Veterans: From Middlesbrough to Haifa, 1959

Jane Klapper, like thousands of others of her generation, grew up in a traditional middle-class Jewish family in England.

jane klapper 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
jane klapper 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Jane Klapper, like thousands of others of her generation, grew up in a traditional middle-class Jewish family in England. But there were also major differences. For one thing they always had a dog, rare in the 1940s and '50s for that kind of family. "My father would take us for hikes in the country on a Sunday, when other Jewish families were playing cards," she recalls. And she studied to be a nurse when most girls just wanted to marry and become housewives. At 26, she made aliya alone, leaving behind her comfortable existence for the uncertainty of the 11-year-old Jewish state. As a child in wartime Britain, Klapper was evacuated, like many other children, from industrial Middlesbrough to a country village. The only Jewish child in her group, she used to go with everyone to church on Sundays. Her mother said she didn't mind her going - it was better than nowhere - but she mustn't kneel. After finishing school, she just wanted to be with horses which she loved passionately, but her mother told her she must study something and she picked nursing. She rightly felt it would stand her in good stead wherever she went and after working and studying at the Manchester Jewish hospital, she qualified in 1952. Soon after the establishment of the state, the first Israeli cargo boat to arrive in Britain docked at Middlesbrough. It was the Dromit and the Jewish community was out in force, welcoming the sailors with parties and get-togethers. "It was my first real awareness of Israel," recalls Klapper, "but I still didn't consider living here." Ten years later, working by now as a dental nurse for her brother in Hove, Sussex, she decided she would move to Israel. PREPARATION "I got in touch with the Jewish Agency which paid for the travel and arranged for me to study in the ulpan at Kibbutz Hazorea. I just packed a few cases and set off." THE JOURNEY "I left Victoria Station in London by train, took a boat across the Channel and another train to Marseille. I was with two other fellows who were also making aliya, and we were met at the train in Marseille by a Jewish Agency representative who took us directly to the boat, the Theodor Herzl. I can't remember too much about the three-week journey; I know it was April so the seas weren't choppy and the time passed quite pleasantly. We docked in Haifa." SETTLING IN "I knew with my nursing qualification I could work anywhere, and almost immediately after the six-month ulpan I got a job in Elisha Hospital in Haifa doing general nursing and maternity." She stayed there for six months, felt her Hebrew was not good enough, so joined Ulpan Akiva before going back to Elisha for a time. Still not totally committed to Israel, she returned to England because of family illness and this journey, three weeks on the Zim cargo boat Geffen, was to prove the most fateful of her life. "There was only one passenger - me - plus the captain and his wife and another crew wife. It was on this boat that I met my future husband, Mark, who was a last-minute replacement for the chief steward who had fallen ill." They fell in love and had the three-week journey to London together, stopping at romantic spots like Cyprus, Malta and Lisbon to get to know each other. At London docks her parents were waiting to meet their future son-in-law. They were somewhat dubious about him, as Jane recalls. A sailor? Of Polish origin? They stayed in touch and Jane returned to Israel in 1961. DAILY LIFE "I stayed with his mother in a small flat in Netanya. It was a real culture shock. The side streets were still full of sand, there were very few cars on the road and she used to cook on a paraffin stove and keep food in an ice-box, there were no refrigerators. But I'm adaptable; I didn't let it get to me. When my parents came to visit, they were shocked, but I was very happy." They married in Manchester in 1962 and bought their own two-room apartment in Netanya. Mark left Zim and became a teacher at the Tadmor hotel training school. "He didn't want me to work, and I was happy to stay home and have a hot meal ready for him when he came back from work. Life was different then; there was more modesty in everything and we were happy with what we had. When my parents bought us a small car, we were thought of as aristocracy." LIFE SINCE ALIYA Klapper raised her two daughters, Mark progressed in his career and when the Hilton opened in Tel Aviv in 1965, he was appointed maitre d' and rose to be food and beverage manager. Sadly he died of cardiac arrest at 49 in 1985. Klapper nursed her grief for several years, then turned to her first love, dogs, when she got involved in a new project to train puppies as guide dogs for the blind in 1991. "I saw an article in the paper that a center was opening up, and they needed foster families for training the puppies. They asked me to help with the breeding and I took Quizzy, who had five litters over the years. Every time a puppy was born we used to say, 'That's another pair of eyes.'" Abby, one of Quizzy's 24 or so puppies, was a working guide dog for eight years and now retired, and Klapper took him. "When they retire, some blind people keep them on, but usually we have to look for homes. I always wanted one of my puppies to come back to me." There is never any problem finding foster homes for the puppies, especially among foreign diplomats, who love to have a dog while here but can't always take them back home. The present British ambassador and his wife have one of the center's puppies. OBSTACLES "Just the manners and lack of culture. I had to learn to speak up for myself, having an English upbringing and especially having been to boarding school. I still can't come to terms with the self-centered and egotistical attitude of people, although underneath I know they are good." BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "With all its drawbacks, it's an open, friendly society and you never feel alone. Thank God I have a large circle of friends, although it doesn't make up for having a soul mate. Maybe I'll be lucky." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Look at the half-full, not the half-empty cup. You've got to be patient but it's worth persevering. And it's very important to learn Hebrew. That makes you feel a real part of the country." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one-paragraph e-mail to: