Veterans: Anecdotes and Anglos

Alfredo Neuberger feels no need to learn Hebrew, enjoying his time in Israel in Spanish and English.

Aliya from Buenos Aires to Kfar Saba (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Aliya from Buenos Aires to Kfar Saba
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘I see myself as a husband by the hour,” says Alfredo Neuberger, known to everyone in Kfar Saba, where he lives, as Pedro.
He has been working as a handyman since immigrating from Argentina in 1998, doing the minor jobs around the house that husbands are supposed to do but for which they never seem to have the time or inclination.
“Many of the jobs I’m called to do – even something as small as hanging a picture or changing a light bulb – are just too much for some of my clients,” he says.
Pedro was born in Buenos Aires in 1944. His father fled Vienna together with his brother, managing to get out on the very day that Kristallnacht erupted.
They had already spent four months in a German jail, having been arrested by the Gestapo as Communist spies.
The two brothers, Pedro’s father and uncle, arrived first in the US, then in Uruguay. After the war they made their way to Argentina, where they eventually set up a successful business selling building materials. Pedro’s mother, who was born in Austria, also escaped to Buenos Aires – on the last ship out from Italy.
“My grandfather (my mother’s father) left Austria when my mother was 10-days-old,” he says. “He went out to buy cigarettes and never came back. Of course it was very hard for my mother and grandmother, but when he sent them a ticket to come to Argentina during the war it saved their life.”
Pedro had a good life in Argentina and says he was something of a playboy before he married and settled down.
“I worked in my father’s business and had plenty of money,” he recalls. “Every Friday I used to fly to Montevideo, go out and enjoy myself with my friends who lived there, and then fly back to work on Monday.”
He loved to dance, could do a mean tango and felt a need to escape the warm – yet overwhelming – embrace of his family. They in turn were desperately worried that he would “marry out.”
But when he met his wife, Liana, his philandering days were over.
“I took her to see Fiddler on the Roof in Buenos Aires, and the next day I proposed,” he recounts.
They married in 1970 when he was 26.
Liana worked as secretary at ITT in Argentina, and later studied psychology.
“She stopped working when our daughter, Gabriella, was born in 1971,” says Pedro.
A few years later their son, Diego, was born, and it was partly as a result of Diego making aliya that Pedro and his wife decided to follow.
The decision to come to Israel was also based on the fact that business in Buenos Aires was not going well. Pedro decided he could find something to do in Israel to make a living without too much difficulty, by turning his hobby of fixing things into a business.
They arrived in Ramat Aviv and stayed in a rented apartment not far from the mall. A few days after beginning a Hebrew learning course, Pedro began to have chest pains and ended up having three bypass operations.
To this day he can hardly speak a word of Hebrew, and all his business dealings are conducted in English (or Spanish).
He advertises his services in The Jerusalem Post so, luckily for him, most of his customers are English speakers.
So what happens if someone approaches him in Hebrew? “I hang up,” he says.
Not knowing the language has never been a problem.
“My mother lived in Argentina for 50 years and didn’t know Spanish,” Pedro adds.
He drives around in a van decorated with a hammer, and is kept quite busy during the working day. Most of his clients reach him by recommendation.
“I love my work,” he says, “and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people. I meet so many different people and they are all very nice to work for, especially the Anglos.”
He has also experienced some funny episodes, like the time he was called to put up a chandelier for a couple and it fell down. He came back the next day to put it back up, and again it fell down.
“I couldn’t understand it – the piece was not especially heavy, so why was it giving us so much trouble?” he wondered.
The answer was revealed by the client on his next visit – their teenage son had been using the chandelier to swing from, à la Tarzan.
Pedro is a keen photographer and on a recent roots trip to Eastern Europe and Vienna, he took hundreds of photos.
“It was wonderful – I went to Budapest to see where my grandmother was born and ate goulash in a restaurant there, and it tasted exactly like she used to make,” he says.
He is now waiting for his daughter to arrive from Brazil to help him digitize the photos, as he admits to being clueless about anything to do with computers.
Gabriella works for the Jewish Agency and is married to a Reform rabbi.
“I used to love flying a kite as a hobby, but when one of my three dogs ate the kite, I gave it up,” he says with a smile.