By MYRON LOVE
It is with nervous excitement that Pam Bager says that she is looking forward to reconnecting with, most of whom she hasn’t seen in almost 50 years. (*Read more for full photo caption.)
Full caption: Here is a photo of our class,” says Pam Bager, “with a few added people (policemen, a few Israelis from Hadassim, young and older – chaperones, I presume. Our teacher, a Canadian from ?Edmonton, Joe Zeev, is crouching at the bottom left. I can spot all 6 of us Winnipeggers, in part or whole, in this photo. Shawn Zell, organizer of the reunion, is crouching down in the middle, bespectacled, in a light blue shirt with white undershirt, and a camera around his neck. I am on his left in a white shirt. The other Winnipeggers are Maury Miloff, crouched in front of Shawn and me, in the green jacket and red shirt, Allie Lehmann in the bright green shirt, with her left elbow on Shawn’s shoulder, Jimmy and Jerry Arenson, behind the girl in the pink shirt standing in front (you can see only the face of one of them – I have no idea which!) and Alan Yusim at the back (top) in the middle in the pinkish shirt – the boy with a red t-shirt is half hidden behind Alan. This seemed to be a good photo as it was clearly taken on a class trip to Jerusalem. You can see David’s Tower and the wall of the Old City behind us.”
On Wednesday, June 27, she and fellow Winnipegger Alan Yusim will be in Israel for the 50th reunion of the first group of Canadian to attend a pilot program for Canadian Grade 10 students, courtesy of Hadassah WIZO, at Hadassim Youth Village, just 4km from Netanya. Bager and Yusim were among 19 Canadian students in the program – including former Winnipeggers Jerry and Jim Arenson, Allie Lehman, Maury Miloff and Rabbi Shawn Zell. The other students were from Halifax, Hamilton, Montreal and Vancouver.
Bager notes that Zell, who leads a congregation in Dallas, Texas, is the individual who is organizing the reunion.
Zell reports that about 30 people (including spouses and other relatives) have indicated that they plan to attend the reunion, which will be held at Hadassim. “We are scheduled to meet at 5:00 and tour the village, then sit down for supper at 6:00,” Zell says.
“It sounded exciting,” says Zell of his decision to enroll in the Hadassim program. “It sounded like it would be something special.”
Bager recalls that it was her mother who noticed an ad about the program in the Jewish Post (in 1968) about sending your child to Israel for Grade 10. “Once she got the information, and decided that it would be a good idea for me, the ball was rolling,” she says. Yusim remembers that he also saw an ad about the program in the Post and mentioned to his parents that he would like to go. “I was fortunate that my parents were in a position to pay the $1,500 fee for the year,” he says. “I packed up a large metal crate and a suitcase and off I went.”
The group met in Montreal and flew from there to Israel. They left on July 12, 1968. Yusim still has his passport from that time.
What Yusim remembers about Hadassim are the school, the dormitories (three or four to a room), the central dining room, the swimming pool and the amphitheatre all surrounded by orange groves. There was a store for small purchases and an Arab village nearby.
“Hadassim raised turkeys,” Yusim recalls. “We frequently had turkey schnitzel and our pillows were stuffed with turkey feathers. I still remember the smell and how the feathers would poke us at night.”
As Zell recalls, it was an exciting time to be in Israel. It was just a year after the Six-Day War. Areas that had been occupied by Jordan before the war were now open to Jewish visitors. And visitors could go anywhere in the country in safety.
“The first time that I saw the Wall, there was still rubble to be cleared away,” he recalls. “And there was no problem visiting Arab villages.”
He also remembers meeting new relatives, being hosted by an Israeli family in Petah Tikvah for Shabbat and talking to a young Israel who only the year before had been fighting a war.
Alan Yusim recalls touring the country from one end to the other – largely on foot. “We hiked in the Golan – not that long before a battleground – and stood overlooking the Lebanese border, for example,” he says.
Among his souvenirs are three bazooka shells he picked up on the Golan.
Yusim also recalls sitting by the Dead Sea on New Year’s eve in shorts and climbing Massada.
He further describes a stay on the beach at Eilat. “I spent a few days on the beach with some American kids,” he recounts. “I did some work in hotel kitchens in Eilat in exchange for food.
“One evening, we lit a huge bonfire on the beach. At four in the morning, some rockets from Aqaba flew across the border. We quickly extinguished the fire while Israeli aircraft went into action.
“In the morning, a helicopter landed near us and Moshe Dayan stepped out. I was surprised at how short he was.
“What amazed me was that almost everyone in Israel was Jewish, not only the doctors and lawyers and businessmen but everybody, even the criminals.”
”I have so many memories of that year,” says Pam Bager. “it was a life-changing experience for a 14-15 year old. I met many Israeli family members for the first time, made friends with kids from around the world, fell in love with Israel. I didn’t want to come home at the end of our year, but of course had no choice. I vowed to return, as soon as I could.”
She went back to Israel after she had completed her first year of university here. “As a result of the love for Israel I discovered during my Grade 10 year in Israel, I ended up marrying an Israeli, in Jerusalem (my ex-husband, and father of my daughter), living and working in Jerusalem for about 6 years, and being the mother of a young woman with a beautiful spirit,” she says.
“That year was one of the best years in my life,” Shawn Zell says. “It played an important role in my decision to become a rabbi.”
Yusim speaks of the new perspective that year gave him as well as the opportunity that the Canadians received in an era before social media to meet and interact with people from all over the world.
“Israel is a beacon of light in a dark and dangerous neigbourhood,” he observes. “It was clear to me even then that Israel was facing a decades-long war of attrition.
“What I experienced that year stayed with me and played a role in the career path I chose working for human rights.”
Bager notes that while she corresponded with some of her new friends for a while after their year together and has seen a couple of people from the large Winnipeg contingent from time to time, the tangible connections over the years have faded. Still, she says, “the spiritual and emotional after-effects of that year, for me, remain as strong as ever. Hadassim and the Israel of 1968-69 which I experienced are in my blood and in my soul.”
Israeli show satirizing students in the US who give blind support to Hamas
If you want to take a break from the tension that comes with following every bit of news associated with Israel’s war on Hamas watch this hilarious video satirizing the stupidity of US college kids who give unqualified support to Hamas: https://twitter.com/LeviYonit/status/1721272323087401428?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1721272323087401428%7Ctwgr%5E833a2a425e6d7029d6ef37b7c9042c1d81dbf8ba%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisraeli-satire-shows-mocking-of-us-student-support-for-hamas-goes-viral%2F
Report from Israel
By BRUCE BROWN (Posted Nov. 4) Rehovot, Israel
What was once considered relatively banal is no longer routine. With Israel at war and all.
Last Friday we decided to go out for dinner, a quick bite in Tel Aviv. At our Favorite hamburger joint – Prozdor and highly recommended next time you, dear reader, visit Israel. Whether even to go was driven by unusual considerations. Do we really want to leave the relative safety of our abode, where our den-cum-saferoom is only a few steps away. And enter Tel Aviv, which seems to absorb the brunt of evening missile barrages. And what about the twenty minute drive – need to refresh the Homefront command instructions on how best to respond should missiles fly overhead while driving.
Once agreed that we need the distraction. A break from the routine of another evening at home, watching the news and waiting for missiles to fall. We then argued about who should drive, the determining factor being who would be calmest at the wheel should we encounter a missile on the way. My daughter, an ex-combat soldier, was voted designated driver. Although I still think I’m pretty cool under fire. During the drive, we nervously exchanged scenarios about where best to pull over -there are some stretches of highway without a shoulder- and how far from the car we should scramble. If the situation should occur.
Then once we arrived at Prozdor. The first thing we did was stake out the nearest bomb shelter. The kindly restaurateur pointed out the shelter across the road, next to a parking lot and beneath a hotel. In Tel Aviv you have ninety seconds to reach safety. Seems doable. Better be doable!
And while usually a bustling place, the restaurant was barely a third full. People just not venturing out these days. Because of safety considerations, who wants to get blown up while eating a hamburger. How banal is that?! And anyway the nation is really not in the mood for enjoying a good burger. Well except for us and a few others looking for a diversion from the monotony of another evening at home in war time.
Our meal arrived. As did the missiles. Was enjoying my first bite with a couple french fries when the siren sounded. And in a surprisingly orderly fashion, after all we are Israelis, together with forty other diners we cautiously walked round the tables, out the door, down the steps and across the street into the bomb shelter. Strangers. Huddled together. Texting family and friends with an ‘all safe’ message. Ten minutes later we walked back across the street, up the steps, into Prozdor, around the tables and to our waiting meals. A bid colder but still tasty. Amazing how a bit of existential excitement can trigger the taste buds.
On the way home we stopped at Dizengoff Square. To view a very haunting war display which literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. It pays tribute to the victims of the October 7th Black Shabbath-Simcha Torah massacre. Including for the more than 240 hostages. Most jarring was the bloodied and blindfolded stuffed teddy bear display. Around thirty of them. One for each of the child hostages held by the brutal and cowardly Hamas. Painful. Sickening.
Driving home in silence, each with our own thoughts of the tragedy behind us. And the long haul ahead of us. On the radio melancholy songs played in the background. As if a score to a sad movie. Two songs in particular struck a chord. Played back-to-back. Their meaning and associations forever changed. George Harrison’s My Guitar Gently Weeps: “I look at the world / And I notice, It’s turning / While my guitar gently weeps / With every mistake / We must surely be learning / Still my guitar gently weeps…” Followed by Paul McCartney’s Blackbird: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / You were only waiting for this moment to be free / Blackbird fly, blackbird fly / Into the light of a dark black night…”
Arriving home. Drained of all energy. From the not-so relaxing hamburger dinner. From the emotionally exhausting war exhibit. From the background music accompanying the evening’s tempo. I went straight to bed for another fitful and sleepless night. Desperately hoping to awake to just an ordinary day….
Now walking the dog should for sure be very routine. But it too can become a memorable war experience. Turning into a ‘run-against-the-clock for simple safety’ event. The other evening my wife was out walking Poncho. She just collected his poop when a missile alert went off. Incoming! Ninety seconds to find a safe spot. She decided to pick up our pooch and make a mad dash to our saferoom. Through the lobby and up four flights of stairs (no elevator at such times). Making it just in time. We all stumbled into our shelter. My daughter. And I. My wife. The pooch. And the poo. In her extreme focus to reach safety, the wife forgot to throw the doggy doo into the garbage bin. Gave us a moment’s respite. Some laughter. At the banality of it all!
With the pool at the country club still closed due to Homefront command considerations. You can’t hear a siren while swimming the breaststroke. I’ve since started a new routine of very early morning walks. But even walking is different these days. Jumpy every time a white pick-up truck drives by (vehicle of choice for the despicable Hamas terrorists). To the uplifting sight of our blue & white flags hanging from balconies and windows along my route. Like an early Independence Day. Barely blowing in the barely non-existent wind of our too dry and too warm winter. The weather possibly another victim of this war. Late to arrive due to the billowing clouds of smoke arising from Hamas missile fails and targeted IAF missile strikes inside Gaza.
Blackbird singing in dead of night while my guitar gently weeps.
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.
An appeal for help for under-supplied Israeli soldiers from former Winnipegger Jared Ackerman
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 18) first met Jared Ackerman in 2013 when I had the good fortune to interview Jared, along with 4 other students from Winnipeg, when they were all studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (You can still see that interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6k8svB2j-0.)
Jared had gone on to serve in the Israeli army. He just posted this impassioned plea for help for Israeli soldiers:
My name is Jared Ackerman and I’m an IDF veteran that served in the Paratroopers (Tzanchanim). I live in Atlanta and have come together with a group of Israelis from across the US, Canada, and Israel to provide an emergency shipment of urgent supplies to the front lines in Israel.
As of right now over 3.5 tons of purely defensive gear (ceramic plates, vests, helmets, medical kits) have been sourced and paid for. We have everything in a warehouse in Toronto, Canada ready to ship to Israel and are continuing to purchase more.
The first units to respond on October 7th have since been totally ransacked of equipment. They were the first ones to arrive at the kibbutzim and Nova on the Gaza border and they are actually withholding extra reserves from joining the warfront because they do not have enough equipment. This is particularly problematic as they lost soldiers in the battle, and many more were injured.
Our next step is to secure additional funding to fly the gear over to Israel via cargo jet.
As of today, no commercial flights are allowing any tactical gear to be shipped and the only option is private cargo planes. We are also working to secure more equipment to justify the high cost of chartering the plane.
I have attached photos and a video here of the equipment that has been sourced and ready to ship from the warehouse.
We have all relevant approvals in Israel with the Ministry of Defense and a logistics hub ready to go to distribute the protective and medical goods.
Timing is of the essence as units are already in the field with below par equipment.
100% of the funds raised are going towards the purchase of equipment and shipment to Israel and not to operational costs as everything is voluntary.
Please use the link below if you are able to donate anything and help get this gear to the front lines. Please also feel free to DM if you can help source any additional equipment or have any connections with securing a cargo plane or have any questions!
Am Yisrael Chai