Scene I: Work
Every summer, Yael Levy's mother worked at grafting citrus trees in Pardesiya, a village south of Netanya. She and Yael's father immigrated to Palestine from Yemen in 1945, when she was 19 and he was 25. Their first home was a shack from which the authorities evicted a mule in order to house the newcomers. "She didn't like it," Yael says. "It's hard work, requiring you to kneel all day in the sun." When Levy was 11, her mother began to work as a housecleaner for veteran immigrants from Germany in the Hefer Valley area north of Netanya. "They didn't have a choice about whether to work or not, and pride was not an issue then, either," Levy says. "As compensation, she was given all kinds of gifts - at Pesach she got eggs, poultry or wine."
Yael, in contrast, leased land when she was 16, plowed it with a tractor and employed women older than she in farm work. "I would borrow money and rolled it along with investments in land and workers. Everyone was looking for work then; I employed women who were older than me, mothers, and I said: 'Here we will do beets and here we will do tomatoes.'"
Scene II: The clinic
Levy's parents had seven children. She says that when her mother visited the health clinic during her pregnancies, the Ashkenazi nurses were flagrantly condescending to her. "Many times I understood that my mother was angry at the nurses for saying: 'Are you pregnant again?' They were disrespectful to religious people, who have an obligation to bear children. They didn't consider the religious aspect in the least. They only asked: 'Why did you have more children?' It wasn't right for them to dictate to her what to do on that subject."
Yael also felt there was a disparaging attitude toward Yemenites in her school, which was located in the transit camp next to the village in two long, badly neglected, concrete structures. "We weren't considered children in whom an investment should be made," she says. She remembers that the teachers had no training and that studies consisted largely of Gemara, Bible, crafts, geography and arithmetic. "I liked Bible and I liked nature lessons, but that's not what was taught. They would take us to the fields to look at flowers."
The school's main goal was not educational, Levy believes. "They wanted mainly to keep the children in a framework during the day," she says. "Not one of us came out of there smart; maybe those who went on to high school, but no one went on to university."
Scene III: Empty rooms
Twice a week Levy goes up to the second floor of her home, opens the doors of her three children's empty rooms, does a little cleaning and then closes the doors again. "When we moved to the house and saw that we were a large family and that privacy was important, we made a room for each child. Now I have five rooms, three of which are empty. Now I am just a servant to the empty house. When you make a house, you don't think about the children growing up, you want things to be good and spacious for everyone. When the first one leaves, you feel that now there is space. When the second one leaves, it's too much space, and with the third one it's empty."
On the other hand, she gained privacy she did not have before. "You can pamper yourself with fantasies, dream dreams, be with yourself in the deepest thoughts, make meaningful decisions." Since the children left she has taken up various hobbies. She has played petanque for more than 20 years and with her bowling partner, Margalit Ossi, was Israeli champion in 1992-93. Twice a week she plays bridge in Even Yehuda and does woodworking.
Scene IV: Hospital
Once a week, Levy takes her husband to the hospital, where he meets with doctors and receives regular treatments. She drops him off and comes back five hours later to pick him up. "I don't like being in a hospital," she says, "it makes me feel bad. " Her husband suffers from various ailments, and since his condition deteriorated two years ago, most of Levy's time is spent looking after him. "You have to be in his company, give support and encouragement, see to it that he has three meals a day, drive him to hospitals and clinics, and if he is hospitalized you have to be there, and there's no way of knowing what will happen."
Before her husband fell ill, Levy had planned to use their pension funds to go abroad for a lengthy period, but now it's not easy for her to get away. "I can't go away for three weeks, at most two or three days, and even that takes complicated coordination. But I live with him and it happened to me. You can't just take the good things and say: 'Go find someone to look after you.' It's impossible to know what the future will bring. I told him that if I outlive him, I might start to travel. I don't intend to sit around mourning and not show my face. I've done my share in the world and I am realistic, open to what might happen.
"I would like to go to India, people say you go back to childhood there. I miss childhood, the games, the open spaces, the surroundings I had. That's the beauty of childhood."