And it was only Day Two of our Mission!

by | Oct 22, 2018 | Uncategorized

For me, deciding to join UJFT’s Journey Home to Israel 2018 mission was motivated by two factors. One was visiting my twin grand-daughters and their parents who live on Kibbutz Yiftah in northern Israel. Two, was that as chair of UJFT’s Israel and Oveseas Committee, I like to see our UJFT dollars at work in agencies we support in Israel. The timing was perfect. So, I said yes to the mission.

Day 2 of our trip dawned bright, sunny, and hot like most every summer day in Israel. But today was different. Today, the 37 mission participants had a choice (a first for any UJFT mission) between two morning tracks in Tel Aviv. Track One was geared towards first time travelers to Israel and included visits to Independence Hall, JAFI’s Israel Tech Challenge program and Tikkun Olam Makers or TOM, a global movement of communities connecting makers, designers, developers, and engineers with people with disabilities to develop technological solutions to everyday challenges. Track Two was geared toward those who had been to Israel before and included a Graffiti tour in the Florentine district, a tour and food tasting in the Levinsky Market, and a visit to Maskit, a luxury fashion house conceived in 1954 by Ruth Dayan and revitalized by Sharon Tal in 2014.

Both tracks came together for lunch and free time at the Sarona Complex, a mix of Tel Aviv architectural history (the original 37 Templar buildings that were part of the Templar settlement have been restored), and a unique urban experience that combines food, culture, entertainment, and leisure. As we explored the complex, ate, shopped, and caught up with each other, it became apparent that both morning tracks provided experiences enjoyed by the participants.

Mid-afternoon brought us back to the bus for an hour’s drive in Tel Aviv traffic to Kfar Saba. Our destination was a JDC program called Photography with Joy which teaches Holocaust survivors basic photography skills, enabling them to tell their Holocaust stories. Upon arrival, we were escorted into a large activity room where snacks were provided, chairs were placed in a circle, and photographs were arranged on the room’s walls. After introductions, an elderly well-groomed man began to tell his story in a quiet dignified voice. He had thick gray hair, sat straight in his chair, wore dark rimmed glasses, and had a notebook on his lap. “My name is Reuven Fisherman and I am 91 years old. For many years I did not tell the story of what happened to me or my family during the Holocaust until my granddaughter asked me about it for a high school project. Even then it was hard to share the story.” This is summary of Reuven’s story:

In 1943, they (the Nazi’s) began arresting Danish Jews, most of whom escaped to Sweden. Reuven’s father and two older brothers joined the Danish underground. His mother and the four youngest children (age five-15) were sent to Theresienstadt ghetto, where they stayed for 18 months. They did not know of the secret deal between Denmark and Germany, according to which Danish Jews would not be sent to the crematoria. A few days before liberation they were sent to Sweden. Here they were informed that Reuven’s father and brothers drowned in the sea while trying to escape to Sweden. (JDC Israel Photography with Joy)

Reuven shared the devastating physical and psychological toll this news took on his surviving family, his decision to make Aliya to Israel in 1972, and the impact participating in JDC’s Photography with Joy has had on his life. As Reuven shared his story, I felt tears running down my face. Reuven had touched my heart. He then showed us the photograph he created through Photography with Joy, titled Man Has No Advantage Over Animals. It reflects the utter humiliation and anger he felt when forced to relieve himself in front of the German guards, after having spent three days in a cattle car, while being transported to Theresienstadt.

Reuven concluded his discussion by reminding us all to share our stories, as he had just done and continues to do. For me, it was an OMG moment! Here was a man who had experienced the worst that human beings can endure, survived, found courage and hope, married, had a career, had two children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, and he is telling us how important it is to share our stories. What a powerful and extraordinary example of our UJFT dollars at work through this one program!

After shaking Reuven’s hand and posing for a picture, our group boarded the bus and headed back to Tel Aviv. Next stop, a sunset cocktail reception with Danna Stern, head of programming for YES television and HBO Israel, and with one of the writers of the Netflix drama Fauda. I was secretly hoping that Lior Raz who plays Doran on Fauda would be there. A girl can dream.

What an amazing day and it was only the second day of our mission.

Note: The Photography with Joy exhibit, which presents aspects and links between the past and present, as well as some program participants are slated to visit the Sandler Family Campus later this year.

– Barbara Dudley