California JCC shooting leads directly to aliya

“The very next day, we went to the Jewish Agency to fill out papers to get the heck out of there,” Macales reported.

BATIA MACALES (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Batia Macales, 60, made aliya twice. The first time, in 1968, at the age of 10, she came with her Zionist parents and Israel- loving siblings to an absorption center in Beersheba.
Things were tough. Those were the days when olim waited two years to get a phone. Her father managed a factory that closed down. Macales herself was often sick.
“I almost had cholera! I had lice. I’d never had these things in America,” she recalled.
By 1970, the family returned to America.
Their aliya had lasted two years and Macales was happy to leave.
Nevertheless, some positive feelings about Israel stayed with her. Before marrying, she and her fiancé made a vow that they would someday make aliya.
That vow became powerfully relevant on August 10, 1999, when a white supremacist fired 70 shots into the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, California, wounding five people, including three children. Later that day, he shot and killed a postal worker.
Macales returned home that morning to a red flashing message light on her answering machine. She ran over to the daycare center, where “reporters shoved a mic in my face. I just wanted to see my son and make sure he was okay. There were bullet holes all over the classroom.”
The story of the couple being reunited with their son after the shooting was reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
According to the JTA report, Macales’s husband and son were “surrounded by television cameras and crews, including two from Israel.”
“The very next day, we went to the Jewish Agency to fill out papers to get the heck out of there,” Macales reported.
In those days, families from North America routinely came on a pilot trip to see a dozen or more communities before making aliya. The Macales family of six chose Shavei Shomron.
“All the other communities we went to served us cookies and soda. We were received in Shavei Shomron with a chicken, rice, potato and salad meal.
That made us feel so welcome. It reminded me of the old Israel. It was so beautiful there.”
Macales recalled, “We were begging the klita lady to show us the living arrangements,” but to no avail. Soon enough, it became clear why that part of the community was kept hidden.
“We moved into an ashkubit [a small, prefab concrete home]. As soon as I saw it, I ran out and said to the taxi driver, ‘This is a mistake! We may need to go back to America.’ The furniture was gross. The food in the fridge was black and moldy.”
Macales dramatically recounted how she “bleached the whole place. I got used to having mice and scorpions. It was such an experience!” The family lived in that ashkubit for a year.
“You couldn’t get more rock bottom. It couldn’t get any worse. And it got better and better. After a year, I said, ‘We’re here to stay. We’re never leaving the country.’” Today, the child who was four years old at the time of the shooting is an award-winning commander in the Israeli army. His younger brother is also serving in the IDF, working with top-ranking rabbis in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, supporting haredi soldiers. A daughter works in childcare in Har Bracha in the Shomron, and a fourth child lives in the United States.
Macales divorced a year after making aliya. Since then, she has held a variety of jobs, including teaching English in Bnei Brak, working in hi-tech, driving a van “from Rosh Hanikra to Eilat” for a tour guide and working with elderly women with cancer. “I helped them live and die in dignity,” she said. “I was taught how to distribute morphine to help them manage their pain. I did that for many years, but it was very intense.” Today, she works with her daughter, taking care of the babies in Har Bracha.
With all those challenges, did returning to America seem like a better option? “I never, ever, ever thought about leaving.
I had it really difficult, but I was too afraid to leave the country. I felt unsafe outside of Israel. I feel more safe and secure here than I ever did there,” Macales stated emphatically.
“I can take a walk and not feel at all scared,” she said about her current home in Kedumim, a gated community where she has lived for eight years. “I live in Gan Eden. I work in another place in Gan Eden. It’s so high and the view is amazing!” she rhapsodized.
Looking back, one of her biggest challenges was being a single mother without a car. “Shopping without a car was a whole major thing. Things were very challenging, especially when you’re divorced and have to do things all by yourself.
It was very scary to move by myself three times. Financially, I had such problems trying to find a decent job. In America, I managed doctors’ offices. I was very good at what I did. My Hebrew is very good but not good enough to keep a job in an office here.
“It’s fun to work with infants, because language is not a problem. I go to work and I love it. I like taking care of kids, but I didn’t think I’d have the strength at 60, and it’s kind of fun,” she reflected.
Thinking beyond the challenges of her early years, Macales concluded that there are “so many more rewards” than challenges.
“Obviously, one less day of hag is a benefit.
But there’s an incredible feeling, the whole country being together. We cry together, laugh together, the connection and unity here in Israel are like you never really feel anywhere else on this earth.
We’re all connected,” she said.
“I still get goose-bumpy. When you see mobs of people who are likely to be Jews, it’s so beautiful. To go into supermarkets and not really worry about kashrut here, and to have Gush Katif bug-free lettuce...
This country is amazing.
“I have neighbors who are unbelievable in Kedumim. I had emergency surgery 18 months ago, and I’ve never seen such support. The entire community helps. It was really lovely. There’s so much support and love and people helping out. When someone is really in need and hurting, you see a million people going out and helping.”
Macales uses her rocky start to inspire others.
“I’ve gotten some people to come on aliya. This is the biggest reward. I tell them to come and start small. Don’t expect such comfortable surroundings.
Rough it. Have very low expectations. If things work out, great. You’re pleasantly surprised.
“You have to have so much patience and faith and love for God. You will stumble and fall and keep going, and know that things will get better. I see the hand of God in everything I do. I see Him guiding my own life. Not everything is the way I’d like. There’s no such thing as the perfect life. It’s the quality of life here. That’s what drove me here,” Macales explained.
“There are good people everywhere.
You can find fault everywhere. If you go with a positive attitude, you can make it anywhere. Making aliya is the best decision I ever made in my whole life.
I’ve been the happiest here. It’s a very happy county,” she concluded with satisfaction.