim and song clubs. The group realized the time had arrived for a comeback. Today it is busy recording and performing, both here and abroad. It recently recorded all the songs of poet Natan Yonatan and is now working on a double CD of other famous poets like Yehuda Amichai and Rahel. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "I feel that I'm safe and protected here. We have our army, our flag and our national anthem. I don't have to experience any anti-Semitism - I'm free and I'm home." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Be completely positive, even when there are setbacks. We have to be thankful to be in our own country, to be grateful we have young boys willing to lay down their lives so that we can have a country of our own." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]