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Behind the Headlines a Positive Approach to Integration

The ordeal that new immigrants face in their dealings with Israel’s notorious bureaucracy may not be as bad as some people say. But it helps to have a sunny disposition, a positive philosophy of life and the counsel of a friendly taxi driver. Such was the experience of Michael and Denny Galland, formerly of Johannesburg, South Africa, who immigrated to Israel this year with their three children–not because they had to, they say, but because they wanted to.

Recently, Denny was standing in a seemingly endless queue at the Jerusalem motor vehicle bureau to exchange her South African driver’s license for an Israeli one. When she finally reached the counter she was told that her immigration certificate was not in order and would have to be amended before she could get her license. She asked if she would have to wait on line again. The official assured her that she could mail the amended certificate and there would be no problem.

Fortunately for Denny there was Danny, a cab driver who was just behind her on the line. “Never, you hear me, never send a valuable document through the Israeli mail to an Israeli official. You will never see it again,” warned Danny. He drove Denny to the office where the certificate was amended, then back to the motor vehicle bureau where she received her license. Both rides were free.

The Gallands relate this story as one of the highlights of their integration process in Israeli society during the four months they have been here. They know that not all taxi drivers are friendly and there are plenty of unfriendly faces on Israeli streets. Nevertheless, one such experience, they say, is enough to create a positive approach to the integration process.

NOT PHASED BY BUREAUCRACY

If you have an optimistic approach to life, life treats you well, said Michael, 34, sitting over a cup of coffee with a visitor in his temporary home at Mevasseret Yerushalayim, an absorption center outside Jerusalem. He acknowledged that all was not simple in the process of becoming an Israeli. It entailed running from office to office, filling out forms in Hebrew which the Gallands did not understand and struggling to learn the new language. “Everything seems difficult until you are actually doing it, “he said. Thus, even the omnipresent bureaucracy does not phase this newcomer.

The Gallands learned that it was something to be lived with. “After all, it is not the specific official who makes your life miserable, but the entire system. It is amazing how much you can get through if you go about it the right way, if, for example, you approach things with a sense of humor,” he said.

The Gallands are more or less typical of Western olim who come to Israel well educated and with professional skills. They will move soon from the absorption center to Petach Tikva where Michael starts work as a comptroller in a factory making printed circuit boards for computers. He will receive “an excellent salary by olim standards.”

Denny, who taught elementary school in South Africa, has not found a job yet and may not be able to teach here because of the language barrier. She said she disliked the lack of discipline in Israeli classrooms. “I am not used to pupils leaving class for the bathroom without asking the teacher’s permission,” she said.

This also bothered her children, Cindy, 8, Trevor, 6, and Paul, 3. They could not understand the relatively permissive atmosphere at their Israeli school. But as they mix with youngsters from the nearby village their adjustment has become easier.

DECIDED TO SETTLE AFTER VISITING ISRAEL

The Gallands left a comfortable life in South Africa. They had a three-bedroom house in Birnam, a Johannesburg suburb. Michael was not a Zionist but married into the movement. Denny’s father, Harry Cohen, was chairman of the South African Zionist Federation in 1974. The Gallands visited Israel that year and decided to settle here.

“It is not that the internal political problems in South Africa bothered us,” Michael said. “There is not a single white-skinned South African who is not worried. But I felt that the children should be raised with their own people.”

Unlike many Western immigrants, the Gallands are not disturbed by the cultural differences between themselves and the large numbers of Israelis of Middle Eastern origin. They say they notice a change toward Western culture compared to their previous visit three years ago. They do not want to give up their Western heritage. But, on the other hand, they understand that integration into Israeli life demands that they detach themselves somewhat from Anglo-Saxon society here and build up friendships with Israelis such as Danny, the cab driver.

Michael says South African immigration is on the increase and he is sure it will grow even more. It is believed that some 2000 South African olim will have arrived by the end of the year. By then, the Gallands will be settled residents of Petach Tikva. “I liked South Africa, I felt good there, but I feel that it is here where I belong,” Michael said. The poster on the wall of their living room is a picture of an Israeli landscape. Underneath is the caption, “I never promised you a rose garden.” The Gallands are not disappointed.

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