HER STORY #33 - zahava

From Iraq to Florentin

I live in Florentin, in Tel Aviv. I used to live in Tel Kabir, in Neve Ofer, which is a couple of stations away. I lived there until I got married at the age of 22, and since then I've lived in Florentin. 

When I first came to Florentin, I didn't like it because it was an empty neighborhood. There was nothing here. A lot of things were missing, such as kindergartens, but I told myself, "We'll live here." Little by little I began to like the neighborhood.

Now there are cafés and new buildings, and many young people living here. 

I came to Israel from Iraq when I was a baby. I don't remember anything from it. What I know is what my mother told me, because I was about one year old at the time. 

They [my parents] told me that it was fun to live there. They had god neighbors, and they enjoyed life until 1948. That's when things changed. When a Jewish country was established, everyone there began acting differently with the Jewish population. Until then it had been fine. No one had made trouble before, but things changed. Jews were being kicked out of villages, so my parents decided to go to Israel. 

They came here to immigrant camps. My mother had an uncle that had moved here before 1948, and so he helped my mother find a place to live in Tel Aviv. He lived in Holon, and we moved to Tel Kabir. 

We were nine children. Every day we woke up early in the morning. My parents went to work and came back and we were all very busy. At the same time, we had a lot of fun. 

It wasn't a big home - only three rooms, but we were happy. There weren't as many physical things as there are today, but it was okay. 

After a few years, my mother began to work. She worked in "Heichal HaTarbut" [the "Culture Palace" in Tel Aviv]. My father worked with carpets, abroad and here. He made a lot of money. He had started selling carpets in Iraq and he continued to sell carpets in Israel. In Iraq, my mother lived as a queen, but here, she had to work a lot. 

But with all this we didn't feel like anything was missing. We weren't rich, but we lived in honor. 

I have a daughter and a son, and my son has three children. They were renting a place here in Bnei Brak for a little bit, but his wife is from Beersheba, and they live there together. My daughter is single and lives in Florentin. 


I joined Mahapach [organization "Mahapach - Taghrir" focusing on Palestinian-Jewish partnership for community-based social change] through my daughter. I've been with them for 18 years, which is a long time. 

We fought for a lot of things that weren't in our neighborhood. Many things were missing, and many things still are. Some of the things we got, other things we didn't. There were no "Tipat Halah" [Family Health Centers], no pharmacy, and not many kindergartens. On Washington Street there were some playgrounds, but now they have been removed. 

I'm also part of "Achoti" [Mizrahi Feminist organization in Israel] and other women's groups here. 

It's very important for me to be heard and to work on what is missing in the neighborhood. Now we have a community center, but for a long time there wasn't one. My children also had to travel very far north to get to their school. There is just one high school here. They removed one of the local schools, and combined two schools. We can't all be in one space—they have to plan it better. My son had to go all the way to Northern Tel Aviv [to go to school]. 

I worked a lot. When I got married and had two children, I began working in pre-schools. I have also done a lot of work with children through Mahapach. We did a lot of activities for children so that they wouldn't spend their time on the streets. 

The houses here are full as well. The apartments that were built are very expensive and are not big enough. 

I think that there are many more things to do. There are not enough parks, and more lighting is needed. Some streets are not lit enough at night. For example, on Salame Street there is a new building, and I have asked the municipality to have more light there in one particular area because I was scared when I walked there. It took them two years. I kept calling them and the electricity company, and then suddenly there was light - on Hannukah [Jewish holiday also called "Festival of Lights"], yes on Hanukkah. 

There was flooding on my street, as if we were in Venice. Only this year did they take care of the sewage system and the pipes there. It was impossible to get through it before. Now we have pavement. 

It was impossible to take the children to school, and for my husband and myself to go to work. We needed a truck to come and get us. But in the end they took care of the pipes and sewage, and they're still working on the street's foundation. 

Then you always have dog droppings. If I am running to the grocery store in a hurry, I may risk stepping on one. I don't understand it. It's not okay. There were signs put up on Washington Boulevard against people leaving their dogs' droppings, and then fines were implemented. 

We have asked for many things, such as benches for people to rest on after having gone to the supermarket with their children. I have requested a lot of changes, some personally and some other through Mahapach. 

There is a "Gil Hazahav" club [club for seniors] in Florentin. It's on Herzl, and before there was no traffic light, so I, along with a woman named Rosa, wrote letters to the municipality and asked for traffic lights. We also said that the club needed an elevator, because the senior citizens could easily fall. The municipality eventually approached us and installed an elevator for the people there, which helps them go up and down between the different floors. People can fall. Therefore the municipality had to take care of that. It helps the elderly now. 

To Give

From a young age, I always cared. Even in school, I was also active in Tel Kabir. 

My mother helped women. She liked giving food to those who needed it. Even if she had children at home, she liked to give. My aunt and others were alone, and my mother would take care of them. 

She cared about them. She also cared about others who suffered and who weren't family members. That's how I learned to give. 

We first lived in an Arab building, and one day someone in a tractor came and said, "That's it. We are taking you out." My mother said, "What? I'm not leaving like this." But they were going to tear the building down. We had no hotel to live in. My father was 20 years older than my mother, so my mother said, "How will I carry an older person and nine children out? Where to? Give me a house."

She found out that houses were being built in Tel Kabir and asked the municipality what she could get there, and how much she would need to pay since they had taken her house. Even though we had lived in a house, we had to get out. The municipality came and talked to her, and we moved to an apartment and paid mortgage until a certain point. 

But the struggles began there, with her. Today those kinds of struggles usually begin with a small number of people and then grows. With her, she was fighting alone. She also taught her neighbors what to do in order to improve neighborhoods. 

She had a talent for business and managing things. That's what she had. Although we were nine children, we were always clean and in good shape. People wondered, how that could be, but she was on top of everything. She wouldn't let us suffer. 


My parents spoke Iraqi [Iraqi dialect of Arabic] between themselves, but we would come home from school and ask them to speak Hebrew to us. With time, they also began working in Hebrew, so they began learning Hebrew as well. 

They still spoke Iraqi, but since most of their children were born here, they eventually spoke mostly in Hebrew. Even my grandmother learned Hebrew. We learnt Hebrew quickly. It was easy to learn Hebrew. My aunt's uncle was a seventh-generation "Tzabar" ["Sabra" refers to Israeli Jew born on Israeli territory], so he knew. 

I understand a lot of Arabic, but I wouldn't be able to speak in complete sentences. I understand a lot of Arabic, but I can't formulate sentences. 

I learned where they [parents] came from. They told me that it was very fun there [in Iraq]. There were so many different kinds of vegetables, dates, good food, etc. 

They missed it. One of my aunts was always saying that she wanted to go back. She missed it. She grew up there. There was a sense of longing. 

I don't feel the need to move there, but to see and to know it, yes, I'd like to go. 

I have a sister who married someone from England, and she went to Iraq with him. She told me about it. She couldn't photograph it though. She was Israeli, as she was born here, but I believe she traveled there with a British passport.  


The husband of my sister's sister-in-law died in Jerusalem during the Six Day War. His wife was left alone with three children. They were small at the time. It hurts you, when you hear that. 

I don't think wars are necessary, but I hope it will be over. 

There haven't really been stabbings before, but now I hear about them in the neighborhood. Just recently I heard about someone who died at the Panorama [office building Tel Aviv]. He has five children at home. His wife is alone now. It hurts to hear this. 

Once I didn't care about walking. Now I don't know, where something will happen. It wasn't like that once, but now suddenly you hear about things that happened in Sarona [Sarona Market in Tel Aviv] and on Dizengoff [Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv], and then in Netanya, Rishon [Rishon LeZion], in so many other places. 

I get scared. Anything can happen suddenly. It's not a normal thing. 

We're not guilty, they're not guilty. When people get killed, it doesn't matter if it happens here or there. Why do children need to get killed? It's difficult for me when I hear that children are killed here or there. 

I hope that there will be peace. 

I'm scared, but I need to continue with my life. When they shot Scud missiles at us, I had to go to work. I couldn't not leave the house. I was a kindergarten teacher and had to go to work. It was scary, but I needed to go. 

Two years ago [during 2014 Gaza war] I went to my son's place in Ramat Gan. In the middle of the bus ride, there was a siren. The bus stopped, and we waited next to a building. I looked up at the sky, and saw how the Iron Dome intercepted it [missile]. If it lands somewhere, it can kill someone. 

Palestinian Women

I meet with Palestinian women here, also through Achoti and Mahapach. I like these people. I worked in Yafo [Jaffa] with a kindergarten teacher who was Muslim. I'm still in touch with her today. When I go there, all the women from the kindergarten team say: "Oh, here comes Zahava!"

We are all the same. 

I'm with the opinion that there needs to be peace. They, similarly to us, suffer, and their children too. We don't want, and they don't want, what is happening. We shouldn't be living in fear of wars. 

I talk to the Palestinian women. They ask me, how come people are treating their children badly? It hurts them, but it also hurts me. Their child is my child. 

I love these people. I don't see them as enemies. For me, they are like us, mothers, women. We have children; they have children. They were also scared during the sirens. They don't know where it will land—where the boom will be. 


In our [Mahapach] women's group in Florentin, we talk about the neighborhood, and what is needed. We talked about our struggles, all of which still exist. I'm also active in Achoti, as they mostly work with women from South Tel Aviv. 

The foreigners in southern Tel Aviv are also suffering, but I tell them that we also need homes. Children who were born here don't have homes here. That's the situation today. It's difficult for you, but also for us. 

There is a woman here, who organizes demonstrations against foreigners. But they [the foreigners] are also people. I don't know what they went through, so at the end of the day we need to be human and be nice to them. When you tell them to go away, where are they supposed to go? It's true that sometimes they create problems, but this is not always the case. Perhaps she [the woman who organizes demonstrations against foreigners] is right in that sense, but we can't put all of them into one box, because one person did something. That's how I think. They want to live. 

One of the refugees told me that his wife and children are still in his home country. He said that it was difficult to be here, but he said that he can't go back, because he would go to prison. It's difficult for them too. 


I didn't serve in the army. My daughter did. She said she had fun, but I was scared of her. 

She served in a place near Beit Shemest, and on her first day on the base, I got her commander's number. I called him and told him that I wasn't ready for my daughter to serve there, that she's from Tel Aviv, and that it was difficult for her to get home every day. He told me that the base wasn't in the West Bank, but I told him that she was there until the dark. 

I called and cried, but what could I do? I told her that the moment that she saw a bus, any bus, to get one it and tell the bus driver to go to Jerusalem and then home [to Tel Aviv] from there. She even let me speak to the bus driver, which I did, and I thanked him. 

The army eventually transferred her to a place closer to home. 

I had told her officer that if it didn't happen soon, I would faint. "I can't lose my daughter. I can't worry about her. You put her in such a place." She had to go home from the base, and she left the base after dark every day. She didn't know the place. It was in the middle of fields. Nobody was there. Nobody would hear you, even if you were shouting. She went all that way. It wasn't a closed base, so every day they had to go home. The commander said, "I don't only deal with the soldier, but also the family."

When she was on a "Fun Day" with her unit, I spoke to him as well and told him that if she didn't drink [water], she would go to the hospital, so he called for her and gave her water and made her be in the shade. I told him that there are things that the unit doesn't know about her [daughter], and that I have enough things to worry about. 

My son was also in the army, but he served in an area close by. 


My brother was recruited on the day that the Yom Kippur War started. For one month we didn't see him and we didn't know what was going on with him. It was very difficult. 

People were fasting [on Yom Kippur]. It was Shabbat, so no television either, and suddenly we saw forces being recruited. It all began at two o'clock. We weren't ready. 

After Shabbat people turned on their radios, but the broadcasts wouldn't explain the situation as they do today. It was more silent. But we don, and since then I had hoped that there wouldn't be more wars. 

My father wouldn't use shelter. He said that he had already experienced wars [in Iraq]. We also didn't have a shelter. He wanted to sit outside. 

With Saddam Hussein it was awful. The booms that we heard were terrible. We didn't have shelter, but we sat in a sealed room covered in nylon paper. I didn't like it and would say, "There is no air." I wanted it to be over. He [Saddam Hussein] kept throwing things. On Sderot Washington [Washington Boulevard] a piece of one of the missiles fell. 

Two years ago, a piece of one of the missiles fell on a gas station on Florentin Street. 

During that time [two years ago] I worked in a Jewish-Arab kindergarten. The children didn't know what was going on. The mothers, who came there wouldn't talk about the war. They just wanted to live in peace. They live in Yafo.

I hope that the current generation will finally achieve piece and quiet, and won't face hard times, where you don't know what will happen next. That's what I expect for everyone around us, and for me personally as well. 


I want more people to do good. I love to give. I volunteer at the kindergarten where I used to work, and I do activities with other organizations. I volunteer a lot, but I think that more people should volunteer as well. 

When I ask people to volunteer, they ask me if I'm being paid. I'm not interested in that. I learned that from my mother. 

If someone needs food, I will go to them and give them food. I'll go up 70 flight of stairs, just for this person. Those are things that everyone should think about. 

Once I had given food to someone—I gave him as much as he wanted. A while afterward he told me (and I hadn't known this before), "I owe you a lot." I told him that he didn't owe me anything. To this he replied, "You don't know how much you helped me in such difficult times. My parents and I didn't have food, and you brought it to me." He told me that my deeds were special, and that everyone should do that. Every so often I'm reminded of his words. 

It's not to brag, but I want others to do it, to help others. If someone doesn't have food or something else, they should be helped. Why should people suffer?

Someone I know lived in an apartment and she told me that there were people bothering her. The neighbors wanted her to leave. She lived in a dirat mafte'ach [subsidized housing] [I also live like that). I told her, "Go to Shula in Ahoti." There is a lawyer there every Wednesday. Talk to him."

She came and kissed me after she had gone to the lawyer. She said that now the neighbors don't bother her anymore. There was a law that she hadn't know, and she didn't know who to ask for help, but she cried to me in the streets. I had helped her. 

It feels good to know that I could help someone. What more do I need besides that? To get paid? No, this is enough. Even a nice word to a person can help this person. Not only money helps. What I can give is what I can give. 

Interview conducted on November 15, 2016 by Sarah Arnd Linder