'My Dad Had a Straight Nose, Not a Jewish Nose. He Managed to Escape Poland'

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Klara Haetman.
Klara Haetman.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Klara Haetman, 71; lives in Migdal Haemek, flying to Vienna

Hi Klara, what’s in Vienna?

From Vienna I transfer to the city of Piestany in Slovakia. It’s an amazing place, and cheap, my husband and I flew there five years in a row. It’s only because of the coronavirus that we haven’t been there for two years. Very cheap spa treatments, superb hospitality, three meals, a proper four-star hotel. People come there also from Arab countries, from Saudi Arabia. They come with two wives, with children. Each wife goes for treatment while the other wife watches the children.

How long have you lived in Migdal Haemek?

We came from Russia in 1974. We went to the Jewish Agency, and there was a new building in Midgal Haemek, so they gave all of it to young couples from Russia. I wanted to live in Haifa, but they said, “If you had a profession like doctor or registered nurse, we would have given you an apartment in Haifa.” I was a mechanical engineer, and so they said, “Mechanical engineering is Migdal Haemek, because there’s industry there.”

How old were you?

Twenty-four. My parents stayed behind, because we had a house and property. I was in my seventh month of pregnancy, and 10 days after I arrived I gave birth to a son. He was born really small, but he’s perfectly fine.

Sounds scary. A young mother, a preemie, a new country, parents far away.

It was very tough. Today there’s an immigrant-absorption basket of benefits, but we didn’t get that. I had to beg the Jewish Agency to give me something. I was ashamed to write my parents the truth, but they sensed from my letters that something was wrong, and they immediately immigrated here with my brother after 10 months.

What was it like for them to acclimatize?

My father was a Zionist, he dreamed about Israel. I also was taught by him that Russia is not my land. When he got here he was shocked. He said, “This is not my country, this is not what I dreamed of.” He had a terrible crisis. He had a brother on a kibbutz, and in Poland they had been a big family. When they met up in Israel, it was two different worlds. There were so many arguments between them; my dad was very critical of Israel. But with the years he came to terms with things; he worked in a factory as a machinist.

The family is from Poland? I thought you said Russia.

The whole family was in a [Polish] ghetto; my father was a ghetto child. Out of their whole family only he and his brother survived, because the brother escaped from the ghetto even before him and managed to get to the kibbutz during the war. As a child in the ghetto, my father worked for Germans, they built rail lines. The German he worked for saw that they wanted to liquidate [the ghetto] … So he told my father, “Listen, I’ll find you a place to hide you, I’ll look after you.” That same night my father escaped. He hid in forests and met other children there. My dad had a straight nose, not a Jewish nose, and his mother from the start said to him, “Don’t say you are a Jew. You don’t look like a Jew – look at your nose. Say you are a Pole.” She hammered that into his head. When my father hid in the forests he went to the partisans. This was on the Polish-Russian border, and the partisans, you know, didn’t like Jews. So he told them he was Polish. They said, “Strange, Poles don’t escape from Poland.” That’s it, that’s the story, that’s he got to Russia. At 15 he was left without parents.

Wow. Did he talk about that period?

At first, no. In the end of his life he already started to talk. He told about the family… they were a lot of kids. They didn’t survive. The whole family.

What’s it like growing up with a father who went through something like that?

My dad was a very strong person. Whatever I found difficult in life, even during school, he would say, “That’s nothing!” – nothing compared to what he went through! I learned a lot from him. He was a very strong type. There’s nothing he couldn’t achieve.

Do you tell your children that, too?

I have two children, a son of 47 and a daughter of 41. During a certain period they received an education that I influenced, but nowadays it’s something else. They changed. It’s a young generation. Our mentality was that I would go hungry, but I would give the children the highest education I could. My son is a very successful high-tech person, my daughter is a fashion designer. I was against fashion design, but that’s what she chose.

Why?

Because it isn’t a livelihood, there’s no money in it. So I said, fine, a first profession – let them take what they want. But a second profession already demands a different reckoning.

Are you proud of them? Are you happy at how they turned out?

I invested a great deal in them. High-tech is excellent. I tried with my daughter, too, but she went in the art direction.

Lilach Sadon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Lilach Sadon, 29; lives in Bnei Brak, arriving from Los Angeles

Hi Lilach, who’s the unicorn for?

I bought it for myself as a pillow. Flying over was lousy, I slept on a little teddy bear that I took from my son, and then I saw this for $10. After I use it I’ll give it to my daughter.

Where were you?

In Vegas. I have a sister who lives there, married, two children. I was there with my mother and my twin sister. There’s a place there called Henderson, about 20 minutes from Las Vegas, where’s there is a small Jewish community. My sister met a guy who came to study in Israel, they got married and moved there.

You’re on the religious-ultra-Orthodox spectrum, correct?

Yes, we are four sisters and three brothers. Our father, of blessed memory, raised us in the Beit Yaakov institutions [for girls], and the boys went to yeshivas, but in the end everyone chose their own path. We grew up in a liberal home, it wasn’t hard-core Haredi then, like people might suppose.

What’s it like to be Mizrahi in Bnei Brak?

I haven’t really felt anything. The truth is that we wanted to buy an apartment in a housing project, and we were asked what our surname is. We didn’t make progress, but I understood later that they wanted to know our name before we came for a meeting because they are very racist – that’s clear. But I didn’t feel it, because from the outset I didn’t go to institutions that would reject us.

Who is “we wanted”?

I was a spring chicken when I got married – 18, a quarter to 19. Not by matchmaking. I have a daughter of 10 and a son who’s… Oy! I’m having a blackout. He’ll be 8 soon.

Eighteen is still adolescence. Did you ever ask yourself whether it was too early to decide whom you would be with?

I don’t have those questions, because we knew each other from the age of 16 and we were together for a year and a half before deciding that this was it. With us it’s impossible to continue going steady for too long a time, because it’s hard to keep the precept of not touching. I don’t know how possible it is to do that when people go out together for a year and a half or two years, even for the religious people among us.

You were also a very young mother, at 19.

When I think about that today, I was insane. If I were told to go back in time, I would have children at a slightly older age and enjoy my freedom a little more. Today everyone around me is driving me crazy: “What about another child?” What’s the deal? It’s hard for me to go back to that. I think I experienced a type of trauma, subconsciously, because today I want my freedom. When I was there I didn’t understand that I was in a mad race at such a young age, and when the kids got a little older I realized how good freedom is for me and how much I don’t want to go back to diapers and all those nights.

How did you come to realize that?

I keep on rejecting the idea; I understood that I don’t really feel like having another baby. Not now, because I’m fat and I need to diet, not now because with my job I will have a problem bringing a baby into the family.

Is there a social expectation?

There is, but I have shrugged it off. I say, “You want a baby? Then you raise it.” But the kids even expect it, and they pressure me more than everyone else. Every time a baby is born in the family they ask why everyone has one and we don’t. I also think that if I have one more, I would have to have two. Poor kid, he would be alone? So now l’m going to start thinking again about childbearing?!?

He’d have two older siblings!

Yes, but they go to friends and he would end up staying all alone. I see my kids now, very attached. I always tell them to be there, to care for each other. I don’t tell them that in the end the parents die and the children remain, but I tell them, “Be there for each other, because no one in the world will be like that for you.”

Do you see yourself sending your children to yeshivas and girls’ schools, like you and your siblings?

No. I don’t believe in that so much. I don’t know whether to say “believe,” but for my husband, who did attend yeshivas and didn’t learn the core subjects, it’s very hard to enter the world of work. He didn’t learn English, and that really holds him back. Now that he does want to do that, he feels that – enough, he missed it. Today he deals with samples from coronavirus tests, and I am in the hair profession, wigs, straightening. Before the coronavirus he was a kashrut supervisor. My children go to more liberal institutions. My son does Torah studies but he is also learning computers, math. That’s very important for me. Both my parents are educators. My mother is a kindergarten teacher and my father was an educated person; before he died he had enrolled for a doctorate.

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