At the age of 88, Joseph Levkovich, a Holocaust survivor who resides in Montreal, decided to uproot his life and make aliya with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Leaving behind his three children, grandchildren and his comfortable life in Canada, Levkovich decided to make the move in the midst of the 2014 conflict Operation Protective Edge. He wanted to be reunited with his grandson who had already made aliya and enlisted in the IDF.
“When people asked me if I was afraid to come in the middle of the war, I answer them in Yiddish,” he said. “Whatever will happen to all of Israel, will happen to me, so I am not afraid and I believe.”
“They brought my grandson out from Gaza in the middle of the war – we reunited here both of us, both single ones,” he said.
The decision to make aliya had been one that Levkovich wanted to take for many years, but having built a life for himself in Canada, he always put it off, he explained.
“When my wife passed away I was a little hesitant because in Canada I am established. But I said if I don’t go now at the age of 88, I never will.”
As such, despite all the difficulties and fears, Levkovich boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight and made his way to Israel to start a new chapter in his life.
“We have a history of being spread among the nations of the world, sometimes it was a good thing because when Jews were persecuted in one place, they were safe in another,” he said. “But since we have a state, in my lifetime there was no state, only after the Holocaust because the survivors didn’t have anywhere to go, the place is Israel – a Jewish place – in order to remain Jewish.”
“The eternity of Israel will not be forgotten – emunah (belief) also helped me survive the Holocaust,” he said.
Levkovich was only 13 years old, living in Poland, when World War II broke out. At the outbreak of the war he was separated from his family, never to see them again, and throughout the years was transferred from concentration camp to concentration camp including Auschwitz.
“Every day was long like a year, and every day was trouble – torture, no food, no clothes, no hygiene, hard work from dark to dark. When we left it was dark and when we came back it was dark,” he recalled.
“In the summer time we had to stay and work in the open air. Often it was hot without a drink of water and we were dressed in those striped clothes. In the winter there were blizzards, ice, and we had a cap on our heads, wooden shoes, and we worked hard and were beaten by the SS who transferred us from place to place – railroads, quarries, salt mines...,” he said. “Life was very hard and people were falling and couldn’t get up any more.”
Still, Levkovich admits it is very difficult for him to speak about that time in his life.
“The peril of the concentration camps and the loss of my whole family – I tried not to think about it,” he said. “For many years I couldn’t even speak about it.”
He added that “Now, I think, if I don’t tell my whole story nobody will be able to tell it.”
Levkovich has lived an incredible life. Before settling in Argentina and becoming a leader in its vibrant Jewish community, he helped hunt down Nazis who evaded justice and aided orphans who moved to Israel following the war.
Today, however, at the ripe age of 90 he said he is more interested in the future, and remains optimistic.
“Losing my youth, my education, my parents, losing everything – we live with the past and I am trying to live for the future, for my children, for my family, for generations to come,” he said.
Living in Jerusalem, he describes life as “beautiful.”
Since making aliya he has even spent a year studying in ulpan.
“Whatever I learn, doesn’t stay in my head though,” he joked. “The youth do not easily forget what they are taught, but in the old age it doesn’t stay.”
Still his Hebrew is quite remarkable.
“When I try to speak Hebrew, people answer me in English – I don’t have the opportunity to speak in Hebrew, but slowly, slowly and little by little I am trying to,” he said in perfect Hebrew.
When asked how his children reacted to the news that he was making aliya, he replied: “They knew I was convinced and they accepted the idea and they were happy about it and they come to visit very often. All my children were here a few times already.”
“All my grandchildren were brought up with a Zionist spirit.
They are observant Jews, keeping Shabbat, marrying Jewish [spouses] and having Israel in their hearts,” he added.
Today, he said, looking back, making aliya was the right decision.
“I am 90 and I am here for two years and am so happy that I made the decision. And even being alone I found so many friends and so many good neighbors,” he said.
Despite his enthusiasm, Levkovich added that he is not oblivious to the hardships involved in making aliya and living in Israel.
“You need to have a lot of courage to come here,” he said. “Nefesh B’Nefesh is a wonderful organization that really tries to help you and guide you in aliya. They help in every sense, and give you a lot of guidance – a lot of advice.”
“It is not easy, I have to admit, it takes a lot of courage and some people are very courageous,” he said.
Marc Rosenberg, director of pre-aliya at Nefesh B’Nefesh told The Jerusalem Post that in the past seven years there have been around 52 Holocaust survivors, like Levkovich, who have decided to make aliya from North America.
“We work with individuals to make sure they have an acclimation plan and are ready for life in Israel.
Special attention and care is given to survivors of the Holocaust to make them aware of their rights and benefits, and putting in place a support system for them to fulfill their dream of living in Israel,” he said.