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Making Israeli Connections at Handmaker

by Nanci Levy | Mar 24, 2017

Hazel photoWhen Hazel moved into Handmaker, I invited her to try out our Yiddish class. She told me that she was not interested in learning Yiddish, but would love to practice her Hebrew. I thought that maybe she wanted to brush up on her prayer book Hebrew at the age of 94. But no, it turned out that she is fluent in Hebrew, and wanted the opportunity to speak with someone else who was too. Luckily, with the help of Oshrat Barel, our Tucson Shlicha, Hazel met Rina.

But how and where did Hazel become fluent in Hebrew? She grew up in Brooklyn, NY and studied Hebrew beginning at the age of six. She went to Herzl Aliya Academy, which she said is like a Yeshiva, and then on to Brooklyn College to study Geology, English, Labor Law and the Sciences. After graduating from Brooklyn College, she began working as a copywriter in NY, living at home with her parents.

She was always very “zionistically active”, so when Israel became a state in 1948, she decided that she wanted to go see it for herself. She was curious, and tired of her job, so at the age of 26 she quit her job as a copywriter and told her parents that she was going to Israel. Her parents’ response? Her mother handed her back the money that she had been paying to them for rent, which allowed her to pay her way to Israel. Her Dad predicted that she would be back in a month, which she said is what made her decide that she was going to stay for much longer than that. She ended up staying for three years. And she said that it was the adventure of a lifetime.

It took her 2-1/2 weeks to get to Israel by boat, El Al did not yet exist. Hazel said that it was a lovely voyage. She saw the Rock of Gibraltar, and stopped in Athens and Naples on the way. Hazel stayed with a family friend when she first arrived in Jerusalem. She attended a Mizrahi Convention, and then was fortunate enough to get a position with the Jewish National Fund, writing for their monthly magazine.

It was an exciting time to be in Israel, and she loved every minute of it. Some highlights were swimming in Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea; expanding on the “old fashioned Hebrew” that she had learned in America with the more modern Hebrew that she learned in Israel; meeting and visiting friends on Kibbutzim and Moshavim. She said that she was even shot at by the Transjordans from a precipice above the old city of Jerusalem.

In 1952 Hazel came back to the States to get married to a man that she had met in NY while at school. They had corresponded throughout her stay in Israel, and he had even visited her in Israel, and brought his car! She never really considered staying in Israel, as much as she loved her adventure, but she has been back many times to visit. Her son lives on a Moshav in Israel with his family, and she has kept in touch with friends that she met while there, which is how she has kept up on her Hebrew over the years. Her last visit was in 1985.

Hazel is so happy to have Rina visiting her these last few months at Handmaker. She has enjoyed getting to know Rina, who has had an interesting life as a travel agent in Israel traveling all over the world, and now as a caregiver in America. She loves speaking Hebrew with her. Hazel laments that she cannot always remember the words that she wants to use in Hebrew, but she is glad to have the opportunity to practice. Their time together brings back many happy memories of Israel, while also creating some new ones at Handmaker.