Ahuva Herman

I was born in Baghdad and left for Israel when I was twenty-one. When I was growing up we spoke Arabic at home and at school but I have forgotten so much these days.

My family moved to Israel because of the trouble with the Jews, the Iraqi’s were killing Jews. There was a big Jewish community in Iraq, we were happy and rich, doing business and working all the time. We were part of the generations of Jews who lived throughout the Middle East. We were not European. Our family had been there for eight or ten generations before we had any problems. I think the catalyst was the anti-Semitism of World War 2 that spilled into the Middle East. When the troubles started happening the government wouldn’t let anybody leave the country but after two years they changed their mind and let the Jews go. But most of the people ran away before they were allowed to leave officially. My mother and brother left this way without a passport, smuggled out of the country; it was the way most Jews came to Israel. They took chances to travel without documents and had to pay money to the smugglers. If the authorities catch you, God help you.

When my father and I left, we had to leave behind nearly everything we owned. When we came to Israel we were only allowed thirty kilogram of luggage. It was very bad, very hard, if you had a house or property they took it. The government took everything and kept it for themselves. When we arrived in Israel we joined the rest of my family but it still wasn’t easy in Israel without money.

I came to Australia because my husband, who I met in Israel, really wanted to live here. He had a cousin here but he also loved the idea of this place. He had a whole bookshelf of books about Australia. I didn’t want to come but I thought I would count it as a holiday. We left Israel with our son Marco and arrived in Melbourne in 1958. We lived on top of my husband’s relative’s shops in High St Kilda.

The early days were very difficult and we were struggling financially to pay the rent on our first flat in Brighton Rd. It cost eleven pounds a week. So I looked for a smaller and cheaper flat and found one in May St, Elwood. By this time Marco was four years old and our second son Douglas was two. “I will do something” I said, “I am a trained nurse”. My husband said “Do you (really) think you can go to work.” I said “I have no choice”, I had been so lonely in my flat. They don’t say “good morning” or “hello and how are you” (in Australia). They open the door and (think) “quickly close the door before I see her”. That was why I was so isolated. The early days were very difficult.

In May Street it was better. My husband was working at GMH from 7am – 7pm everyday. We were stuck here so we had to keep trying. I didn’t have any connection with anyone, not even the Jewish community. I never felt a sense of belonging so I decided to go to work to solve this part of the problem. I will have people to work with and be busy, I thought. By this stage Marco was at school and Doug at kinder so when I went to Prince Henry for an interview, I said “I want to do night duty”. The matron said, “But you have a husband and two boys” and I told her “my husband will look after them at night when I am working and when I am at home I can look after them.” The matron agreed she was lovely.

The kids were really marvellous, I was so lucky. They came from school and watched TV until I came home and after one year they started to prepare dinner. By the time they were they were eight and ten years old they could set up the table and roast chicken and potatoes. But it was still exhausting; I worked full time, looked after the boys, washed dishes and then went to the school to improve my English. All sorts of people went from around here - Russian, Hungarian. Do you think I could keep my eyes open? I forced myself to do it. Nine o’clock finish, I run to my bed. I was too tired to talk to any one.

I did that for six months but after all that running around I got a rash. I was tested for all sorts of things but nothing showed. My husband said “What about going for a holiday to Israel and leave everything (for a break)? He said “I will look after the boys”.

It was wonderful experience. You know how many people came to meet me (in Israel)? Seventy-four! I thought the queen was coming. They gave me flowers, chocolate. I started to relax and the rash went. All I needed was a holiday but I learned my lesson. When I returned home I stopped learning English, I thought they will just have to understand how I talk.

When I retired it was marvellous. Now I don’t want to work, don’t want to cook, just to enjoy life. I am a member of the Elwood Bowling Club and the Probus Club and that keeps me busy. At first when I retired I thought, “Well I will just enjoy having nothing to fill my time,” but it was awful. What is there to do after ten (o’clock) when I’ve cleaned the house and cooked for the evening meal? I am free for the rest of the day. I made a headache for my husband and kept saying, “Can we go here, can we go there” but he doesn’t like to go out every day. He had the garden and he really enjoyed it. He wanted to stay home.

One day when we went for a walk we passed the Bowling Club and noticed a sign that said “Members needed for the club”. My husband said, “Ahuva look at that, come on, we go to ask if they’ve got room”. We went and asked and they had open arms. “Of course we have room” they said, and that’s how I started. I have been a member of the Bowling Club for twelve years.

Now I (also) go to the Probus Club too because I want new faces and new people. I discovered Probus because they had to rent a room at the bowling club. One day they were coming for a meeting and I thought “There are some new faces” so I go and ask if I can join. At first they had to have a meeting to see if they wanted me because they were full up and things like that - anyhow they took me. They are really very good - every month they have a trip around here and lunch. We go to a lot of nice places.

I love Elwood and St Kilda. It is like you are born here, you feel like it is your home. If I want to move somewhere else that would be strange for me, like changing countries. You get to know the shops, the businesses; if you need anything you know exactly where to go to find it. Another attraction of living here is the public transport to the city and how easy it is to get around, not just the trams but also the trains and the buses

You go for a walk to the beach it’s a lovely area. I walk a lot. I know much more people now than I did before. One evening when my neighbour and I were going to yoga we walked down Byron St and somebody called “Ahuva, Ahuva” and I think “My God, am I hearing something because I’ve never had somebody call me in the street and I looked around and she said “Ay, I’m here.” That’s the first time someone has called me in the street and we sat there laughing.

You’ll feel like you are not lonely when someone knows you, you think, good!