Joyce Silver smiled broadly as her companion, Jess Koch of Manhattan, joked with an elderly woman making puppets at Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem.
“This is what we need in our country,” said Silver. “We have to make these people feel wanted; it makes their eyes sparkle.”
Minutes later, the elderly woman motioned for Silver to sit beside her. Although they did not share a common language, the two women were quickly laughing and embracing.
The woman, who immigrated to Israel from Argentina in 1971, is one of 250 poor, elderly and handicapped Jews who come to Lifeline five days a week for four hours a day to make scarfs, jewelry and other items.
Each person is paid a monthly stipend of $100 and receives travel expenses plus a comprehensive system of support, according to executive director Nava Ein-Mor. In addition, the organization, which is supported by UJA-Federation of New York, takes the group on subsidized trips around the country twice a year.
In another room, Martine Fleishman of Purchase spoke in Hebrew to a 100-year-old woman from Sarajevo as the woman made a zebra puppet on a 1930s-era Singer sewing machine.
“It’s so uplifting to see that people have a place to go — that people actually care,” said Fleishman. “It gives me a sense of pride.”
Saul and Fran Singer of Dobbs Ferry, among the 400 New Yorkers on the mission, struck up a conversation with a woman in her 80s who came here seven years ago from St. Petersburg with her daughter.
“I asked her in Yiddish why she left [Russia] and she gave me the smartest answer: ‘I was chased by the Nazis and when I came back I was chased by the Russians. Even though things are not so easy here, at least we won’t be chased,’” recounted Saul Singer.
“It’s degrading to be old in the United States, where you have to sit home or go to a nursing home,” said his wife. “People should have self respect and dignity and this is what they have here.”
Ralph and Fleur Abuhoff of Jericho, L.I., decided to join the celebration of Israel’s 50th birthday to make their 50th wedding anniversary more meaningful. It was their first visit to the Jewish state.
“We had thought of coming before, but my wife was working and I was reluctant to travel too far,” said Ralph, 76.
“This trip is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done, aside from getting married and having children,” said his wife. “I have a pride in being a Jew that has been affirmed here.”
Marcia Mondschein of Dix Hills walked through Yad LaYeled, the new children’s memorial museum at Kibbutz Lohmei HaGetaot in northern Israel, and expressed envy with the teaching technique employed there.
“The strategy they have implemented in their curriculum for children in something we have been striving for in the states,” said Mondschein, an adjunct instructor in curriculum and instruction at Hofstra University in Uniondale, L.I. “Getting kids to express themselves on an individual basis is what is important and kids [visiting the museum] are allowed to do that. Childrens’ responses are celebrated as they should be.”
The museum, built with support from the Workman’s Circle Division of UJA-Federation, is located on a kibbutz founded in 1949 by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Before flying to Israel to join Gov. George Pataki at the opening of the state’s new commercial trade office in Jerusalem, State Comptroller H. Carl McCall complained to his wife that his back was bothering him. Imagine her surprise when she later turned on the TV news to see her husband dancing the hora with Pataki at a dinner in Israel with 300 UJA-Federation supporters.
“I tell you, you can’t get away with anything these days,” McCall later joked. “And she wanted to know, ‘Who were those women you were dancing with.’ ”
Before flying to Israel, 14 of the New Yorkers visited the Nazi death camps in Poland. Under the auspices of UJA-Federation, they joined 6,500 teenagers from around the world who were there as part of the March of Living.
Although Philip Shatten and his wife, Cheryl Fishbein of Manhattan, had helped lead the March two years ago, they said the impact of seeing the camps again was still as powerful.
“To prevent it from happening again, we have to have a strong Israel,” said Shatten, who is president of the Board of Jewish Education.
Fishbein said she was struck at the Majdanek death camp by the “scratch marks on the concrete walls where [the Jews] tried to claw their way out” of the gas chambers.
Sharon Sasson of New City recalled standing amid 17,000 stones at Treblinka, each stone representing a destroyed Jewish community.
“There were stones as far as you could see and when you looked, it was almost as if the stones were moving,” she said. “In a cemetery in Warsaw, there was a picture of three little boys [affixed to a memorial]. To see them looking at you with their eyes so innocent — it’s like they were calling out to you. It was heartwrenching.”
After hearing an address by Rabbi Donniel Hartman of Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute, Jerry Silva of Bellmore, L.I., was sorry he had not been able to convince his 32-year-old son Steven to come along.
“He’s Conservative and was offended by the pluralism issue,” said his father. “He felt why should I go there when I am not accepted as a Jew. But Donniel Hartman said 85 percent of the Jews here are of the same persuasion.”
In his remarks, Rabbi Hartman said also that most Israelis are concerned not with the issue of religious pluralism but religious freedom.
He added that while Israel needed financial support, it needed diaspora Jews “to come here as Jews, not simply as lay leaders. Only when everyone of us is a Jew who lives up to the ideology to which we belong, only if Judaism is important in your soul, can you help shape the soul of this country.”
Muriel Goldberg of Manhattan agreed, saying, “Israel needs Judaism. I see it in everything we have done. All of the programs we are looking to fund are looking for Judaism and spirituality.”
Israel’s 50th anniversary three-hour gala in Jerusalem was “better than a rock concert,” said Rebecca Lusman, 22, of East Setauket, L.I. “It was better than Billy Joel. It was something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. When the little boy ran in pulling a kite of a dove, everybody around me was singing Osea Shalom — Jewish Americans and Israelis, everybody came together at that moment. It was awesome.”