Life in the fledgling country of Israel was not easy, but the ordeals the families had been through made hardships like food rationing, poverty, language barriers, or culture shock seem bearable by comparison.
“My parents are my benchmark. I know that I would never need the kind of resilience they needed to make it,” says Meir. “So whenever I face difficulty, I am able to say, ‘This too shall pass.’”
The adjustment for Meir’s family and families like them came with special challenges, as Israel sought to establish itself as a country of strong people, a “never again” place where no Holocaust could ever be inflicted.
Some veteran Israelis, those who had lived longer in the region, disparaged Holocaust-surviving immigrants and those who perished as weak, failing to have risen up and fought the Nazis, like they did in the Warsaw ghetto, in which tens of thousands of Jews tried but tragically failed to resist Nazi deportation to death camps.
What almost all the new arrivals—whether from Europe or elsewhere—had in common was scarcity, and a need to rely on one another to get by.
In the Israeli city where Meir’s family first decamped, his mother realized that her small food rations would not last if she tried to cook what she was most accustomed to cooking. A fellow refugee, a woman from Iraq, taught her how to cook with the native foods like eggplant, squash, and zucchini.
A COUNTRY OF REFUGE
Both Meir and Navah remember small comforts with great gratitude. For Meir, it was the fact that his father as grocery manager had access to surplus chocolate—Meir’s favorite—despite rationing. Or that his father, later on, was given a car for work. At the time, cars were beyond the means of most Israeli families.
They both remember their childhoods as egalitarian and free of classist bullying that can sometimes leave scars. Children in Meir’s school wore a uniform of navy slacks and light blue shirts, masking any differences in the financial resources of families.
Showing off was frowned upon, and for the most part, “We all had the same amount of nothing,” remembers Navah.
Navah also was profoundly grateful to have grandparents and extended family nearby—as so many of her classmates had lost grandparents in the Holocaust.
“Most of the kids in my classroom had no grand- parents,” she recalls. “Sometimes I would say ‘I’m going to my grandparents,’ and a whole line of kids would come behind me.”
They attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem after their mandatory stints in the Israeli Army, receiving diplomas their parents and others of their generation had been denied. This is also where they met, at a gathering organized by Meir’s cousin who was Navah’s high school classmate. They married in 1969.