(JTA) — Recently, I watched a mother reunite with her son for the first time in 41 years.
On May 9, I was part of a delegation of the Jewish Agency for Israel that accompanied Ethiopian olim (immigrants) from Addis Ababa to Ben Gurion Airport and new lives in Israel. The mother had made aliyah in 1982 as part of Operation Moses, when Ethiopian Jewish immigrants trekked for weeks through the Sudan, hiding out from authorities in the daytime and walking by moonlight, to reach Israeli Mossad agents, who were secretly facilitating their transport to Israel.
But the son, due to family circumstances, was left behind. And here she was on the tarmac, praying and crying, and the embrace they had when the now grown man walked down the stairs, that depth of emotion after decades of waiting and yearning, was something that I will never forget.
The Ethiopian Jewish community dates back some 2,500 years, from around the time of the destruction of the First Temple. We know that they have always yearned, from generation to generation, to be in Jerusalem. Most of the Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Israel during the 1970s and 1980s and in one weekend in May 1992, a covert Israeli operation, dubbed Operation Solomon, airlifted more than 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel over 36 hours. Those coming today are being reunited with family members who came during one of these earlier operations.
On my four-day trip from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I listened to the stories of incredible perseverance, and of heartrending suffering, among Ethiopian Jews — our brothers and sisters. Close to 100,000 of them have made their way to Israel over the past 40-plus years, fulfilling this community’s centuries-long quest to come to Israel.
I heard about the Ethiopian Israeli who, as a 15-year-old, marched through Sudan with his family and lost three of his siblings to starvation. I heard the stories of families waiting, for months or years, for that moment of aliyah, as clandestine negotiations among government negotiators dragged on. It was so powerful to hear of the sacrifices they made and how strong the dream was, and is today, of coming to Jerusalem, to Israel.
And I thought of my own family’s journey — a different time, under different circumstances. But also a Jewish journey of perseverance, suffering and, for the fortunate among us, survival.
My parents were born in Poland in the 1930s. During World War II, my father and his family survived in a Siberian labor camp and then in a remote part of Poland. My mother’s family managed to get work papers, but her father did not have them. He survived the war by hiding under the floorboards of a barn on a farm where they were living. The woman who owned the farm did not know they were Jewish, so it was a harrowing day-to-day existence.
But my mother and father survived, managed to make it to liberation, and eventually came to the United States. They were first sponsored by the Birmingham, Alabama, Jewish community, and then made their way to New York and New Jersey, where our family has built a new life. We now have fourth-generation children growing up here in New Jersey, and we feel so fortunate for the lives we have.
Here is the essential difference from their story and mine: For my family, there was no state of Israel. Many members of my family perished in the Holocaust. There was nowhere for them to go.
This drives what I do. Today, everything has changed because we have a state of Israel, and we have a Jewish Agency that ensures that Jews can make aliyah and helps them make new lives in Israel.
Last year, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I traveled to Poland and stood at the border as thousands of Ukrainian refugees streamed across. I was standing only a few miles from where my grandfather hid under the floorboards of that barn about 80 years earlier. Back then, there was no one there to protect my family, no one to do anything for them. And here I was in 2022 standing amid a massive array of aid agencies, and the very first thing these refugees saw — whether they were Jewish or not — were signs with the Star of David, marking the Jewish Agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other Jewish groups.
While there has been significant hardship and struggle for the first generation of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, it was incredibly inspiring for me to meet members of the second generation — those who made the trek as children or teenagers in the 1980s and ’90s — who are now Israeli adults in positions of leadership and significant responsibilities. We heard from Havtamo Yosef, who immigrated as a young child from Ethiopia with his parents, and then watched his father become a street sweeper and his mother a housecleaner while he was growing up. Now he heads up the entire Ethiopian Aliyah and Absorption services for the Jewish Agency, ensuring that there are stronger absorption procedures, better education and firmer foundations for better lives for these new immigrants than there ever was for his family.
While there was no Israel for my family when we were refugees, there were — in Birmingham, Alabama; in Hillside, New Jersey; and everywhere along the way of my family’s journey — people who thought outside of themselves, who cared and took care of my relatives. This is my legacy and what motivates me today.
So when I stood on the tarmac at Ben Gurion earlier this month, I cried tears of sadness at the long family separations and tears of joy that today this Jewish journey continues, from Ukraine and Russia and Ethiopia to Israel. Today, there is a place to go and a people to welcome Jews on that tarmac, with an Israeli flag, a smile and a warm embrace, and a promise of better lives in freedom.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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