Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

Danita Aziza and her husband Michel


By Danita Aziza, Evan Yehuda Israel, June 9, 2010

Last September I happened to be at a spaghetti dinner at school and was seated beside a lovely woman who turned out to be the wife of the Slovenian Ambassador here in Israel.  We chatted at length and at the end of the evening she asked me if I would be interested in running a conversational English class once a week.  Although I’m certified as an English as a Second Language teacher from 20 plus years ago, I hesitated and said that I wasn’t sure I was qualified for such a job.  Ana responded that I would indeed be fine for the job and, with that, we closed the deal.

I would have never dreamt that this volunteer opportunity would be one of the most satisfying and enriching experiences I was to have this year.  Every Monday at 1:00 we would meet in Herzylia, Tel Aviv or sometimes at my place.  Generally there were about seven women present who originated from such countries as Japan, Columbia, Chile, Turkey, Slovenia and Poland.  A few were at the end of a three year posting in Israel, some just beginning, but all of them wives of foreign diplomats who generally had a very limited command of English at the time of our original meeting.

The point of our hour together was to help the women manoeuvre through everyday situations such as going to the grocery store, doctor and hairdresser and, most importantly, asking for directions when the need arose.  They were very quick studies and highly motivated to improve their English, which they did with amazing speed.  At about our fourth meeting, one of the women said that she is always entertaining people and they are always asking her for recipes of the foods she cooks.  She was very frustrated that she wasn’t able to communicate the recipes properly, so from here we developed a plan to have each of us prepare a dish native to our culture and entertain each other in our homes, where the class would be a type of cooking lesson followed by a wonderful repast.

As a result of our classes, I developed a sincere appreciation not just for their individual culinary talents, but learned a great deal about their unique backgrounds.  Food became a way of communicating much about each woman’s culture and traditions.  An added bonus was that I found myself integrating many of the recipes into my own cooking repertoire much to my family’s delight. 

Mondays quickly became one of my favourite days of the week.  I was somewhat in awe that I could develop such fast friendships with and admiration for people who were complete strangers to me just months prior, and with whom I shared so little in common on the surface.  I was Jewish and they were not, yet we were all living in Israel sharing similar experiences with each other in terms of adapting to a new country and culture.  I was careful to have our conversations steer clear of politics and instead we focused on our shared experiences, frustrations and the multitude of humorous incidents that would transpire between our get-togethers. 

One of our most memorable classes was held on Yom Ha’Zikaron.  We had to schedule the class early in the morning as many of the women were travelling to Jerusalem for a ceremony later in the day.  The class started with our routine hugs and pleasantries, complimenting each other on a new haircut or clothing purchase.  From there I ventured into an explanation of the siren that was going to sound at 11:00 throughout the country as a two minute pause from life to remember the thousands of people whose lives were taken since the founding of the State.  While these women had no obvious connection to the sorrow and grief, when the siren began to sound and we stood outside the front door of our host’s home, tears flowed freely down the cheeks of each woman.  Whatever their feelings about the country, religious background or political leanings, each very clearly felt the weight of the moment and was moved by the significance of it all.

These women are so much more than simply the wives of diplomats who host dinners and attend state functions here in Israel.  Each year the Diplomatic Spouse’s Club organizes a bazaar with vendors, entertainment and foods from the various countries that maintain embassies here, and the event attracts well over a thousand people.  Months of planning and hard work go into the event and the proceeds go to a local charity that is selected by a committee that receives proposals from a plethora of non-profit organizations.  This past year the women raised over 10,000 shekel for a local charity that provides rehabilitation services to people who face severe emotional and psychological challenges. 

Next week we will have our final class.  Some of the woman are returning to their native countries or going on to other postings.  I hope to be in ulpan full-time in September and with a 5 day a week, 5-7 hour a day study schedule doubt I will have the ability to continue on with something that I have loved so much.  As I was thinking back to the moments shared with the women - a particular highlight being their attendance at my daughter Rachel’s Tu B'Shevat bat mitzvah Seder in January, I realized that while they have showered me with appreciation, I have learned and grown probably more than they from the encounter.  My being in Israel is what facilitated this unique and enriching experience and while our paths now take us in completely different directions, I am certainly the richer and wiser for knowing them.  While I merely provided a forum for expanding their English vocabulary, the women I met with each Monday taught me oodles about grace, kindness and finding meaningful ways to make the most of time spent here.  I will miss them.

<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Royal Bank
  • Fillmore Riley
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • JNF Manitoba / Saskatchewan
  • JCFS
  • JCFS Winnipeg
  • Orthodox Union
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Sobey's
  • Coughlin Insurance
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Safeway Tuxedo
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgleish
  • Lipkin Family
  • Booke + Partners
  • Red River Coop
  • Gislason Targownik
  • Janice Morley-Lecomte
  • James Teitsma
  • Obby Khan
  • Jon Reyes
  • James Bezan
  • Markus Chambers
  • Ross Eadie
  • Ted Falk
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Chisick Family
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Bob and Shirley Freedman
  • Shinewald Family
  • MLT Aikins
  • MLT Aikins
  • Myers LLP
  • Charach Family
  • Munroe Dental Centre
  • MCW Consultants Ltd.
  • Preventative Health First
  • Lanny Silver
  • Josef Ryan
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Bruce Shefrin Interior Design
  • PFK Lawyers
  • Commercial Pool
  • Simmonds and Associates
  • CdnVISA Immigration Consultants
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Dr. Brent Schachter and Sora Ludwig
  • Clear Care Periodontal
  • Shindico
  • Doheny Securities Limited
  • Lazar Family
  • Superlite
  • Chochy's
  • Nick's Inn
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Global Philanthropic
  • Abe and Toni Berenhaut
  • Peerless Garments
  • Cavalier Candies
  • Roseman Corp
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • Broadway Law Group
  • West Kildonan Auto Service
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.