Martin PelOr was a man who delighted in doing the unexpected. His daily schedule after he retired from a career in marketing was filled with lectures on archaeology at Tel Aviv University, leading guided tours throughout Israel (he studied and received his tour guide's license after retirement), studying in the kollel based in Netanya's New Synagogue and developing programs for the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) in Netanya that he chaired.
PelOr passed away last winter. Susan, his wife, says that she hopes his demise was as painless as it was quick, for Martin was not the silent, suffering type.
He valued the AACI and its work; therefore, she encouraged him to take a second term of chairmanship, knowing there were certain areas that he wanted to further develop, such as the continuing modernization of the AACI English library; restructuring a program of varied trips; and providing members and others in the English-speaking community with inspirational programs and activities that would increase participation.
"Martin laid the foundation for these programs with his foresight and enthusiasm; now it is our responsibility to further their development," says Rachel Rubin-Hirsch, director of the Netanya AACI. She and Judith Brooks, who plans and organizes trips and special events, are the only two paid workers at the AACI's Netanya community center.
The organization's daily running is assumed by the numerous volunteers who answer the phones, compile, proofread and deliver the monthly magazine, plan activities, conduct home visits and hospitality programs, stage musical performances, organize blood drives, maintain the library and formulate lectures, celebrations and classes given in the Render Dow hall.
Rubin-Hirsch believes that there are more than 5,000 English speakers living in Netanya. More than half are AACI members, and she would like to encourage the others to join. During any given week, Rubin-Hirsch says that more than 300 people walk through the AACI's doors on Rehov Shmuel Hanatziv.
Rubin-Hirsch holds the position of chairperson following PelOr's untimely death, until a new chairperson is elected.
"I knew that Martin was grooming me for the job," says Ruth Resnick, "but I did not plan on it happening so fast."
Resnick is the first woman to fill the post since the AACI in Netanya was founded in 1969. She sees her role as one of innovation and continuation.
"Martin's logo as a tour guide was 'In the footsteps of Marty,'" says Resnick. "However, I think he would want the AACI not only to follow his steps but also to explore new avenues. Thanks to his enthusiasm, I recently went on a trip to Poland arranged by the AACI and Heritage Tours. This was a trip Martin that went on last year; he felt it was so worthwhile that he encouraged the AACI to consider such a tour for its members. We went a few weeks ago. This fall, the AACI is planning a similar historical trip to Prague. Martin's zest for in-depth discovery of places was a legacy to us all."
Resnick says that the AACI was an important ingredient in successful absorption when she and her late husband, Sam, made aliya in 1988 from Toronto, Canada. There they were active in the Jewish community, the Canadian Jewish Congress and promoting inter-denominational dialogue in the city of Toronto.
"Although we were a minority, the Jewish community in Toronto raised the level of awareness of Judaism in the community. We organized a chaplaincy program that went into hospitals, institutions and prisons, and helped overcome the isolation caused by being one the few Jews among those of other religions. I would like to see the AACI in Netanya take on a more dynamic role in our city and neighborhoods. This would not only benefit the city but would also help us integrate and contribute to society. Getting settled and learning the language is a challenge, yet we must also look for ways to contribute."
Resnick says that the expanded English library is a perfect meeting place. Membership in the library is free for AACI members.
"The AACI is a people's organization where members' commonality is that they speak English," Resnick points out. "It is where we have the opportunity to meet others of similar as well as diverse backgrounds - people that otherwise we would not meet. This in itself is a growing experience."
The beautifully appointed library is one reason why AACI member Elizabeth Levy is staying in Netanya. She came to Israel in 1975 with her late husband, Sidney, and late son, Burt. She describes how the library and the AACI have been an important part of her family's life.
"The library was a wonderful experience for my husband, who loved books. He was one of the first librarians, and I am carrying on the tradition. Today, with the generosity of the Gura family from Los Angeles and other donors' financial support, our library has grown to more than 8,000 books."
The English library has always been of special interest to AACI members, and new books are purchased monthly. The Gura family recently donated funds for new books and bookcases. A wide selection of books covers subjects ranging from the classics to cookbooks. Books on audio tapes are available, as well as large-print editions. The library is open mornings from 8:30 to 12:30, Sunday through Thursday and has evening hours the third Wednesday of every month.
Levy is one of the library's 13 volunteer workers. She has her special "customers." These are people who cannot come in themselves but send family or caregivers to return and collect new books. She says that after years of friendship, she knows what they like. Levy confides that she is 86 and has read every mystery the library has.
Head librarian Sherry Schwartz remarks that many of the library's older patrons love mysteries, and she wonders what these little old ladies are plotting. Nevertheless, she is delighted that they come in and spread their warmth and zest for living.
"Our library is a bright and cheerful place. You can talk in our library and enjoy the happy atmosphere. Someone is usually celebrating a birthday, and you can join in," says Schwartz.
PelOr encouraged the participation in the AACI of younger English speakers. Rubin-Hirsch mentions that he was pleased with the prospect of Yael Rahum's and Leslie Langer's joining the board of directors.
In 1968, Rahum made aliya as a teenager from the US and attended ulpan in Kiryat Shmona. She met her Israeli-born husband in Haifa, and for the past 24 years has worked for Netanya municipality in the treasury department. Her Hebrew is excellent, and she translates newsworthy articles from the Hebrew papers for the monthly AACI Netanya magazine.
Rahum has been a member of the AACI Musical Theater since 1991, and delights in AACI fitness classes to channel her energy. She believes that AACI members know what they like and should play an active role in planning.
Langer, the new treasurer, concurs. He feels that in order to change and grow, one must think innovatively. A former president of the Macabbi basketball club in Switzerland, he wants to introduce more programs along the lines of fitness and movement. However, he says that this should be the decision of the membership.
"The AACI is a nonprofit organization that basically runs in a break-even position," says Langer, a CPA by profession. "It's good to know that we are financially sound. Nevertheless, if our membership is up, we can do more."
Langer and his wife, Irit, made aliya in 2004 from Basel, and found the AACI to be of great help in getting started in Israel.
"We, as new immigrants, feel taken care of," says Irit Langer, who teaches Alexander technique fitness classes. "For those of us who speak limited Hebrew, it is a help that there is someone you can turn to."
Supporting aliya for decades
Established in 1951, the AACI is a voluntary apolitical Zionist organization serving approximately 120,000 North Americans living in Israel and dedicated to their successful absorption into Israeli society.
For more than 50 years, AACI branches throughout the country have helped thousands of newcomers acclimatize to Israeli life by providing pre-aliya services, absorption counseling, employment assistance and social activities, as well as lobbying on absorption issues.
The AACI also provides ongoing services to veteran olim, makes a positive contribution to society with activities that enhance the quality of life, and works toward building stronger ties between North American Jewry and Israel.
Membership is open to people from English-speaking countries, both in Israel and overseas.
For further details, call (02) 566-1181 or e-mail: email@example.com
- Daniel Ben-Tal
For further information about AACI Netanya, see www.netanyaaaci.org.il