Memories of INS at Miami Airport

In August of 2001 I entered the United States as a legal alien with a conditional, two year green card. I came exactly 2 weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks. I arrived with my American  husband of 21 months – less than two years, hence the condition attached to my green card.

With all the talk about the latest immigration policies and current upheaval in the US surrounding immigration from certain countries, I started thinking about my own immigration to America story. Leaving aside refugees, my thoughts are mainly about those people who hold valid green cards, and who have been living in the United States for a period of time, or who have recently received their green cards and wish to move to the US within the time frame they have been given. Once you receive your green card, you have a limited amount of time within which you must physically arrive in the country.

I applied for my green card before September 2001. Even so, it took a year and a half for the process. At the time we were living in London. In order to simply file the application we had to provide an incredible amount of paperwork, including police reports from all countries in which I had lived for more than 6 months after the age of 16. For me that was 3 countries – Ireland, Israel and the UK. This was proof that I have no criminal background. In addition, we had to provide multiple copies of birth certificates, marriage certificate, proof of current employment in London etc. My husband had to provide proof that he could afford to support me in the United States financially – green card holders had to sign a waiver that they would not claim any benefits (medical or otherwise) for 10 years after moving to the US – even though green card holders pay taxes the same as citizens. Once the paperwork was processed and approved the next step was medical. I was subjected to a multitude of tests and vaccinations. I was tested for HIV and drug use. I was x-rayed to show that I don’t have TB. I obtained from my childhood doctor a letter stating that I had measles and mumps as a child, or I would have been forced to be vaccinated. I had to get a tetanus and a rubella booster, because I had no proof of the most recent ones I had received. All this was paid for by me, the applicant and required a full day of  vacation from work.

As one of the lucky ones, my green card was approved relatively easily. My husband and I were called for our interview at the US Embassy in London where we were asked to show all the paperwork again, and we had to answer some questions about our relationship and our plans once we arrived in Florida. Another day off work. But I got my green card.

One would think that once you have the card, entry into the United States is simple. Not so. While having a green card allows you to enter through the US Passport line (or it did,  until now), the first time you arrive in the country with that green card, you are taken to that room. You know, that room you pass after passport control, with the big letters “Department of Homeland Security” – or back in the pre-9/11 days “Immigration and Nationalization Services”. That room is where people who are denied entry into the US are sent. That room was eye opening. That room was frightening. That room was possibly the most humiliating part of the whole green card process. While I knew that my documents were in order, and that it was a matter of protocol and fingerprints, while I waited my turn I watched families get torn apart. I saw a mother get told she could not enter the country with her husband and children. I saw an old man get escorted to a closed room for an extensive interview. Those images have stayed in my memory for more than 15 years. When my turn arrived and I was called for fingerprinting I was shaking so hard the INS officer had to hold my hand steady. I remember him saying something like “Relax, you’re almost done! Welcome to the United States” and that he was smiling, while all around him people’s lives were being destroyed.

If the process for me to get a green card took 18 months, pre-9/11, pre -“Homeland Security”, an Irish citizen married to an American, living in London, I can only imagine how much more difficult the process has become, especially for anyone living in war torn countries. And it should be difficult,because the country has every right to deny entry to people who may be dangerous. The process is there for a reason, and once a person has been approved for residency s/he should be allowed to enter the US with US citizens through the same passport control booth. End of story.

 

A wise woman once said

to a friend “the day they come to pack up your house for an overseas move is the hardest day of the entire experience”

That was me, giving advice to my friend who is also moving to Israel, on the same flight as us.
I was speaking from memory of my experience when I moved from Israel to London, and from London to the US. But I didn’t really remember.

Our lift was due to be packed next Wednesday. So yesterday I said to myself “I have a week to pack the things I want to pack myself”. I’d already packed many boxes of books and photos, and other easy things, mostly just to save time on the day. At 5pm yesterday we had a call from the shipping company, asking if it was okay to send a couple of guys “tomorrow, just to pack the fragile stuff like china”. So Keith and I said “sure” – we’re not eating any shabbat meals in our house, we’re not using our china again on this side, makes perfect sense.
So this morning, 3 guys in a very large truck showed up at 10am, raring to go. Within an hour they had packed most of our breakables – china, crystal, stuff. But they wanted to do more. Now it’s almost 4pm. They’re still here, and the only rooms still intact are my bedroom and the girls’ bedroom. The dining and living rooms are wrapped in cardboard. The paintings are off the walls.

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I guess it’s good they got so much done today. It means less time spent next week packing, and getting the container out of here earlier in the day. And tomorrow Keith & I are going on a date. R&R time just the two of us.

As for poor Guinness the dog, well, she is sleeping on the couch as usual…

I dreamed a dream…

I love Les Miserables. Not just the musical, I’ve actually read the entire Victor Hugo book in the original French, and in English, just in case I missed something in the French. I love how in spite of all the misery and hardships, there is a relatively happy ending. Not the happy ever after ending of a fairy tale, but a content, life can go on kind of ending.

Life is not a bed of roses. Bad things happen to good people. Different folk deal with that in different ways. Some use bad things as proof that there is no God. Others use tragedy to say all religion is bad. Still others tell us that disaster strikes because we don’t put enough faith in God.

I believe in God. I’ve had times in my life when that belief has been tested, but ultimately I believe in God. I believe in the Torah, and I believe in Judaism. I don’t always agree with the interpretations, but the beauty of Judaism is that there is always more than one answer to a question.

When times are tough, I try hard to tell myself that it’s a test, and that God only gives you as much as you can handle. It’s what I told myself when I battled post-partum depression, when my husband was out of work for a long time, and at other stages in my life. I don’t know if I believe it completely, but it does help me get through, and it drives me to pray harder, to do extra mitzvot, and to give more tzedakah – there is always someone worse off than you!

The past 6 weeks my faith has been tested to the limits. As time flew by since our interview with the Jewish Agency in Miami, we heard nothing about our application to make aliyah as a family. Others who interviewed weeks after us were approved, their flight confirmed. We approached from as many angles as we could, trying to get some information – was there a document missing, did our file get lost, anything? Eventually we discovered, as I had expected, that it was related to my aliyah some 20+ years ago. Our application had to go through a special committee. You cannot make aliyah twice – this I know. All I wanted though, was for our family to arrive in Israel together on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. I never had a free flight, as I made aliyah from within the country, and my husband & kids are entitled to a free flight per the laws of making aliyah. It was so important to me that we were on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. I want my children to arrive in their new homeland to an enormous welcome. To singing and dancing. To be welcomed by the leaders of the country. To understand from the minute they arrive that this is HOME, this is where we need to be. And if we weren’t approved for the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, well, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Baruch Hashem, we finally heard this morning. I give so much thanks to both Rabbi Fass at Nefesh B’Nefesh, and to Iris at the Jewish Agency in Miami, for their patience in dealing with my incessant emails and phone calls, and for their investigating for us. Thanks to Keith, my ever-patient spouse for ignoring my insistence that if we weren’t on that flight I wasn’t going. Thank you to my Mahjongg girlies for allowing me to have an evening playing Mahj, without a single mention of the move – you guys have NO idea how serious I was – I would have just left Tuesday night if anyone had mentioned it.

And now the real work begins. The dream is being realized, but we’ve a way to go. I’m not expecting a fairy tale outcome, but I cannot wait to live in Medinat Yisrael, Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu. The State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption, the only place the Jewish people can truly call “Home”.

I’m not really a liberal

I write this with tears pouring down my face. I can barely breathe, and I keep checking my Facebook feed in case I am mistaken.

The bodies of three Israeli teenagers (one, a dual citizen of the US and Israel) who were abducted 18 days ago while on their way home from school, have just been found.

Eyal Yifrach. Gil-ad Shaar. Naftali Fraenkel.

Aged 16 and 19 years old. Children. Sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews. Kids.

The boys were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, as they waited to hitch a ride home for Shabbat. I’m not going to write about hitchiking and its dangers here, because in truth, when it comes to hitching in Israel (called “tremping”) it’s not something you can understand unless you have lived there.

My friends in the US think of me as a liberal, because I believe in equality for all US citizens, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. This has resulted in me having the label “LIBERAL” stuck on me.

But I’ve always said that when it comes to Israel everything changes.

Right now, right at this moment, all I can think is “Hashem Yinkom D’mam” – “God will avenge their blood”. And by that I mean, Tzahal, the IDF, with God’s help, of course. Because Hamas are terrorists. Because the majority of Palestinians do not want a two state solution, or any other kind of peace with Israel. The majority of Palestinians are not a “peace loving people”. They want to annihilate the Jewish state of Israel, and all the Jews within. In all likelihood, within the next hour or two, we will start to hear stories coming out of Gaza and Ramallah, and other areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority of celebrations. What are they celebrating? The deaths of 3 children. 3 children abducted and brutally murdered on their way home from school. For no reason other than being Jews living in the land of Israel.

Let Israel hold back nothing when chasing down the animals responsible for this. And they will find them. Enough deals. Enough “peace talks” – there cannot be peace with a people who rule with terrorism.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet. May the memories of Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali be for a blessing, and may their families, somehow, find comfort as they become a part of the ever growing “Mishpachot sh’kulot” – bereaved families – in Israel.

Well meaning people?

I wasn’t sure what to name this post. I’m being optimistic when I title it “Well meaning people” because I’m not always convinced that these people are actually well meaning, or if they want to sabotage things.

Recently – as in, the last few months – some people (not just one, but a few) have told me that my children are worried and scared. I’ve been informed that my kids are upset, unhappy and anxious. When I ask these people to elaborate I am told that it’s because I (never “you plural”, always just aimed at me) am taking them away from life as they know it, and that it isn’t fair to move to Israel when the children are so against it. My response to those people is usually something along the lines of “We, my husband & I as a team, are doing what we believe is best for our children’s future. We understand that right now they are unhappy about it, but we believe that they will one day thank us for it”. And I move right along, because frankly, if I attempt to have a more in depth conversation around the subject with the people concerned it may end badly.

These individuals are not the only ones, however. So called friends, adults, have asked my kids how they feel about our move, and when the answer leans to the negative, they follow up with “why?” My kids aren’t able to fully articulate why they don’t want to move to Israel, but suffice to say, they have never set foot in the country, have no idea what to expect, and they’re worried.  I’d be more concerned about them if they were really gung-ho and raring to go. Some people are smart enough to give a sympathetic smile and leave it at that. Others, sadly, are not so savvy.

I’ve had people ask my son directly “are you scared about going into the army?” and when he answers that he sometimes is, they go on to either tell him that it’s nothing to be scared about (hello! Do not diminish his very real fear!) or that he should be proud that he will be serving in the IDF (Really? You’re going to make him feel bad for being scared?).

Listen up people, making a big move with our family is not a decision we take lightly. We did not just wake up one day and say “ok, let’s move to Israel”. It’s been years in the making. 15 years to be exact. It’s normal that my children should be concerned and scared and worried and sad. And don’t for one moment think that we are not taking their emotions seriously. Of course we are. Just because I brush off their feelings in front of you, don’t think that we don’t discuss their very legitimate fears when we are together as a family. Don’t be so naive to think that we’re ignoring the challenges that they will have as a result of this move.  And please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t undermine my kids’ feelings to them, or to me.

This is a classic example of “you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors”, but rest assured, all is well, and we are helping our children cope with their feelings in the privacy and comfort of our own home.

To those of you who are truly looking out for us, thank you – I know you do mean well, but think twice when you get answers you’re not expecting from a child.

To the rest of you, know that it’s working against you. All the kids have complained individually about things you’ve said, and they simply no longer want to spend much time with you. Keep that in mind, as our time here grows limited – don’t spoil what we still have here.

Shabbat Shalom

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3 strikes and you’re… what, exactly?

I am at my most productive when I make lists. I find nothing else gives me a sense of accomplishment like checking things off a long to-do list. So, in an effort to get things done, rather than just stressing myself out from thinking about all the things that need to get done, this morning I wrote a list. There were only 5 things on the list. I quickly crossed off one of them, and began working on a second.

Then I tried to accomplish the third. I called the Israeli Consulate in Miami. I listened to the recorded message, and chose what I thought was the correct department, and pushed the button. I got voicemail in Hebrew. So I left a message in Hebrew, asking for someone to call me back. Surprisingly, I did get a call back, right while I was in the middle of crossing item number four off my list – getting passport photos taken. The nice man told me I had the wrong department, and also informed me that the consular department, which I need, is on strike.

Yup. On strike, he said, chuckling. No, really, he chuckled and said “you know, it’s Israel here, they strike, we strike, but don’t worry, call them anyway.”

So I called the consular department, and after a few buttons, a man answered ” ‘allo? Ken?” I began explaining in Hebrew how I’m an Israeli citizen, and I want to register my children as citizens, but quickly got confused, and asked if he spoke English. “English, Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese, whichever you like”, was the reply.

In English, I asked what I need to do to register the kids as Israeli, and he gave me very straightforward instructions. “But,” he said, “we are on strike now, so you can’t come down here to do it all”

Ah, yes, I responded, do you have any idea how long the strike might last?

“Check our website at the end of the week, it might be over” he replied.

You know, I said, interestingly enough, it is because of a strike that I made aliya all those years ago. The professors were all on strike for months, and I was bored and wanted to get a job, so I made aliya in order to get a job…

“You see!” he laughed, “strikes are a good thing!”

Oh Lord, give me strength, and let this adventure be smooth…

And the downside is…

You put your kids back in school and on day 1 of week 2, someone has to stay home sick.

My kids are really healthy in general, but once in a while there are things beyond our control. Number 3 woke up yesterday with a bright red rash on her face. Classic test case of fifth disease, or “slapped cheek” disease. According to my medical research (i.e the interwebz), once the rash has appeared, it’s no longer contagious. But this morning the rash had spread beyond her face, to her torso, and I could not send her to school without a doctor’s note, or I imagine I’d have received a call within minutes of her arriving to pick her up.
So, she stayed home, we visited our favorite pediatrician, who concurred with Doctor Mom, and gave us a note so she can return to school tomorrow.

So here we are. Luckily she’s cute and fun to hang out with, but she does not stop talking at all!!!

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Look at those red cheeks – classic “slapped cheeks” disease. Perfectly happy otherwise, just covered in a rash, poor child!

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