Beit Shemesh is a frequent destination for many who make aliyah to Israel. But this past summer, we were honored by the arrival of a special olah chadashah, a new immigrant. Judy Neiman, a resident of Florida, made aliyah to Beit Shemesh at the age of 100. I had the pleasure of speaking with Judy, along with her son and daughter-in-law, who are thrilled to have Judy living with them in their home. I was touched by the love that they clearly feel for Judy and was awed by their dedication to meeting her every need.
Judy is a Holocaust survivor who belonged to a Zionist group in Hungary. Since those days long ago in Europe, Judy has had the dream of making aliyah to our holy land. And now she has finally fulfilled the dream of her youth.
After living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, for 45 years, Judy moved down to Florida with her husband. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 2002. Since then, Judy has lived alone. Her son, Marc, also a resident of Florida, devotedly looked after her and made sure that all of her needs were met. Until the outbreak of Covid, Judy would travel to Hillcrest twice a year to be with her son Howard and his family for the Yamim Nora’im and Pesach. But once Covid hit, travel became impossible. It was decided that the time had come for Judy to move to the country she loved, to be near her son, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Both of Judy’s sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters all joined efforts and dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to navigate the bureaucracies and logistics inherent in the aliyah process. In addition to filling out a myriad of forms and sending a lift, they had to arrange for Judy to fly first class on her El Al aliyah flight since she is unable to walk. They also found a wonderful aide who lovingly cares for Judy in her son’s home. Marc continues to maintain close contact with his mother, despite the physical distance between them.
Shortly after Judy’s arrival, an exciting welcome ceremony took place in her new home. Judy was presented with her teudat zehut, her Israeli identity card, in the presence of Beit Shemesh Mayor Dr. Aliza Bloch, representatives of the Ministry of Aliyah, and other government officials, as well as Judy’s family members. The mayor spoke about how Judy is a role model whose actions prove to us all that a person can take responsibility at any age. Tomer Moskowitz, director of the Population and Immigration Authority, said he was proud to make a special trip to Beit Shemesh to give Judy her teudat zehut. He noted that the ceremony, which took place after Tishah B’Av, was the realization of the prophecies of kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles.
Judy told me that she was warmly welcomed by her surrounding community. People brought her flowers and pastries. As Judy has limited mobility, many try their best to accommodate her. Someone came to her home to give her a haircut. Workers from the bank came to help her open an account. The owner of a shoe store brought a large selection of shoes to her home so that she could go shoe shopping. Her doctors and nurses make house calls. They even performed an X-ray in her home.
Judy is a member of the Melabev Program, which provides a range of high-quality services for seniors. She happily participates in the games, activities, and exercise classes. She especially enjoys baking challah every Thursday. Judy tries to attend the program every day.
Judy enthusiastically describes her excitement about living in a Jewish country. She appreciates living in a place where the majority of its citizens are Jews. She tells how this was certainly not the case in Europe, when the anti-Semitism of the non-Jewish majority led to her being incarcerated in a concentration camp. This was not even the case when she lived in Brooklyn, which so many Jews call home. Here in Israel, she feels enveloped by Jews, the Hebrew language, and her heritage.
Judy feels in synch with the country that celebrates her holidays, although it was a bit strange to keep one day of Yom Tov as is done here. She is also happy to enjoy every Shabbos with family and experience Kiddush and bentching with them.
Judy has had to make some adjustments. The healthcare system is different from what she is used to. And most notably, she does not speak Hebrew. Even so, Judy is relaxed, because she knows that her family will take care of everything. They are hoping to somehow arrange a home-based ulpan so that she will be able to learn the language.
The best part of living in Israel is Judy’s proximity to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who visit her on a regular basis. She is thrilled that the little ones now recognize who she is. Just seeing the smiles on their faces makes her feel that her aliyah was worth it. Baruch Hashem, a new great-grandchild was born two months ago, and Judy is grateful to be part of the simchah.
When I asked Judy if she would recommend that others follow in her footsteps and come on aliyah, she answered without any hesitation. “For someone who has family here and wants to come, it is the best thing in the world that can happen.”
We wish for Judy to enjoy many good years in her new home in Israel, where she can experience the fulfillment of her childhood dream together with her family, with nachas, happiness, and good health!