Jewish Journal

There to Stay

Former Angelenos report on life from inside Israel and criticize outside perspectives.

by Michael Aushenker

Posted on Oct. 12, 2000 at 8:00 pm

It's Yom Kippur in Israel, and former Los Angeles resident Eve Harow talks about the atmosphere in her adopted homeland of 12 years.

"The mood is somber," says Harow. "We're somewhere between normal life and war."

Harow and her husband, Earl, live with their seven children in Efrat, a mere two kilometers away from an Israeli Arab village where violence erupted.

"We hear from our windows the shooting going on in the tunnel road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion. It's incredibly dangerous. They can shoot down on the tunnel road from areas under their control," says Earl Harow, a doctor who works in Talpiot.

But the Harows will not be coming back to Los Angeles anytime soon.

"This is my home," says Eve Harow. "I'm not leaving, no matter what."

The Harows are not alone in sentiment or as transplants from L.A. They are among the thousands of Angelenos who have left the City of Angels for Israel during the past six years - at least 1,500 through the Israel Aliyah Center at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles alone, according to center director Larry Tishkoff.

Dr. Auri and Deena Spiegelman began to make aliyah over the summer and set up permanent residence in Jerusalem. They knew that there was potential for such political unrest.

"At that time I anticipated imminent problems, because Arafat had set Sept. 13 as his date to proclaim the Palestinian state," says Auri Spiegelman. "The mood in our community has been one of great concern about the recent events. Yet because our area and most areas in West Jerusalem have been unaffected, everyone is going about their regular business, and attitudes are rather upbeat about the prospects of quick resolution of this latest intifada."

Former Angeleno Mark Feldman, who runs Ziontours Travel in Israel - where he resides with his wife and two children - says that he hasn't seen any people come through his doors looking to leave Israel as a result of the shifting political climate. He believes that safety is not a concern among Israelis - who stand by the might of the Israeli Defense Forces - but rather there is a societal sense of disappointment and dread over the hand that they have been dealt.

"We're upset that we have this challenge," says Feldman, who also chairs Federation's L.A. Olim steering committee. "The overall feeling among my friends is one of frustration. It's sort of a feeling that the whole process that's advanced over the last few years has unraveled so quickly."

Feldman sees the desecration of Joseph's Tomb as unfortunate, "not even from a religious standpoint but to see what they did so quickly afterwards leads one to believe that they're not our partner in the peace process, that there is no short-term solution."

Noah Streit has been training in the tank corps for almost eight months now. Although he intends to return to Los Angeles, the 23-year-old YULA and Yeshiva University graduate has enrolled in the Israeli military for Zionist reasons.

"The reason I came to do my service is because I wanted to do more than send a donation," says Streit. The tension had somewhat ebbed when Streit was interviewed for this article, just after the Day of Atonement. However, Streit explained that during the days leading up to the High Holy Days, "things were really hot, there was nervousness and a bit of fear."

A week away from eligibility to serve real duty, Streit realizes that he may be going to war. But his belief in keeping Israel strong overrides any personal fear.

"I was very scared," says Streit about the moment he heard about the three Israeli soldiers captured by Lebanese guerrillas. "When the time comes to be put in a situation when you do have to face the other side, it's what you've been training for. You're certainly ready for it, but it's always a scary situation to be put on a front line. On the other hand, you're with your friends, with people you know, with people you've been training with, and it makes it easier to face whatever you're going to face."

Apprehension notwithstanding, Streit does not find himself wishing that he were back in L.A. "I haven't met another soldier yet that is in a situation like myself that doesn't ask themselves, 'What am I doing here?' " says Streit. "I didn't come here looking to fight or to prove anything of that nature. I certainly have no blood lust. But I consider this to be my people, and I feel a strong connection to people and land, and I want to be ready when something happens."

Nobody looks forward to war, Streit said, but he feels a bond with his fellow soldiers in training. Dr. Daniel Gordis, director of Jerusalem Fellows, a two-year fellowship program at Jerusalem's Mandel School that prepares Jewish educational leaders to serve in their respective communities, made aliyah about a year ago. Formerly the dean of the University of Judaism's rabbinical school in Los Angeles, Gordis now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three kids.

"I think it's important to say that we feel completely safe," says Gordis, who now resides in Baka, a quiet, residential area of Jerusalem. He does not feel in any physical danger, although he admits that he doesn't let his young son, Avi, walk to school anymore since it's in the Old City.

"I'm not scared, it's just not comfortable knowing that people are going up there and having rocks thrown at them," says 11-year-old Avi.

Gordis laments the fact that the past week has brought out "the uglier side of Israeli society as well. You see Jewish teenagers attacking Arab teenagers in Natzeret, attacks in other parts of society as well."

Furthermore, Gordis does not feel that this reactionary violence is reflective of the kind of state Jews want to create. In fact, living in Israel has dramatically shaped Gordis's viewpoint of Middle East politics.

"When I arrived I was a major left-winger," says Gordis. "Even in American politics, because I really felt you had to give Arabs a chance to make a real peace. Even though a part of me really doubted it could happen, I felt you had to give them a chance or you would never know. I wouldn't say I'm a right-winger now, but I'm definitely depressed."

Gordis rues the discrepancy between the reality of the situation and the ideals that he once harbored. "To think that we had peace around the corner was very naive," says Gordis. "The leadership of the Palestinian community has shown to be what many expected them to be - thugs. It's clear you can't trust them over sovereignty of holy sites; the decision to give them rifles was probably shortsighted."

"The whole thing is very sobering," Gordis continued. "In the end, I think, without any question whatsoever, that the Arabs are responsible for this completely. To say that Ariel Sharon lit a match to already leaking gasoline shows that the Arabs have no capacity to make their own decisions. In the end, the violence wasn't done by Israelis and won't end by Israelis."

If immigrant feelings have coalesced against the peace process, they have also been united in their disdain over distorted media coverage of the escalating violence.

"I'm disgusted by how the press is turning this around," says Harow. "The U.N. condemnation of Israel is a black mark on countries of the world. Is anyone asking why the 12-year-old's father pulled him five kilometers into the middle of a gunfight?"

Harow believes that news outlets such as CNN are exacerbating world opinion of the situation. She was offended by a New York Times photo which ran a caption about a Palestinian teenager, when the picture was really a yeshiva student running for his life.

"The double standard is absolutely beyond belief," says Harow. "It's mind-boggling that American Jews think we are at fault. I don't think people really understand what's going on here."

"I think that most of us are upset about the media bias in reporting. There is outrage about the destruction of Joseph's Tomb," says Spiegelman.

To his disappointment, Spiegelman says that "media distortion" caused several friends in L.A. to bow out from visiting Israel during Sukkot.

Says Feldman, particularly incensed by French President Jacques Chirac's chastising of Israel, "We're actually in shock that so quickly large parts of the Western world have cast us as the villain in all of this. We really believe that the situation is not black and white. We abhor the fact that Jews attacked Arabs, that our soldiers have been kidnapped. We've heard gunshots every night from our house, and the world is condemning us. It just seems such a Kafkaesque situation."

"I always hoped that it wasn't true that the non-Jewish world just basically hates the Jews," says Gordis. "But between what happened in France last week and the kind of cartoon the L.A. Times can print with such a large Jewish population, it seems that a low level of anti-Semitism pervades the world in ways liberals didn't want to acknowledge."

Despite recent events, those interviewed are glad - and proud - to be living in Israel.

"As difficult as this is and as tense as it has the capacity to be for a long time, there is not one bone in my body that wants to be back in L.A.," says Gordis. "I'm really glad I left. The nature of Jewish people and state are going to be determined here and not anywhere else. I want to be part of writing the story, not reading about it."

"Sure, we're worried that there might be more bloodshed and that the conflict might spread into full-scale war with our Arab neighbors," says Spiegelman. "But at the present time we feel quite safe. Children are playing in the streets.... We are building our sukkahs. ... We go about our usual business."

As with many of the transplants, the Spiegelman family had long planned to make their move to Israel, and as with other former locals, returning to L.A. is not in the game plan.

"We have dreamed of living in Jerusalem for over 20 years," says Spiegelman. "That dream, including the potential hazards, only recently became true for us. There is no question about our resolve to live here."

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