Departures, Arrivals: An Immigrant From Argentina Fights to Bring Her Mom to Israel

This week at Ben-Gurion Airport: An Argentine who made aliyah after the economic crisis awaits an emotional reunion with her family; an Israeli-born New Yorker ponders her three marriages.

Georgina Caljolari at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Georgina Caljolari, 32, lives in Eilat; flying to Buenos Aires

Hello, may I ask where you’re flying to?

I made aliyah, I’m Israeli and everything, but my whole family is in Argentina. In Rosario, where Messi’s from.

When did you make aliyah?

When I was 2, my parents wanted to come to Israel but it didn’t work out, and when I was 21, and the economic situation in Argentina was no good, we thought again about making aliyah. In the end, only my sister and I came here, 11 years ago this month.

You came on your own, the two of you?

Yes, we came on a Jewish Agency program, to Be’er Sheva. We studied Hebrew in ulpan and from there well it’s a long story. Not very pleasant.

What happened?

Let’s say it was a matter of semantics. We were told to go do a course in hotel service, but we were really being sent to clean hotel rooms. And I’m the kind of person – when you tell me to do something, I do it. They were opening a new hotel in Eilat then, so we went there, to work. That’s what happened. In Argentina we lived in a small city like Eilat. Going to Tel Aviv scares me a little, because it’s like leaving the country to go to the big city. Now I work in a good place, a little supermarket; we’re like family there. After everything I went through, I feel like I’ve found my place there. I’ve been working there for six years.

So now you’re happy.

I’m glad I have a job, I’m a little scared by the wars. It’s not as bad in Eilat, but still you feel it there. If it weren’t for that, and the arsim [slang for punks], everything would be perfect. I’m not so happy with Israeli culture. God forgive me, but when people start shouting in the store, I’m onto them in a flash. I’m Argentinean, it’s like being Moroccan. And then there’s the issue with my mother. She isn’t Jewish. And she divorced my father before he died. If she were a widow, she could come here. We want her to come, but the Interior Ministry won’t give the okay. They say, not until age 65, when she’ll be a pensioner. She’s 55, still young; she can still work, contribute. I think it’s stupid. The younger, the better, no? The last time she was here, she stayed six months and I signed a form saying I was responsible for her, and now she can only visit. She is alone in Argentina. It’s not like I have other siblings there. She doesn’t have a house, she lives with her sister and her daughters there. She 
works, but we help her out financially. We have a house, a mortgage, we’re working people, it’s all on the up and up. So why won’t they let her come?

It’s cruel.

I have an Israeli ID. Though there’s just an asterisk in place of a Hebrew birthdate because we’re not Jews as far as they’re concerned, even though our father and grandmother were Jewish. But we’ve always been very close with our mother. She worked to support us and took care of us. My mom is the best. Now I’m going to visit her. I haven’t seen her in two years. After we left Argentina the first time, seven years passed before I saw her again. When we met, it was like a scene out of a telenovela: I just stood there frozen with a flower in my hand.

Are you happy to be going back? 

It’s always hard emotionally. But you get used to it, and I have a lot of fun there, doing all the things I never get to do here. Last time I went I stayed for three months, because by the time I get there, and spend time with my mother, and go out a little, and see family and friends This time it’s for two months.

Your boss let you take off for that long?

At work, everyone helps us with whatever we need. Once we had a problem with the faucet at home and a new one would have cost 600 shekels, just for a kitchen faucet. We told one of the managers and he brought us one. Not everybody would do that. I told my manager that I was going to visit my mother for two months; no one even made a face. They could have said no, but they were really nice.

Dina Feder and Moshe Shamir at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Moshe Shamir, 84, lives in Tel Aviv, and Dina Feder, 67, lives in New York; Dina is arriving from New York

Hello, may I ask what brings you to Israel?

Dina: I’m an Israeli yoredet [i.e., someone who’s left the country], and I come back to visit each winter, it’s the best time of year because it’s freezing in New York. I go to Israel the way Americans go to Florida.

When did you leave Israel?

I left for good in ’86, but to Canada. Then work took me to New York in ’99. I work for Amdocs, I’m an expert in communications networks.

That’s an unusual profession for a woman.

It’s not a very common profession period, there aren’t too many people with this specialty. Though if I lived in Israel, by now I’ve would have been forced into retirement. There isn’t much of a younger generation with this kind of knowledge, it’s a profession that requires a very difficult course of study. It’s the same everywhere. They keep me on even though I’m very expensive. Lucky for me, since I love to work.

Me too.

I grew up on Kibbutz Evron, near Nahariya. The mentality I was raised with is that the group is more important than the individual, which sometimes borders on stupidity. But also that work is a supreme value – and that’s very positive. Also, in America there’s no pension arrangement; you have to save. So we did, but it’s hard to watch your savings diminish. And think: Will this be enough for me? I think working also protects the brain against dementia and Alzheimer’s. I really hope so anyway. I don’t have any proof. So I work, and dance.

Dance?

After my husband died, I decided I had to cheer myself up and now I do competitive ballroom dancing.

You sound sad.

Moshe here is my late husband Amos’ older brother. It’s really awful that Amos died, because we had a fantastic marriage, the kind of thing I’m not sure a lot of people have. We were only married for 14 years.

Were you married before that?

I have a rich history. My first husband was killed in the Yom Kippur War, and afterward I stayed in a bad marriage because back then if a woman wasn’t married and didn’t have children, she was a loser. My third husband, Amos, was an Israeli who lived in New York. I met him there and stayed because of him. Not that it’s bad there, but I’ll never feel the same way anywhere else in the world as I do in Israel.

You only left because of work?

I went abroad for the job and got stuck. My whole life I’ve been propelled by practical considerations. When I was young, honestly, I thought I wasn’t pretty or attractive

Come on, you’re a beautiful woman now.

I wasn’t beautiful, but if you don’t age too badly, you do okay. Really, I’m not kidding, I thought that because I wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t rely on having a husband to support me, so I chose a profession that would give me a good income. I loved the humanities, but I did a doctorate in physics – also not a field that promises a good living, but it gives you tools. I remember in IDF basic training how the officers at the induction center decided where all the girls would be assigned: The prettiest ones went to the air force, and then the induction center officers got to choose who they wanted, and the rest of the girls were farmed out to different bases. I was sent to a logistics base, so I volunteered for the squad commander’s course and then the officers’ course, but not because I loved the army so much. Now I look back and think, overall I’ve had it pretty good. I’ve had a very full life. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. I have one daughter from my bad marriage and she always tells me, “Mom, for a woman who’s not pretty, you’ve done quite well – three husbands.”

And now you’re alone.

I don’t want anything else. I still have Amos’ ashes. He was such an amazing person. No ego issues, always so easygoing, hilarious, a great listener. There was none of that nonsense most couples have with arguing over ‘This is my job and this is your job.’ I’m a different person thanks to him. Before I met him I wasn’t happy. Amos loved and appreciated me, and best of all – he made sure I always felt that.