a different side of Israel

Not Jewish?! What Are You Doing Here? (Part 19 London)

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen, Part Seventeen, Part Eighteen.

After we decided to move to London, everything moved really quickly – a date was chosen, a flight was booked and our flat was put on the rental market, from which – this being Tel Aviv – it was off again two and a half seconds later, taken by a young American Olah Hadasha, recently arrived in the country.

She also conveniently bought half of our furniture, and as the other pieces were either sent to friends or to Saar’s relatives, it meant we were left with very few belongings and the little we were taking was boxed up and shipped off to my sister’s house, where most of it still sits today, in the cupboard under the stairs, waiting for Saar and I to decide what to do with it.

Everything was running smoothly – even the matter of Saar’s visa didn’t throw any obstacles in our way.

As we had been together for more than two years, Saar was seen as my common law husband and as such was automatically entitled to a two-year working visa. A trip to the British Consulate in the morning with documents and photos that proved our time together (as well as a fair amount of cash), and by the afternoon we walked out with the visa stamped in the passport – although Saar didn’t quite believe it and insisted on checking repeatedly with the issuing clerk that it was really valid and again with the Consulate guards on our way out. He then spent the entire flight to London practising exactly what to say to the customs people at Heathrow and re-reading the wording on the visa, only to arrive and be summarily waved through immigration and out into the cold English air.

It was certainly a whole lot easier and less nerve-wracking than my bi-annual trips to Misrad Hapnim – an institution with which I had become very familiar over my years in Israel. The non-Jewish partners of Israelis are entitled to working visas as long as they can prove that the relationship is real and that a true desire to settle in the country is expressed, and so the weeks before my visa was due for renewal were always filled with a dreaded frenzy of document gathering and photo taking and the anxious hope that the rules would be the same as the last time I had been. For they seemed to change arbitrarily and be very much dependent on the whim of the clerk who served you that particular visit, who, of course, would shrug off all the rules that the clerk of your previous visit had told you.

Every time we would go, we would take our place before our allotted clerk, holding hands till our knuckles were white as if to stress the impenetrability of our coupledom, and sit tight while he or she made their way through the check list of documentation. We’d maybe throw the odd joke here and there, the odd exaggerated smile, in the attempt to endear ourselves to the person who had control over my future in the country, and even though my file was already bulging with photocopies of birth certificates, utility bills, payslips, rental contracts, letters from my family, Saar’s family, photos that showed us together in various environments and climates, proof of non-marriage, proof of non-dependents (all embossed with a Home Office seal of approval that had cost me a small fortune) there was always, always a new requirement that had been added to the list since the time of the last visit.

To its credit, however, the Interior Ministry had undergone vast improvements over the years and the utter disorganised chaos that had characterised my first visit to the Beer Sheva offices, where Boaz had been forced to practically bribe the guard to squeeze us past the desperate masses clamouring for attention, and then charm the clerk to do us the favour of seeing us, had become an orderly appointment system with even some vague semblance of consistency in the prices charged and the visa’s length of validity.

Having said that, it was still rare to be in the queue in Misrad Hapnim and not hear the tears, cries or abuse of some unfortunate whose visa request had been turned down.

I had never been denied a visa, and on the tail of such a success story, my advice was often sought by other non-Jewish girlfriends of Israeli males, a status I shared with quite a few people, as it turned out. One only had to scan a classroom at the Gordon Ulpan in Tel Aviv to spot the blonde European women who had followed those dark-eyed handsome Israelis they’d met in South America, or India, or Australia or wherever and now found themselves learning Hebrew five days a week and singing songs about the Second Aliyah.

I had only ever met one man who had followed his Israeli girlfriend to the country, but he’d only lasted a couple of months before heading back to the UK and a life he understood.

I’d like to think that this disproportionate ratio had less to do with the assumption , even in these days, that the woman will make the sacrifices to follow her man, than with the tenacity and determination of women, whose adaptability, flexibility and egoless strength to bear humility makes them survivors, able to thrive in the toughest conditions. But feel free to disagree with me, and anyway my man was now giving up his home country to come and live ‘on my turf’ and is already proving he is coping far better with the move than I am …

1 Comment

  1. Now that you guys are living in the U.K., the title (for Saar’s sake) should be: “Jewish? What the blimy are you doing here?”

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