I remember the first traffic light

I remember the first traffic light

Growing up in Beersheva, policing in Paramus

Nina Noy, third from right, with her IDF unit in 1971. courtesy nina noy

When you hear about a child growing up in a new town in the desert – a town without electricity, where the only toys are homemade, and the only refrigeration comes from chunks of ice, and the size of the chunk of ice you buy for it when the donkey cart comes around every day depends on how hot you think the day is likely to become – you think of the American West.

You learn that the child’s ambition, stretching to memory’s beginning, is law enforcement, and that makes sense. In those dusty desert towns, didn’t every little boy want to be either a cowboy or the sheriff?

People in ProfileBut wait. The town is Beersheva, the desert is not dusty but made of rock, the century was not distant, the dreamer was a girl, and her goal was the police force.

Meet Nina Noy of Fair Lawn: Israeli, wife, mother, cat-lover, police officer.

Noy was her parents’ fourth child; eventually one of seven, she was the first of the family born in Israel. Her parents were from Alexandria, where like almost all other local Jews they were accustomed to luxury. They fled Egypt for Israel in 1948, and her father fought in the War of Independence.

Special Officer Nina Noy

Beersheva, now one of Israel’s biggest cities, was a struggling new settlement when Noy was born there in 1953. Living conditions were primitive. “To find scorpions or rattlesnakes in the house was no big deal,” she said. There was no running water; “if you wanted to take a hot shower, you had to heat water on the stove and pour it on yourself, alternate it with cold water.” The large pieces of ice would last only until midday on the hottest days, and then people would cool themselves off “by taking some water and throwing it on the floor, and you’d lay on the floor.” (Floors were made of concrete.) There was an ancient well near her house, and for some inexplicable reason one tree, also very old, stood nearby. Some neighbors were Bedouin; the relationships were good.

How small was Beersheva? It was so small that “I remember the first traffic light,” Noy said. “The whole town stood around that light, and every time it changed all the kids applauded.”

One of her fondest memories was of the time Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion came to Beersheva. He visited the kindergarten, and Noy was chosen to present him with a bouquet of flowers. There are no photographs of that day – “who had a camera?”

Noy’s parents spoke only French and Egyptian Arabic – the languages of Alexandria – at home; everyone learned Hebrew and English, as well.

Because of her fluency, when Noy did her mandatory military service, she went into an Israel Defense Forces communications unit. She served in Beersheva from 1971 to 1973. Soon after her term ended, the Yom Kippur War began, and she was called back to service. Again, she was posted to Beersheva, the headquarters of the army’s southern division. “My chief then was Arik Sharon,” she said. He was a hugely charismatic man; to work in the building was to feel it.

“You didn’t question Sharon,” she said. “If he said do something, everyone did it. When he decided to cross the Suez, everyone followed him. No matter what. Everyone trusted him with their hearts and brains. It was like Moses. Moses decided to go from Egypt to Israel, so everyone goes.”

From Beersheva, headquarters were moved to Refidim, in the Sinai. “What I did doesn’t exist anymore,” Noy said; she helped the army’s three divisions keep in touch with each other, and the southern division to communicate internally. She also translated. “Life was exciting then,” she said. “It was very full.”

She did not have direct contact with Sharon, but “one day, I went from my unit department to go to the canteen, and I saw there, in the middle of the parking lot, Ariel Sharon. He was standing there, with a bunch of bananas.

“I’ll never forget that,” she continued, the delight still in her voice 40 years later. “He was our god. And there he was, a normal person, eating lunch. Eating bananas! Peeling them! He’s also a normal human being, standing there, peeling bananas like a monkey.

“This was one of the most fascinating, coolest things I had ever seen.”

After her army service, Noy moved to Tel Aviv. She had heard that there were police departments there that might have openings. Her childhood ambition of being a police officer had not deserted her. She found a job at what is now the very large and busy Ben-Gurion Airport but then was tiny and called Lod. After a stint as a traffic guard, she became an immigration officer, checking passports, turning away people who were not allowed to enter the country, and using her instincts to flag people who struck her as being not quite right and therefore potential threats.

Noy lived in a dorm in Petach Tikvah with the other female airport guards. One night, there was a knock on the door, and someone said “‘Girls, you have 30 minutes to get ready.’ When you’re trained in the army, sometimes you have 120 seconds to get ready, from pajamas to full gear, so for us 30 minutes wasn’t hard.” They didn’t know what the call was for, though.

A van took them to the airport, “and there they told us that we had to wait on the runway for planes. They weren’t regular planes, it was cargo planes, Hercules. It was 2:30 in the morning.

“We stood there until the Hercules landed, and after a couple of soldiers got off next it was the body of Yoni Netanyahu.”

It was July 4, 1976. The young women were there to guard the return of the prisoners, heroes, and survivors of Entebbe.

“I swore that if I had a son I would name him after Yonatan Netanyahu, and I did,” Noy said. (Noy has three sons and a daughter.)

Part of her job was greeting well-known people. Among her fondest memories is meeting Wolfgang Lotz, an extraordinary non-Jewish German who spied for Israel for many years, risking his life many times.

Noy, her husband, and their oldest child moved to the United States in 1981; she worked at Lod until it was time to board her flight to her new life, turning her badge over almost on the tarmac. The family started out in Queens, and a few years later moved to Fair Lawn. She and her husband owned a jewelry business, and then branched out into other fields. Noy worked with her husband for many years; eventually she started doing volunteer work.

“And then, in 2005, a friend said, ‘You know Fort Lee is looking for special officers,’ and I said ‘Very nice.'”

Her friend persisted. “‘Why are you wasting yourself?’ I said, ‘I’m too old,'” Noy said. “But my friend said that there is no cut-off for special officers.”

Noy thought about it, and realized that she missed the excitement of police life, so, after a process that included interviews with her neighbors on such subjects as whether she had pets and how she treated them – yes she did, and she treated them very well – she joined the Fort Lee force as a special officer, after taking a course for special officers at the Bergen County Police Academy. She does wear a uniform and does not carry a gun; she directs traffic, does crowd control, works at big public events, and generally helps out as needed.

After about nine months, Noy decided that Fort Lee, which she loved, still “was too quiet for me. I wasn’t as active as I wanted to be.” She moved to Paramus, where she has worked ever since.

Noy, who is 59 years old (and looks at least a decade younger), has lived through most of Israel’s life. She has seen enormous changes in ways that people born at the same time, but into more settled places, could not have seen them. It has given her a finely honed sense of appreciation for what she has now.

All that – and she also gets to be a police officer.

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