The trip from JFK to Ben Gurion airport with a stop in Orly took an unexpected extra day, because one of our plane’s engines burst into fire as we took off from Paris for the second leg of the flight. During the 20-hour layover, my husband and I befriended my seat mate, Yoram, an Israeli climate scientist, sharing tables at lunch, dinner, and a pre-takeoff breakfast the next day. Like me, he was a professor teaching at Bar Ilan University. I was to teach at the University of Haifa in the fall and in the spring, as well as at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers before parting.
A week later, Yoram called, inviting us to share Shabbat dinner with him, his wife, and family, in Ramat HaSharon. A friendship began that continues flowering to this day, more than 25 years later, including many visits in the U.S.A. and Israel for the four of us. As well, we helped one another with academic research opportunities and assistance from time to time during these years.
I needn’t have worried about teaching in English. All university students and faculty spoke excellent English. My Hebrew vocabulary expanded from a few hundred words to a few thousand. I got used to teaching on Sundays and Thursdays, and it gave us five more days each week to visit the graves of my aunt, uncle, and grandfather, who were early Jewish pioneers, to visit museums, shuks, kibbutzim and moshavim, and dozens of Israel’s glorious historical and religious sites.
We rented our landlord’s car as well as his apartment on the Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean. By bathing in the Dead Sea, boating on Kinneret, meandering through Jerusalem, hiking Masada and Megiddo, crawling through Elijah’s cave on the Carmel, and praying at the Western Wall, made the Bible come alive for my husband and me. We visited Christian holy sites as well as Jewish ones.
Our few words of Hebrew drew smiles. We opened a bank account in the neighborhood branch of the Bank Leumi. We ate schnitzels every week at an outdoor vendor who had three stools for customers, making sure my husband with his bad back got one of them. I shopped each week at the Supersol and used the cookbooks I found on our shelves to make Middle Eastern dishes. My husband got to know the Science attache at the Embassy who put him in touch with friends at the Technion, where he found work with a group connecting immigrant Russian scientists who wanted to start businesses with marketing and management plans. His background in both engineering and sales was of enormous help to them. For all intents and purposes, we became aliyot—Israelis from America.
I, as an editor of a series of professional library texts, helped three Israeli colleagues write & publish books. We remained friendly with one of them and her husband, and visited a number of times, but, unfortunately, she died a few months ago.
Sheila S. Intner – Fulbright to Israel 1992