Arrivals: From Brooklyn to Arad

When Hana and Sinai made aliya, they and their children went directly from the airport to the "unrecognized" Beduin village of Dragot.

julians 88 224 (photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
julians 88 224
(photo credit: Yocheved Miriam Russo)
Hana (52) and Sinai (57) Julian From Brooklyn to Arad Birthplace: Hana, Hamden, Connecticut; Sinai, Los Angeles Aliya date: July 2003 Occupation: Hana, journalist; Sinai, Chabad rep Family status: married, seven children When Hana and Sinai Julian made aliya with Nefesh B'Nefesh in 2003, instead of staying with relatives, going to an absorption center or a rented apartment, they and four of their seven children went directly from the airport to the "unrecognized" Beduin village of Dragot - Drijag in Arabic. For the first three weeks of their lives as Israelis, the Julians lived with the 800 members of the Abu Hamad tribe in the Negev. Since the 1960s government policy dictates that the country's 185,000 semi-nomadic Beduin must be moved into official "recognized" villages, so they can be provided with water, sewers and other utilities. About half the Beduin have refused the relocation effort, preferring to live in unrecognized encampments such as Dragot, which has no maintained roads, postal service or utilities, except for a sizable generator providing electricity. For new olim, beginning life in a Beduin village sounds strange, but both the Julians and their host, Younis Abu Hamad, say they regard each other as family. "Jews and Beduin can live together without problems," Sinai Julian says. "We both have the same roots, going back to our father Abraham. It's time for us all to come together." FAMILY BACKGROUND The Julians met and married in New York in 1990, a second marriage for both. "We had five different mutual friends trying to get us together," Hana says. Born in Hamden, a suburb of New Haven, Hana grew up in a secular Zionist family that encouraged aliya. "I'm adventurous," she says. "I've done a little bit of everything, worked as a firefighter, a bluegrass singer with a band, a journalist, a director of a news bureau and a radio broadcaster, but I'm really a certified social worker. My first marriage didn't work out, although we had two wonderful children. I'd already become observant through Chabad, and was living in Crown Heights when I met Sinai." Sinai was born into a similarly secular Zionist family in Los Angeles. "Sinai is my birth name - I went through Los Angeles public schools with that name," he says. Like Hana, Sinai had been married before, and had a son. He'd spent time at Kibbutz Gezer in the 1970s, but had returned to the US. "I'd planned just a short trip to wrap up loose ends, but I got stuck for 17 years." The Julians have four children together, and three from prior marriages. "My oldest daughter is married with two kids in Brooklyn, and my son is in college in Brooklyn," Hana says. "Sinai's son is married with a baby in Jerusalem. He learns in kollel." BEFORE ALIYA Aliya was part of the Julians' marriage agreement, but was deferred, again and again, due to various family issues. The breakthrough came when Hana's recently married daughter visited Israel and became very ill while touring the Dead Sea. "A Beduin tour guide had been showing the kids the sights," Hana recalls. "As it happened, he was the one who called me in New York, telling me my daughter needed me. I came, and while I was here, he also drove me around. One day Younis asked me, 'What are you doing in New York?' I was a social worker, I explained, but he said, 'No, what are you doing in New York? You're religious. God says Israel is your home. What are you doing in New York?' When God sends a Beduin messenger, we figured we'd better pay attention." Things moved quickly after that. "I was selling insurance," Sinai says. "We were broke. But I figured if we were gonna be broke, we might as well be broke in Israel. I wanted to live in Jerusalem, Hana wanted a rural community, then Younis suggested Arad. We'd never heard of it, but he said it was a very nice community, with wonderful people, about 10 kilometers from his own village of Dragot. He even offered to find us a house in Arad, which he did - but it wasn't quite ready when we arrived. That's why we stayed with them. "We made a pilot trip before we came, during the Pessah season. We looked at Arad and decided we liked it. We spent two weeks with Younis and his family then, too, and moved to a hotel for the actual week of Pessah. By that time, Younis and his whole family felt very much like our own family." ARRIVAL Younis, his wife, his son and a cousin came to meet the Julians, participating in the official NBN welcoming ceremony. "They were escorted in, with special clearance from the Shin Bet," Sinai says. "We went from the airport to Dragot." LIVING ENVIRONMENT In Dragot, the Julians moved into a new home that Younis had built for his son. "The son hadn't married or moved in yet, so everything was brand new and kosher," Sinai says. "Our kids loved it - they slept on the roof, where it was cooler, and ran all day with the Beduin kids with the sheep. I davened outside in the garden. We respected their traditions and they respected ours. We were treated just like part of the family." "I'd get up in the morning to help make the breakfast pita," Hana says. "The women get up at 6 a.m., the men at 7, so one morning, I came out wearing a very long T-shirt, down past my knees. I didn't think it mattered - there were only women around. But Younis's wife was shocked - she sent me back into the house. 'You have to get dressed,' she said. 'You can't come out here like that. It's not modest!' In many ways, our customs are very much alike. "We felt perfectly safe in that village. We'd have been in more danger in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - let alone New York." Today, the Julian family lives in a sunny, spacious home on a quiet cul-de-sac, where they have frequent guests. In addition to their two dogs and five cats, for a time they also had a white donkey named Gandolf, who insisted he belonged inside on Shabbat. "Excuse the mess," Sinai says, gesturing. "We have 25 children in four bodies." LANGUAGE Hana and Sinai say they're "reasonably fluent" in Hebrew. Everyone learned some Arabic in Dragot, but the language spoken at home is English. "When we came, Kobi was 12, Esther was eight, Golda was six and Zalman was five. In the beginning, at school, the children struggled with Hebrew," Hana says. "It took about five months to get some tutoring help from the government - they really aren't supportive of aliya to the South. Now, the kids are fine - among themselves they speak Hebrew, but I insist they speak English to me, so they don't lose that language." CIRCLE "At the moment, we have mostly Israeli friends," Hana says. "The Anglo community in Arad isn't huge, but we have plenty of English-speaking friends, too." FINANCES "It's tight. We're struggling." Sinai commutes to the Dead Sea Mall. "I work for Chabad, encouraging men to put on tefillin, distributing literature and Shabbat candles. In terms of satisfaction, it's the best job I've ever had - but the worst in pay." "I freelance, plus I'm an editor and writer for Arutz Sheva," Hana says. "I do radio newscasts once a week. Beyond that, I'm also the Ann Landers of the Alzheimer's set - I write an advice and information column for Alzheimer's Weekly." IDENTIFICATION Hana: "I'm American Israeli, but I'm also a Jew." Sinai: "I'm an American Jew who lives in Israel. I have to go to the States next month, so I e-mailed some friends, 'Are you ready for a visit from an Israeli?' As I wrote it, I thought, 'Is that me?'" FAITH "We're Lubavitcher Hassidim." PLANS "We love Arad, and plan to stay here. We'd like to buy the house we're renting, fix up the yard, especially." To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]