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Israel is my twin… I’m so proud of her

As Israel turns 70, two women, one born in 1948, the other whose first child was born this year, describe how they feel about their nation

    Hagana Katabi
    Hagana Katabi

    Hagana Katabi, 70, from Netanya

    My father came to Israel in 1939 from Yemen. He travelled through the desert with a donkey until he came to Aden. It took three months. He said when he got here it was all sand and sand and sand — it was nothing. If you wanted to go to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv it would take a week.

    I was born in the Hatikva neighbourhood in south Tel Aviv. I was the middle child — I had ten siblings. In 1948, everyone was calling their daughters Geula, Mazal, Bracha or Jaffa. My father said: “No, this girl is going to bring me blessings,” so they called me Hagana, meaning protection or defence. Teachers at my kindergarten would bring people in to look at me, they were so amazed by my name. I felt proud to be different and knew my role in life was to protect and nurture.

    In the early days of Israel, we didn’t lock our doors or have bars on the windows, which says it all really. People wanted to come here; it was  the “Promised Land”, from the Bible. We were poor, we didn’t have cake. I had one pair of shoes for Shabbat and one pair of shoes for the rest of the week. My father worked from morning till night, while my mother raised 11 children. But we were happy. My brother Yehiel argues with me, saying: “Why do you always see our childhood as so rose-tinted?” But it was!

    I didn’t go to the army because I was from a religious family but I wanted to. During the Six-Day War, I volunteered. I went round with a taxi driver at night and whenever I saw a light I opened the window and screamed: “Turn the light off! Put the black curtains in the window!” People thought it was a game; they didn’t know it was a war. My father didn’t like it but I said, “I have to do something for my country.” I did it six times.

    In 1991, when the Gulf War broke out, I was living in England with my two daughters. Dana, my eldest, was at JFS and Perry, my youngest was two. The minute my sister-in-law called and said, “Listen it’s not a joke now, they are going to destroy us,” I said “Come on, we have to pack.” I flew back to the war with a baby and a teenager. We blocked the door with towels soaked in bleach so chemical weapons couldn’t get in. People said I was mad for going back to that but I would never think to stay in England and not to be here. 

    Every year on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we do a family BBQ. Dana makes little cakes with flags; we sit with the TV on and watch the celebrations. My sister Shoshana always wishes me “Mazeltov!” — as though it’s my birthday, too, and there is something in it. I feel like Israel is my twin. Israel is definitely a woman; she’s young, she’s pretty, she’s sexy, she’s fighting — she’s so beautiful, everybody loves her. The Japanese, the Chinese — they’re fascinated by how far we’ve come. Look at the buildings; the shore; the hi-tech industry. Other countries have been around for 500 years and they’re poor and underdeveloped but Israel is beautiful. Nobody believed that Israel would exist. Now they all know of us. For people in Sudan and Eritrea, Israel is the closest place of hope.

    Buying a house costs 400 per cent more than in other places, yet Israelis are so joyful. I put this down to the mish-mash of cultures; we came from all over the world; there’s no one who’s been Israeli for 200 years. It’s a different recipe here. My biggest hope for the future is peace, of course. I am so proud of my country and everything we have done together.”

     

    Lilach Grimberg, 35, a property lawyer from Tel Aviv, had her first child, Gal, in January 2018

    Lilach Grimberg and baby Gal
    Lilach Grimberg and baby Gal

    I’m 35 and I just gave my parents their first grandchild. We’re a small family because of the Holocaust and I think they gave up hope when I was 30 so they’re surprised and happy!

    I didn’t want to give Gal my partner’s surname because I wanted him to be connected to me as well, so we invented a new surname, an amalgamation of both our names. He’s a new dynasty, which felt appropriate at this point in time.

    I want to raise Gal in a secular, liberal society, but when I try to think, “Where can I raise my child with these values,” the answer is only Tel Aviv. There’s nowhere else like it in Israel. We’re accepting of everyone here; we even have a Holocaust memorial for homosexual people. But even for me as a lawyer in a big law firm, it’s very hard financially to raise a family here. So this is the big challenge. The state pays me three-and-a-half months of my salary in maternity pay and if I extend up to one year, my company will save my job, but they don’t pay me. [Most new mothers take six months off work in total, covering the second half at their own expense].

    I grew up in Haifa in the 1980s; parents were less controlling then and we were always outside in nature. When I was a teenager, it was the Rabin era, so I was very hopeful about the peace process. There was real hope that there was going to be peace. Now, it’s not like this. Also, Haifa is a mixed population; we have Arab-Israelis, so it was much less segregated, which I liked. I’m very liberal and pro human-rights but I don’t think our government sees eye-to-eye with my opinions and I’m quite worried about it.

    When I heard the two-minute siren on Yom Hazikaron this year, I was in tears because I thought “I don’t want him to go to the military.” It hit me. As a new mother, I don’t want Gal to go to into battles, but I don’t see peace ahead sadly.

    Gal means “wave” in Hebrew and I’m looking forward to taking him to my favourite beaches near Atlit, or Ga’ash near Netanya. I’ve travelled a lot but I can’t picture myself living in another city; not in New York, not in London. I love the combination of things here, from the sea to the culture to the community. Naturally, I hope Gal stays here when he’s older. I want him to grow up next to me. I very much hope he will be proud to be Israeli and that he will grow up in a calm, balanced, reasonable society that’s secular and respectful to all. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, we took him in his stroller to the see the fireworks in Rabin Square. He slept through the whole thing. I hope he will carry the torch with our values into the next generation.

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