8.26.2011 – Family Affair / The Peris and the Jowamises

By Avner Avrahami | Aug.26, 2011 | 2:46 PM

Peris, Jowamis.

The Peris and their hosts, the Jowamis family. Photo by Reli Avrahami

In the last installment of this column, two families live together in the Bedouin village of Beit Zarzir.

W The cast: Amir (57 ), Betty (56 ), Ya’ar (31 ), Osnat (30 ), Avner (4 ), Tamar (3 ), Khaled (61 ), Fatma (60 ) and little Khaled (13 ). Not in the photo: Yuli (16 ), a foster daughter, who has essentially been adopted by Betty and Amir; and Tal (28 ), a student, who lives in Haifa.

W Who’s who: Amir and Betty Peri are Ya’ar’s parents; Osnat and Ya’ar are the parents of Avner and Tamar; Khaled and Fatma Jowamis are the hosts; and little Khaled, their grandson, is here by chance for a visit.

W Story in a nutshell: Amir and Betty sold their home in Givat Elah (a neighboring community ) and decided to build a new home in Shadmot Dvora (near Kfar Tavor ). In the course of the construction they changed their mind and decided to stay in Givat Elah until Yuli finishes high school (in two years ). As a result they had to find a place to rent immediately. A place was found but won’t be available until September. Khaled and Fatma heard about the Peris’ problem and responded: “Please, come stay with us.” The offer was accepted and in June the Peris from Givat Elah moved to Beit Zarzir for three months. How did Khaled and Fatma hear about the straits in which Amir and Betty found themselves? All will be revealed.

W Highway 7626: After taking a left at the mosque, the narrow paved entrance to the Jowamis’ compound passes between olive groves. We drive in and on the right, on a concrete terrace, stands the family’s large house (two-story, light-orange stucco, decorative stones, and shaded parking area between the pillars ); on the left is the house allotted to the Peri family.

W Allotted house: The dwelling is flat and wide, with a light metal roof, ceramic-tile floor, aluminum-sided windows, orange walls (“a starling loft” Betty calls it: zarzir means “starling” in Hebrew ). The space is divided into two parallel halls along which cloth curtains have been hung to compartmentalize the temporary living quarters. The right-hand hall contains the Peris’ living-room furniture (white and blue sofas, Danish armchairs ) and a heavy dining table. The young Peri family (Ya’ar, Osnat and the children ) is ensconced behind a curtain and has spread a communal sleeping mat on the floor, in addition to the beds arranged along the wall. Betty, Amir and Yuli are living in the second hall, on the left; Betty and Amir have their own room; and Yuli has an enclosed area with a bed, computer corner and a copy of “The Little Prince” (in English ). Also here (in the second hall ) is the kitchen, which has been moved from Givat Elah. We peek in: Stuffed vegetables (Fatma’s handiwork ) are simmering on the gas cookers. Later we will see another kitchen, in the rear, which plays an important role in the lives of the two families.

W Midday: The fans do their best; there is no air conditioning. We sit outside in the parking area below the Jowamis’ house, and are served fruit and coffee. A light breeze blows from the direction of the olive groves and we discover an interesting detail.

W Interesting detail: Fatma and Khaled lived in the house they have placed (for free ) at the Peri’s disposal and moved to the big house, which actually belongs to their young (and single ) son, Uzi. The question now arises: How did the two families become friends?

W Friends: It’s all thanks to Amna, Khaled and Fatma’s 8-year-old granddaughter, who attends a school in the Arab village of Manshiat Zebda, in the Jezreel Valley, where Betty is a teacher. When Khaled heard about Betty and Amir’s housing problem, he said without hesitation, “Ahlan wasahlan (welcome ).”

W In the meantime: Ya’ar and Osnat and their children left Kibbutz Neot Smadar (north of Eilat ) and joined their parents for the village idyll in Beit Zarzir.

W Village idyll: Every morning at around 7, Betty and Fatma meet over a cup of coffee (granulated instant ) in the shade of the olive trees next to the rear kitchen, in order to plan the evening’s joint meal. The options include combinations of maluhiya (a green salad ), maklubeh (a chicken dish ), stuffed vegetables and schnitzel dipped in whole-wheat bread crumbs (a recipe from Osnat, even though she is a vegetarian ). At the same time, Amir and Khaled have their morning coffee together (made with Nachle brand Turkish coffee from Shfaram ).

W Livelihoods and occupations: Khaled is a pensioner. Until taking early retirement due to a heart problem, he was a security guard and a “night guide” at Ramat Hadassah boarding school near Tivon, which is attended by new-immigrant children with special needs. “These days I am not doing anything,” he says in a satisfied tone. Fatma follows her longtime routine of cooking, cleaning and praying five times a day in her room. She whispers the prayers, only her lips move. The first prayers are recited at 4 A.M., the last at 9:30 P.M. In between, she takes care of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She and Khaled have 10 children, 32 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. This evening they are going to a wedding (“We give NIS 150-200 in cash” ); on other days they watch the Channel 2 news and the “The Money Taxi,” an Israeli game show. Fatma also likes to watch the Lotto lottery winners’ show (“although I don’t have a ticket” ).

W The Peri family’s occupations: Amir is an architect who a year ago gave up designing “the houses in the extension projects” – referring to new residential construction on kibbutzim and moshavim – and environmental planning in favor of education, an old dream. He is currently a teacher’s assistant in the anthroposophic high school on Kibbutz Harduf. He is happy, he says. His work consists of being in the classroom (alongside the teacher ) and assisting children with various disabilities.

W Teacher’s salary: “I never made a lot of money, and because we recently finished paying off our mortgage, I can allow myself to do it.” The family is supportive (“We urged him for years to do this” – Betty ).

W Betty: She is an agronomist, a graduate of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot. After years of working in the profession, including at the Agriculture Ministry, she switched to “therapeutic gardening” and now works in two special-education schools in Galilee; one in Manshiat Zebda, the other in Nazareth, both for Arab children. As part of her work, she and the children grow house plants, herbs and spices in hothouses. Gardening, she says, is essentially therapeutic and empowers people (“Those who receive special care now care for plants” ).

W Amir’s bio: He was born on Kibbutz Eyal in 1954, to native-born parents, served in the Nahal paramilitary brigade, saw action in the Yom Kippur War (at the Suez Canal ), met Betty (on Kibbutz Gonen ) and studied architecture at an engineering college in Haifa.

W Betty: Her full name is Beatrice. She was born in 1955, in Concordia, Argentina, immigrated with her family to Israel (to Moshav Nir Zvi ) in 1959, attended Ramle-Lod High School (biology track ), served in Nahal and met Amir.

W The meeting: It took place in 1975, on Kibbutz Gonen. One of the kibbutz children found a baby falcon in Kiryat Shmona, and Betty, who was there, was advised to take the bird to “Amir, who raises falcons.” The falcon flew off after two months but the ties between Amir and Betty remained solid. At night they went to the banks of one of the tributaries of the Jordan River (“That was where the romance was” ).

W The wedding: It took place in 1976 on Moshav Nir Zvi, in the yard of her parents’ house. Betty was in a white bridal gown from Maskit and Swedish clogs; Amir wore a light-blue shirt, canvas slacks (fashionable at the time ) and “biblical” sandals. All their children were born at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot; Amir says he was one of the first husbands in Israel to be present at a birth. They took Yuli into their hearts in 2002.

W Yuli: The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, she has lived with the Peris (as her foster family ) since she was seven, and has no ties with her biological parents. She says she has always felt completely like a Peri – the little sister of Ya’ar and Tal. She attends WIZO high school in Nahalal, volunteers with the Magen David Adom emergency medical service , is studying voice development and will “probably” do a year of national service before being drafted. She sees her future as a singer, but will not take part in “A Star Is Born” (Israel’s version of “American Idol” ) – “so people won’t say, ‘She was on ‘A Star Is Born.'”

W Ya’ar: He is a gardener (works in the area ) and a student enrolled in the preparatory program at Emek Yezreel College; he plans to study economics and business administration. He did his military service in the Paratroops (“paramedic in the 890th” ) and left Kibbutz Neot Smadar with his family a year ago after eight years; he says he has a head for big economic enterprises.

W Osnat: She was born on Kibbutz Kissufim, met Ya’ar in Neot Smadar, currently teaches Pilates and gives private lessons in mathematics to local children. Next year she will teach mathematics and computers at the University of Haifa.

W Leaving kibbutz: “We enjoyed what we got there,” Ya’ar says, “but felt there were other things we had to try out.” He adds that he left “with empty pockets but ‘rich’ because of my wife and two children.”

W Living with the folks: “Terrific.” It started as a necessary economic move, he says, and became a pleasure (“We will want to live together in the future, too” ).

W Avner and Tamar: They attend preschools on Kibbutz Ramat David (NIS 4,500 a month for the two ). Transportation is based on “family planning every evening.”

W Dreams: “For the children to continue with us” – Betty; “I am now living the dream” – Amir; “To marry off Uzi, the 10th child” – Khaled; “To stay Betty’s friend” – Fatma.

W Peace: “We will start with two states for the two peoples,” Betty says. “I believe in man and his spirit, like Tchernichovsky did.”

W Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10 ): Amir – 8-10; Betty – 8; Ya’ar 9.5; Osnat – “from 1 to 10, and today 9”; Khaled – 8, Fatma – 9, Yuli – “from 4 to 10.”

The place

Beit Zarzir – A Bedouin village northwest of Nazareth, founded in 1963, with a population of 5,500 people who come from five tribes.

The “Family Affair” column has come to an end. We thank the readers and the Haaretz Magazine staff – Avner and Reli Avrahami.