The Jerusalem Post and Nefesh B’Nefesh are pleased to launch a new project: “Meet the Oleh.” Every month, we will bring you the stories of immigrants, including lone soldiers and families; aliya employment tips; information about the “Go North/Go South” programs and more.
This summer, a power couple finally moved their home from Toronto to Jerusalem. Prof. Martin Lockshin’s retirement from his position as chair of the Department of Humanities of York University, Toronto, is as recent as this past summer, shortly before coming on aliya.
He had a long career there, beginning in 1978, teaching courses connected to Judaism, and Judaism and Christianity, as well as text courses in Hebrew. A former director of the school’s Center for Jewish Studies and a former coordinator of its Jewish Teacher Education Program, Martin’s main area of academic expertise is the history of Jewish biblical interpretation.
With six books about Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), the 12th-century uncannily innovative biblical commentator from Northern France, under his belt – a two-volume annotated Hebrew edition of that scholar’s work, plus a four-volume English translation of it – he can easily be considered the leading expert on the subject.
As for his wife, Ruth, she is the daughter of the late Dr. Robert S. Mendelsohn, who was a pediatrician and professor of medicine and author of Confessions of a Medical Heretic, and Male Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women.
She and her family recently launched a website, thepeoplesdoctor.net, showcasing her father’s criticism of modern medicine.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the she had four home births (the first two accompanied by doctors and the next two by midwives only. “Midwives are better,” she says.) And two of her daughters have also chosen to have home births.
Ruth partially credits the determined and independent spirit of her children to the three sabbatical years the family spent in Israel in the decades preceding their aliya.
Growing up with one foot in Israel gave her offspring “good Hebrew” and that resulted in them being “able to reach levels of knowledge that their English-speaking friends couldn’t achieve: A level of comfort with texts,” she says.
This combined with a “broader life experience from having lived in another country.”
Israel may have had a role in shaping their children’s characters, but it is obvious that much of it has to do with genetics. Not only is Martin a founder of Canadian Academic Friends of Israel, but when he first began teaching at York University, he was possibly the first person there to wear a kippa publicly. He also has rabbinical ordination from Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, which he attended in the Seventies.
And there is more.
The Lockshins are a modern Orthodox couple with egalitarian leanings. They have both been involved with the Toronto Partnership Minyan since its establishment in 2008, with Martin serving as rabbi and halachic adviser.
This grassroots movement first appeared in the Shira Hadasha Synagogue in Jerusalem in 2002, and has the blessing of Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber of Bar-Ilan University. Partnership minyans feature traditional Orthodox liturgy and mehitzas (partitions separating the seating for men and women), while allowing women to read from the Torah and to lead various parts of the service.
Ruth led a minyan at a 2013 New York conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
The couple, who made aliya this past August, have “two daughters, two sons-in-law and five grandchildren living in Israel [in Jerusalem and Modi’in],” says Ruth, adding that one of their sons-in-law is Jerusalem Post legal affairs reporter and international affairs commentator Yonah Jeremy Bob. Their two other children live in New York and Chicago, “so no one was left in Toronto,” she says, explaining their decision to make their dream of many years come true at this time.
Asked to list the reasons for their move, she answers: “First because we are Jews, then because our children are here, next in order to make a difference and finally because we like it here.”
Quoting one of her daughters, Ruth says there is not much point in making aliya “if you don’t want to learn another language and a new culture.
My husband and I really enjoy the Hebrew culture. We learn new words every day, and try not to isolate ourselves, although we do spend much time with North Americans.” In fact, many of their friends from Toronto and even from their synagogue have also made aliya.
The grandchildren, says this self-styled “professional grandmother” who was also a “stay-athome mom” (as well as a technical writer and editor), are the key to her enjoying this culture.
“There are wonderful plays and concerts for children, which have a Zionist and a Jewish quality that is so sweet,” she says.
Ruth hopes to “eventually become more involved,” and lists the things she would like to help fix: “racism, government inefficiency, the environment – and the abandoning of cars on her street [in Jerusalem].”
One of the advantages of making aliya, Ruth says, “is that you feel freer to criticize” the things that are wrong with the country.
“In North America, among the religious Jewish community you can’t be too ‘left-wing,’ in Toronto particularly,” she says.
Now that she is finally here she feels very strongly about the importance of solidarity against those who discriminate against other Jewish groups and against Arabs.
Speaking shortly before Passover, she quotes Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the meaning of freedom in the Haggada, saying that he contrasts between “hofesh,” which is individual freedom, and “herut” which means freedom with responsibility, “a constitution of liberty,” as he posits.
“You don’t just go trampling on everybody else” in order to enjoy your own freedom, she says. She uses the example of Canada, where “if you step on someone’s toes they say ‘sorry,’” albeit also exaggerated in its own way, as the opposite end of the spectrum to what happens in Israel.
Regarding their aliya, Ruth says, “Nefesh B’Nefesh was amazing and continues to be so.
Aliya is difficult and complicated but they gave us the information that we needed to prepare for it, they kept us on track for deadlines, and they helped us with our questions. Now that we are here, Nefesh B’Nefesh feels like a very considerate, knowledgeable cousin who is always looking out for ways to help us integrate and to become educated citizens.”
For their first Passover as Israelis, Ruth says, “We will have the best of all worlds. We will be with all our Israeli children and grandchildren at a Seder at the home of very generous friends, veteran olim [immigrants], who invited us all.”
They also “look forward” she says, “to not having to worry about a second Seder.”
Currently her husband “writes and teaches, a little at [women’s Jewish studies institutes] Midreshet Lindenbaum and Matan [in Jerusalem], as a substitute, but he would love to teach more. Next year hopefully...”
As for herself, “I don’t rule out the possibility of a business,” she says.
Her favorite things in the country? Tomatoes and the weather.
“We love being here, “ Ruth says, “It’s wonderful and we hope to help make it an even better place.”
■ Founded in 2002, Nefesh B’Nefesh, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, KKL and JNF-USA, is dedicated to revitalizing aliya from North America and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles. Nefesh B’Nefesh services and resources make the aliya experience as streamlined and successful as possible. These services include guidance and planning pre-aliya, and support and resources post-aliya. At each step of the process, NBN guides and encourages successful aliya through educational programming, expert employment resources, a comprehensive website, and workshops, seminars and personal meetings.
The support and comprehensive social services provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh to more than 45,000 newcomers has ensured that over 90 percent of its olim have remained in Israel.www.nbn.org.il USA: 1-866-4-ALIYAH ISRAEL: 02-659-5800 UK: 0800-075-7200