Chana Loecher sits behind the wheel in a midtown Jerusalem traffic jam, smiling. “So many cars!” she marvels. “So many Jews! Who could have imagined this 60 years ago?”
And who could have imagined that this Dutch woman, born Anneke Jak, would spend 25 years of Mondays driving elderly Jerusalemites to and from Melabev Community Clubs for Elder Care?
Loecher was chosen as the Friends of Melabev’s honoree for its eighth annual “virtual dinner” on 1 Nisan (March 16). Her faithful pickup-and-return routine is only one of the volunteer jobs she has taken upon herself over 28 years here. And though she loves traversing the roads of her adopted homeland by car, she is just as happy swimming in its waters and biking its trails.
Loecher was born in the cellar of her family’s Netherlands home during
a World War II bombing raid. Growing up as the seventh of 10 children
living next to a military base in Soestdyk, she was an athletic and
adventurous child. From a young age, she regularly carried 20 kilos of
milk to customers from her parents’ dairy store. As a teen, she biked
40 kilometers to work each day as a swimming instructor, and played
sports including water polo.
At 18, she took a motorcycle trip to Scotland and then worked for the
Dutch attaché in Copenhagen. Later, she spent time in Scandinavia
including Lapland, where she experienced the spectacle of the northern
lights and worked for nine months picking cloudberries.
“I always wanted to see and experience,” she says. “You meet people, stay for a while, and then you go on.”
At 27, Anneke – now renamed Chana – met and married Jerry (Gershon)
Loecher in New York and became a stepmother to his son and two
daughters. Living in a rural setting near Port Jervis, the Loechers and
Rabbi Nachum Laskin started the Hebrew Day School of Orange County in
Middletown, NY, when their growing brood became of school age. Many of
the children who attended the school are, like the Loechers, now living
The family’s own journey to Israel began when Gershon’s son won a
scholarship to the Weizmann Institute of Science and consequently
decided to make aliya. Gershon and Chana came for a five-week visit
with their five little ones and rented a place in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“They loved it and didn’t want to go back,” Loecher recalls. “I said to
my husband, ‘We have to move anyway when the kids are ready for high
school, so why not go “home” now?’ That was January 1982, and we came
on aliya that August. We never regretted the move.”
Gershon’s mother also made the transatlantic move, years later, at the age of 90.
Together with 20 other English-speaking families, including two Dutch
couples, the Loechers lived in the Mevaseret Zion absorption center for
two years. “It was a fantastic adjustment to communal life,” says
Loecher. They welcomed their sixth child there, and a seventh was born
after they moved to an apartment in the brand-new neighborhood of Har
Nof. They moved to their present house in Har Nof 24 years ago. When
she was 44, Loecher gave birth to the couple’s eighth child.
The busy young mother did not hesitate when a friend asked if she had
one hour a week to take people to and from Melabev (melabev.org), which
had just started offering a socialization group for seniors with
dementia. “I said, ‘Of course. I can put the kids in the back of the
van.’ And that’s how it started.”
Loecher is devoted to a variety of volunteer activities and projects.
Monday mornings, for the past 15 years, she has sorted donations at a
second-hand clothing gemach
in Har Nof. Twice a
week, she leads therapeutic water aerobics for women. She recalls a few
“clients” asking how they could compensate her; the answer was to
recite a few chapters of Psalms.
For several years, Loecher also organized children’s swim-a-thons at
the now-closed Beit Zayit pool to raise funds for needy brides through
the Yad Trudy organization.
“The Almighty gives you gifts and capacities, and you can use them for
the community at large,” says Loecher, who makes time on Fridays to
visit with several elderly friends. “Sometimes people are afraid to
commit themselves. They should not be. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t
work. Our time is not our own anyway, and we should make the best of
GOING THE DISTANCE FOR OTHERS
A Jerusalem Post
article of October 7, 1996, reports
that a 52-year-old, Dutch-born Jerusalem grandmother was planning to
swim the breadth of Lake Kinneret for charity. That grandmother was
Years earlier, she had worked with an autistic boy to make him feel
comfortable in the water. When he was a teenager, his mother told
Loecher about her dream of opening a group home for autistic young
adults. So Loecher found sponsors and dove into an 11-kilometer
fund-raising swim from Ein Gev to Tiberias. Aside from emerging
seriously dehydrated after nearly five hours, she was successful in her
quest – although many more years passed until the project materialized.
Last summer, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children (Alut) opened
its home in Gilo.
Loecher twice participated in Wheels of Love bike rides for Alyn
Hospital. She is a regular in the annual Melabev “Don’t Forget Us”
walk-a-thon, and now is preparing for the 400-meter run to benefit
Shalva, the Har Nof-based association for children with disabilities
where she performs water therapy. And she’s thinking about volunteering
at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens as well.
Wherever she roams, Loecher takes along big bags to collect litter and recyclables.
“We have beautiful nature here, and I can’t stand to see it messed up,”
she says. “On my last Melabev walk, I collected paper and another woman
collected plastic bottles. We left the northern trail spick-and-span
between Rosh Hanikra and Meron.”
FAMILY AND SPIRITUALITY
Four of the Loecher children are married with children of their own –
one in Efrat, one in Kfar Adumim, one in Caesarea and one in Baltimore.
There is a son in San Diego, a son and daughter in Jerusalem and a
daughter finishing her military service in the search-and-rescue unit.
Before sunrise on the first day of every Jewish month, Loecher drives
to the Western Wall. She observes with satisfaction that the roads
leading to this sacred space are “the only place in the world where you
find a traffic jam at five in the morning.”
But she revels in all of Israel. “I am so grateful to be here. In the
smallest country in the region, we have everything. Wherever you come
from, you can find something that reminds you of your previous
residence. Traveling from Latrun to Ashdod reminds me of the green flat
fields of Holland. ”
Loecher has taught her children and grandchildren to relish nature as she does.
“The most beautiful, amazing sunsets are in Jerusalem and when I see
them I say, ‘God is painting.’ The other day my grandchild called and
said, ‘Grandmom, look outside – God is painting.’ And I say, ‘It’s
free! All good things in life are free.’”