Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Noemi Engel Ebenstein - July 22, 1996

Becoming an Israeli

Tell me something about what it meant to change your identity to an Israeli.

Hmm. Um, my identity as a Jew was never ever questioned or, um, that was a given. That was very strongly part of me. My mother used to tell the story how when I was born and she gave me the name Noemi, that's the Hebrew pronunciation of the biblical Naomi, and the Noemi, the way it is spelled is the Hungarian spelling. Her brother said to her, "How can you give such a name to a girl?" This was, like, too biblical, too Jewish in 1941. Uh, and I was not given any other name. When we got off the boat in Haifa in December, the first night of Hanukkah, um, in 1948, I still remember how, um, there were these clerks with desks, um, greeting the, the, the newcomers and they were giving them what's called te'oodat oleh, which is like a ID card, an immigrant ID card, the first identification card. And, um, they were asking them for Jewish names and some had, some didn't, whatever. Anyway, I don't remember the details, I remember how I experienced it. They asked me what my name was and I said Noemi. And the clerk was thrilled. Here is this Jewish child with a Hebrew name. And there was no other name. And it was like I was legitimized. I have finally arrived where I belong, where even my name is accepted and it's part of the majority culture, if you win--will. Um, win. Freudian slip. I won.

But you weren't--to coin a phrase--you weren't Hungarians anymore.

No. Oh, that's right! Oh, that's a wonderful story. I might as well tell that story. We were, um, uh, we were put on big trucks. They were taking us to this, uh, you know, absorption center and those, it's, it's, it was a mass Aliyah. I mean, in the next three years there were so many people coming in. But we were amongst the first ones to come, following the, um, War of Independence. And so we were on these big trucks going from Haifa to Be'er Ya'aqov, which is south of Tel Aviv. So it's like a, it was a couple of hours, actually longer in those days. Uh, on the road there were workers on the sides and, uh, one of the workers heard the Hungarian, everybody was speaking Hungarian. So a man shouts up, "Hungarians, Hungarians! Magyarok, Magyarok!" So my mother shouts down "Nam Magyarok! Not Hungarian! Zsidos! Jews!" And I guess that's what I got, you know, with my, as they say my mother's milk, you know, that kind of an identity, that, that strong identity. Uh, and it just became, the, the, the Jewish was, um, the foundation and then the Israeli was, became, uh, integrated into it. I don't know exactly. I mean, I still see myself as primarily Jewish and then Israeli. But the two are really part and parcel. One. They are together.

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