Author Caroline Goldberg Igra (center) with Modiin Vice-Chair Judy Golub (left)
and Modiin Chair Evelynne Cherny (right) at the ESRA Modiin event
Photo: Audrey Sklar Levy
Most of us who made aliyah to Israel have left behind our country of origin, our family and friends, but we have brought with us the mentality that we gained while growing up. Each one of us can recount our individual experiences and difficulties we had to overcome while settling into our new lives.
Caroline Goldberg Igra is one of these. She was born in Philadelphia, grew up in a Reform environment and, despite her knowledge and love of Israel, she admits that she knew that “Jerusalem is my home but I will never live there”. She married an Israeli. They and their three children today live in Caesarea. Caroline came to live in Israel in 1992. Armed with a BA degree from Brown University, an MA from the University of Michigan and a PHD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, she began to write and lecture.
Over the years she came to realize that her English-speaking friends and acquaintances have a lot to say and comment about. As a lecturer and writer, she was writing stories, and one day a friend who enjoys reading her work, suggested that she write a book. The idea took root, and her book Count to a Thousand was created. Caroline made up an amalgam of characters based upon people she knows, and wove them into a novel that deals with the various problems, practical, moral, ethical, emotional, encountered by immigrants. In addition she writes of her perception of Israeli honesty, when they say exactly what they think without considering whether they are upsetting the person they are speaking to.
A lot of questions are written into the storyline, and she thinks that she has opened a number of Pandora’s Boxes.
Caroline told us at the talk she gave in ESRA Modiin of the changes she has witnessed since she came to live in Israel. When she arrived, she would drink the local ‘botz’ black coffee, but today sophisticated coffee machines are available. And what did we do before there was a McDonalds? Food in Israel isn’t what it used to be 30 years ago. It has changed from Middle Eastern and Eastern European in style to widely international, with Gourmet Chefs attracting the customers.
Having grown up as a Reform Jew, she really believed that she had been practicing Judaism, but once she was living in Israel, she realized that there is so much more to Judaism than learning Hebrew and about Israel. She began to change as she learned along the way.
There is also a cultural process which causes changes to one’s way of thinking, without the person even realizing what is happening.
Caroline read excerpts from her book, which involved the personalities within the family, when the oldest child reached the stage of recruitment to the IDF. The situation brought out the differing emotions between mother, father and child, and it was most interesting to hear.
The conflict between imagining the worst scenario and the reality, and wishing the best for your child, led to her coming to terms with the fact that the son was moving on and his mother had to step aside, while the father of the story would find this emotionally easier.
There remain some interesting questions. How does her family back in the USA feel about them living in Israel? How do people from other countries feel? Most Anglos have the opportunity to return to the ‘old country’ and can make certain comparisons, but people from other countries may not be able to, and are ‘stuck’ here whether they like it or not. So how do they feel?
Caroline concluded that Israel is only 70 years old, and it has achieved so much, despite the faults and hardships which are ongoing. Nevertheless, as a person who grew up with certain Reform ways, she still finds it difficult to find the same familiarity, which she misses here.
I would like to add a personal note. I think I understand the intention of the title ‘Count to a Thousand’, instead of just stopping in the middle of some argument with bureaucracy and counting to 10 as a means of calming down. I remember an occasion in my first job in Israel, when I was so furious about something that I went to complain to my manager. He looked me in the eye and said “stop and count to 10”. I stopped and counted to ten, and was still furious. “it isn’t enough”, I said. I don’t know how he kept a straight face.