June 18, 2021

A gold standard for aliyah' Zionism in the face of Israel-hatred today

By Barbara Sofer

The answer isn’t obvious.
I know folks who grew up without knowing who Theodor Herzl or David Ben-Gurion are, who didn’t know the difference between Tu B’shvat and Lag B’omer (and didn’t care), who came to Israel on a fluke because someone told them volunteering on a kibbutz was a cheap way of travel. Nonetheless, they wound up making aliyah and becoming devoted Israelis.

On the other hand, there are others who grew up loving Israel but never moved here. Decades ago, I had a job selling tax-free goods to new immigrants in the Murray Greenfield Agency in Jerusalem. We helped newcomers wisely choose everything from toasters to vehicles. There were intriguing products: clothes dryers that also heated small apartments and twin beds that zipped together. I’d already been working there for several years when a luminary of my own Zionist youth movement came into our office while finally making aliyah. I sold him a Peugeot sedan. For whatever reason, he and his family didn’t wind up staying.

I like to recall my own epiphany: that moment when I knew I would live in Israel. I was a high school senior, just turned 18, on a Young Judaea study weekend, challenged by the Israeli emissary near Connecticut’s Salmon River with its covered bridge. But that decision didn’t happen in a vacuum. I’d already been active in Young Judaea since I was 10 and I grew up in a home where my mother ordered any Book-of-the-Month Club selections with a Jewish theme. My father redirected our summer vacation money to the emergency funds for the Six Day War. They didn’t object to my moving to Israel, indeed they came after me, as did my sister.

I RECENTLY learned of the Gold family, former Americans who gathered at Kibbutz Nir Etzion south of Haifa for the four-day Shabbat-Shavuot weekend. The fragile ceasefire of Operation Guardian of the Walls had just been announced. They didn’t have to worry about airports closing because nearly all 270 cousins live in Israel. A gold standard for aliyah.

The initiator and host of the gathering is veteran immigrant Diana Schiowitz 76, who lives in Jerusalem. Schiowitz’s maternal grandparents Rabbi Eluzar Elimelech (1869-1946) and his second wife Zlate Mirel Gold (1887-1973) – the young Zlate Mirel married the widower who had three children – lived in the Galician town of Dzikov. Rabbi Eluzar was a kosher slaughterer and famed composer of synagogue melodies.

According to Wikipedia, between the World Wars in Dzikov, “One could witness the harmonious life of Polish, Jewish and Ukrainian communities.” Schiowitz’s mother, however, spoke of rampant antisemitism and being hit by stones walking home from school.
Dzikov Jews were mostly hassidic; Zionist organizations were few. Indeed, when the Golds decided to leave in the 1920s, they headed for Brooklyn, not Tel Aviv. There were 11 siblings. One older sister and her family remained in Europe and died in the Shoah. The 10 others grew up in a brick house in Brooklyn and established families of their own. Then a first Gold grandchild named Yossi went to visit the newly declared Jewish State. Diana Schiowitz, then around three, was fascinated by his postcard.

“I remember looking at the black and white picture of Dizengoff Circle,” she says. “I was told the card said ‘Israel is wonderful.’” Sadly, Yossi died of kidney disease; Schiowitz pledged never to forget him.
She attended Manhattan Day School and the JTS Prozdor after-school program where David Ben-Gurion was a guest speaker. He walked down the aisle where she was sitting and shook her hand.

“I was so inspired by the speech. It was a life-changing moment,” says Schiowitz. “When I got home, I traced my hand and sent it to my brother saying ‘this was the hand that touched the hand of David Ben-Gurion.’”

It resonated for the brother, too. He saved the tracing and returned it, now a treasured possession in Schiowitz’s Jerusalem home.
Her parents wouldn’t hear of her going to Israel for a year, but she wore them down and they finally agreed. The rest is history.
Then a cousin here, and a cousin there began to arrive. Some came on organized programs, others arrived alone. More are coming. How did they all become Zionists? She can’t explain it. “

I ASKED one of her cousins, my friend Moshe Schecter, an optometrist and businessman, who attended the Gold Gathering with wife Vivian, five children, their spouses and grandchildren – all living in Israel.
“It’s a mystery,” he says. “My only guess is that many of us were impacted by the Six Day War. I can remember sitting in high school with a radio on, listening with fear and later exhilaration. As soon as I got to Israel I knew this was where I had to live.”

Seeing all the cousins on the lawns of Nir Etzion was thrilling, he says. Nearly every family has at least one Elazar and there is a sprinkling of the family’s red hair among the generations. They Zoomed in hundreds of cousins from abroad, many planning their own moves to Israel. For four days, cousins of all ages got to know each other and exchanged family stories. One cousin gave a teenager-only Torah talk. Another told about his contribution to the American space program. Direct descendants of seven of the surviving 10 siblings were there.

The idea for the family get-together came to Schiowitz when he was in Efrat to see the dentist – a Gold cousin, of course. Nava, a young Gold cousin who owns a pet shop there, kindly brought over dog food for the Schiowitz dog.

“When my mother died at 95, her last words to me were not to forget that I was Eluzar Elimelech’s granddaughter.’

Nava immediately created a WhatsApp group.
“Before I knew it, I was booking the guest house for 270!”
To fulfill another pledge, Schiowitz dedicated the gathering to the memory of cousin Yossi.

Few of the descendants know all Rabbi Eluzar’s heartfelt synagogue melodies. But one of Schiowitz’s favorites, from the morning prayers, is Matai timloch b’tzion (When will You rule in Zion)
“Maybe that was a message,” she says. “Maybe we figured that when waiting for the Messiah, Zion is the best place to be. “