A True Story by Dvora Elisheva
I was still writing, even though I’d quit the poetry group I’d been quite active in before going to China. I’d even resigned from the position of Secretary of that organization. I considered rejoining the group, but my writings were still too personal and raw to be shared.
Actually, my acceptance in the BA program was, in my eyes, nothing short of a miracle. It was a special program for teachers or nurses who wanted to purse a BA in education. This was no standard distance learning program. An accredited university from England was setting up an office in Beersheba and would be sending lecturers to Israel for one week of classes every 3 months. Attendance was mandatory. Then we would be given research assignments and papers to write. The papers would be submitted by postal mail and returned with grades at the next meeting. We would also have special individual meetings with the instructors.
They had asked me why I wanted to pursue the course? What benefit would it be for me since I was not working as a nurse nor was I a professional teacher. I told them about my work in the Chinese Church. I sometimes had up to 15 children, ages 4–12 with translations into Hebrew, Mandarin, and sometimes Cantonese. Over time, as my Hebrew improved I could teach in Hebrew, but my friend Cee helped with the translations when necessary. The admissions committee felt this, and my past learning in nursing qualified me for their one year program. I was advised that my emphasis would be on special needs.
The entire learning experience was surreal. Friends in my congregation knew people who lived in Beersheba. They opened up their home to me for all of the study weeks. Suddenly I was meeting new people and immersed in a new part of Israeli life. Beersheba was much different from Haifa—for one thing it was as brown as Haifa was green. I discovered that Poinsettias are trees, not potted plants that should be left to die after Christmas holidays are over. The glorious red flowers were beacons of hope in this dry and arid region of Israel.
Halfway through the course, we learned that the State of Israel would not recognize our degrees. The university had been advised incorrectly regarding accreditation. I was the only one in the course who was not negatively impacted by this. All the other teachers had invested a huge amount of money and time to get a BA, planning to submit their new qualifications to the government for a higher salary. But the university had not requested the permission of the Ministry of Education to set up this course, and so, the BA was unrecognized. In my case, I’d already been advised up front at work that my work in English did not require an academic degree so even if I had a BA that was recognized by the Ministry of Education, no raise in salary could be expected.
In the classes I got my first taste of the Israeli educational system. The students—themselves teachers—were always arguing with our UK instructors. They always had a reason or experience to prove why the instructors were incorrect. Sometimes the crosstalk was so loud I couldn’t hear the instructors! I remember sitting there in the midst of the chaos realizing that I was not panicked or freaking out inside. I was just going with the flow, doing my best. Yes, sometimes I got angry, but the rage I’d once had to deal with was no longer controlling me.
I was enjoying meeting new people, visiting different places, and learning new things. I was living and I was enjoying it!
With my BA completed, I began to wonder if I really wanted to stay on as an “English Typist” at the Technion. So many of my colleagues had been telling me that what I was really doing was Technical Writing, why not look for a job in that?
The idea of looking for a job scared me. What if I couldn’t do it? What did I know about technical writing? I began reading about it and started attending meetings of the Israeli chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). At one time, the chapter was the largest outside of the USA. I was learning from people who today are by-names in this profession. But strike out and look for a job on my own? That was just too scary.
So the job came to me.
A former student from the Technion, Shlomo, needed a writer for his startup company in Tirat HaCarmel, a suburb south of Haifa. He turned to a friend of mine, Ruth, and asked her if she could help him. Ruth had taught me everything I knew when I first began working at the Technion. She often remarked, as we would discuss the finer points of editing, that I was more a writer than an editor. She didn’t feel able to do the work, but was convinced I was the person for the job and told Shlomo so.
“I know her.” Shlomo responded. “Nope, find me someone else.”
Unknown to Ruth, Shlomo and I had not gotten along very well when he has been a student where I worked. He had asked me to edit a paper of his. But I was under strict orders not to work on any of the student’s papers without the express permission of their supervisor. He had insisted he had authorization, I wanted to see it, and no, his name was not good enough. When his supervisor gave permission, then I would help.
He stormed out of my office and never came back. I’m sure he thought I was as arrogant as I thought he was.
At the same time, I hadn’t had any private work for a while, and really needed it. I asked Ruth if any of the doctors needed help on their papers.
“Well, no, but Shlomo is looking for someone to help with writing in his new startup.”
“Shlomo!” I exclaimed. “No way.”
This went on for a few weeks. Really—I kid you not. And every time, Shlomo said to Ruth, “Don’t suggest Debbie,” and I would answer, “I’ll never work for Shlomo.”
Ruth finally got fed up with the two of us and said she wouldn’t talk to either of us again until one of us swallowed our pride and talked to the other.
That was when I finally prayed about it. I really had not been taking this seriously. Yes, I’d been praying for work—just not for Shlomo. I talked it over with Ruth and then the shoe dropped,
“He told me that if you would call him, he will talk to you.”
This was a huge concession on his part, but I’d be the one doing the humbling.
I kept praying for more private work, and still nothing was coming through. Finally I made the call.
I wish you could have seen us both greet each other when I finally went to talk to him. He was sitting in a big office, and I don’t think we shook hands. I think we kind of nodded to each other, warily, like boxers getting ready for the match.
Then he started talking to me about the product he was working on, something called the CARTO System, a fancy medical device that would let doctors create a reconstruction of the heart and treat arrhythmias without surgery or medication, via a catheterization procedure.
I was enthralled and started asking questions about how it worked, the theory behind it, and which arrhythmias. He stopped in the midst of an explanation, and gave me a funny look.
“How do you know about these things,” he asked.
“I used to be a nurse in a critical care unit. Once upon a time I could read EKGs better than the doctors could…”
Shlomo’s face softened and revealed happy surprise. “I didn’t know that! Seriously, Debbie, we need you. Can you write the user manual for this?”
And I answered honestly. “Shlomo, I’ve never done it before. I think I can, and I would love to try to do it. But if you are not happy with my work, you have to be honest with me. Yes, I’d like to try.”
Six months later they offered me a full time position. Overnight my salary doubled and I no longer needed to work on the side to make ends meet. Ten years later I would leave that job to marry Rich and relocate to America.