“My mother died when I was a year old,” Amina Kheil says. “My father quickly married another woman who was halia la’allah – very bad to me. She sent her daughters to study and nurtured them, and me she turned into a handmaid, just housework. At 13, even before I got my first period, I was sent to marry the son of distant relatives. But my mother-in-law taught me how to read, raised me and was like a mother to me. I’d found a new family.”
If the contractions hadn’t come that night in 1948, the family tree would look completely different. When Jaffa’s Arabs were pushed to leave, Amina and her husband were also supposed to embark for Egypt. “But then Naima’s birth began, and we couldn’t get to the boat,” Amina says. “In the end, my husband’s whole family, the Kheil family, stayed in Jaffa. Whoever had enough money left.”
Maklouba, kubeh, manzallah, safihah. And also maftoul and yahni, majadara, grape leaves and stuffed potatoes. Every Friday it’s the turn of one of the grandchildren to choose which of her dishes Grandma should make for the Friday meal. This is Miriam’s list, and she in any case decides that “I’m with grandma in the kitchen.” Naima cooks, Miriam is the apprentice, Ghada washes the dishes. “On Saturday, when the chaos is behind me, the maid comes and we do the cleaning together,” Naima says.
Turkish TV shows are a family love. Miriam: “There’s a series now about an extended family; they all live together and run a family business. Lots of drama and action and intrigue. Besides that, I’m a big fan of Netflix, too.” Ghada: “My mother and I are now watching ‘The Bride from Istanbul.’ I love suspense and action, but not love stories – that’s not for me.”
“Il kabar abar” – “Old age makes things hard,” Amina says when she forgets something. And after all, the days need to be filled with meaning. Naima: “On Saturday or Sunday, I go on a bus trip of women from Jaffa; sometimes I also take mother. We go to Nablus, to Jerusalem, we sightsee, eat, shop.” Ghada: “Mother looked after father for years until he died in February. She took him everywhere in a wheelchair, even though she’s a small woman and he was tall and broad.” Miriam: “In the last decade, mom has dragged me to exercise. She makes no concessions, not to herself, not to me.”
A week-long wedding
Miriam got married two years ago. Her husband, Isma’il, is from Ramle. “In Jaffa, they do something short and nice,” she says. “In Ramle, everything is more traditional. There’s a week of haflot [celebrations], every night is like a wedding.
“On the evening of the zeina, the bachelor party, sheep are slaughtered and there’s a festive meal. The groom invites his friends, and the mother invites her friends. My mother-in-law invited me, and I was the only one in Ramle who came to her husband’s party. The grandmothers were angry at her, but it became a precedent and more brides come now.”
Miriam left Jaffa when she got married and moved in with Isma’il and his family in Ramle. “I live in a 110-square-meter [1,184-square-foot] house, four rooms, very spacious, a new building. Where would I have that in Jaffa? More and more friends and people my age are actually moving to Ramle and Lod, where it’s cheaper.”
Two generations with the hijab, two generations without. Naima: “We also dressed like them, in the modern way, but since I went on a pilgrimage to Mecca 18 years ago, I’ve worn the hijab.” Amina: “I made the pilgrimage 30 years ago, and since then I’ve been a few more times.”
Ghada: “I’ll go one day, too, and then I’ll also start to wear the hijab. In the meantime, I pray five times a day, fast and observe the traditions.” Miriam: “My grandmother fasted every Monday and Thursday.” Naima: “That’s what our prophet used to do.” Ghada: “It hurts me to see Islam portrayed as terrorism when actually it talks about justice and accepting the other.”
“Ashkenazi,” “voozvooz.” Those are the names that Adnan, Miriam’s father, was called. Unusually, he insisted on being called “Abu Miriam” father of Miriam, even though that term is reserved for the father of a firstborn son.
Miriam had no siblings, and as a girl refused to accept that state of affairs: “I would say to my mother, ‘You’re not considerate of me. You have four siblings, but I don’t have a single one!’” Naima: “She did an undergraduate degree, and then a master’s, while constantly working, and the time passed.” Miriam: “Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
At one time they supported Tzipi Livni, and before that Shimon Peres, Ghada says (“We’re all Mapainiks from home” – referring to the forerunner of Labor). In the last election they voted for the Joint List of Arab parties. Miriam: “First and last time.” Ghada: “I’m also fond of the president of the country, Rivlin. I prefer moderate right, someone who knows what he wants and won’t do me harm.” Amina: “I won’t vote in the next election. They’re making differences between us, removing Arabic [as an official language], making a nation-state law. They’ve turned us into second-class citizens.”
Naima: “When I was a girl, there was no hostility. The families in Jaffa were all friends. When I got married, the Six-Day War had just ended. My father decided not to hold a public wedding for me out of respect for the neighbors. He said, ‘They are in mourning for their dead, and I’m going to have a celebration?’
“But in the past year, every time I’ve come to the hospital to visit my husband, I’ve been asked to show an ID card, because of how I’m dressed. And I say to the guard, ‘When did you come to this country. I was here long before you; aren’t you ashamed?’”
Miriam: “These days, when I go for a job interview, I’m told straight out, ‘Ah, you didn’t do national service – why?’” Amina: “Netanyahu creates conflicts by force. Seventy years we’re together; why spoil things?”
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