On a Monday morning in 1993, Ruth Brooks, a twice-widowed new immigrant from Baltimore, stopped to talk with her friend Judy Spanglet at the local shopping center. "My father-in-law's wife passed away, and he's coming to stay with us for a while," Judy Spanglet said. "Why don't you stop by?"
As it happened, Brooks's daughter, Judy Neuman, lived in the same apartment building as Judy Spanglet's family. "I always had Shabbat dinner with my daughter's family," Brooks says, "so on Friday night I stopped downstairs at Spanglet's when we'd finished. Jack and I met, but it was late, and I wanted to go home, so I stood up to leave.
"'How are you getting home?' Jack asked. I said I was walking. 'All alone?' he said. I told him there was no reason to be afraid in Israel. 'Women shouldn't walk by themselves at night,' he said. 'I'll walk you home.'"
"The rest is history," Brooks says, laughing. The two were married on February 13, 1994, after Spanglet, himself twice a widower, made aliya.
"My first wife died of leukemia when she was just 31 years old, leaving me with two boys and a four-year-old daughter," Spanglet says. "I married a wonderful woman named Ida, and we were married for 27 years until she passed away. I'd come to Israel just to visit - my boys had already made aliya. After meeting Ruth, making aliya seemed like a great idea."
As of August 10, when Brooks's son Billy Altshul and his family arrived, the entire family has made aliya: Ruth Brooks's three children, plus Spanglet's three. The "nachas wall" in the Spanglet apartment is covered with photos of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren - all Israelis.
Ruth Brooks was born in Baltimore, MD. "My father left my mother and three children in Poland when he came to the US to look for work. But the war intervened and they were separated for nine years. My mother stayed alone with the children in Bessarabia until they joined my father in 1909. I was their only American-born child."
Spanglet was born in Poland. "My family came to the US in 1924, when I was just a baby. My father was a rabbi. I had no head for business but I loved to sing, so I became a cantor. During WWII, I served in an army tank corps, in Hawaii and the Philippines. When my brother in law suggested I audition at Congregation Etz Chayim in Toledo, Ohio, I thought, 'Why not?' I was their cantor for 38 years."
"After my second husband passed away, I'd alternate spending Pessah with my son Billy in the States, or with Judy, in Beersheba," Brooks says. "Either place, I'd make the seder. I felt very attached to Israel, but hadn't thought of living here myself. During Pessah in 1990, in Beersheba, my son-in-law Gary made me an offer: 'If you'll make aliya, you won't have to make the seder,' he said. Now there was a thought! For the first time, I started to think about it. My neighborhood in Baltimore wasn't safe anymore, and as much as I didn't want to face it, I knew I had to move anyway. My parents and siblings were all gone, and with my son in the US and my daughter in Israel, I'd be flying to visit, either way. So making aliya made perfect sense. I arrived just before the High Holy Days in 1990."
Two years prior to his aliya, Spanglet, in Toledo, had told his congregation he was no longer able to perform the demanding work of cantor. "But they took two years to hire someone else, so I stayed. Then Ida passed away, I came to Israel to visit, and I met Ruth. I flew back to Toledo in June, and my daughter Lydia helped me sell everything and pack. Lydia made aliya herself in August, and I arrived just before the High Holy Days in 1993."
"We landed about 3:00 p.m.," Brooks says. "A nice young man met me, and took me to the offices to be processed. I sat down - and sat and sat. At about 7:00 p.m., I was really tired, so I went up and asked, 'Why haven't I been called? I've been sitting here for hours!' So they looked - and my file was stuck on the bottom. Then they took me next. By the time I was finished and got on the bus it was 9:00 p.m., and by the time I got to Judy's at 10:30 p.m., I was completely exhausted. If I hadn't opened my big mouth, I think I'd still be sitting there.
When Judy heard that story, she said, "Mama's not going to have any problems here."
"My family came to meet me," Spanglet says, "and I took my free cab ride to Beersheba. The funny thing is, my cab driver now davens at the same shul I do. I didn't remember him, but one morning he said to me, 'Remember that day I picked you up from the airport?' Sure enough, that was him."
The Spanglets live in Ganei Ye'elim, one of Beersheba's nicest assisted living centers. They have a large, airy one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen. Junmar, a Filipino aide, has lived with them for the past year.
"Junmar does everything for us," Spanglet says. "He shops, cooks, cleans, runs errands and helps me wash and dress."
Among the family pictures in the living room is a framed photo of all three - Junmar, Brooks and Spanglet. "Junmar is a part of our family," Brooks says.
Spanglet is the early bird. "I get up very early, usually before 5:00 a.m.," he says. "Junmar helps me shower and dress, makes my breakfast, then I go out to talk with other residents. At lunch, Junmar cooks, and then in the afternoons, I usually read. We have lots of newspapers and magazines here."
"I sleep later," Brooks says. "I wash and dress, then go for my own walk. I usually have errands. At night, we play cards or watch TV."
Everyone enjoys Sunday and Tuesday evenings. "A wonderful musician comes, and he plays the organ," Brooks says. "Jack sings - Hebrew, Yiddish, all kinds of songs. And I dance. We love to entertain the other residents. Sometimes I'm tired, or not in the mood, but they won't let me alone until I dance."
Both Spanglets are retired with pensions. "We're very fortunate," Spanglet says. "We have everything we need."
"We had many friends before we moved into Ganei Ye'elim," Brooks says. "We still spend time with them, but unfortunately, many have passed away. But both of us have lots of family nearby, lots of grandchildren, so we're never lonely."
"I'm Israeli," Spanglet says. "This is my land, it's my country. Of course I'm Israeli."
"After all these years, I guess I can say I'm Israeli," Brooks says. "I may not do like the Israelis do, but I'm Israeli."
"We're Orthodox," Spanglet says. "Definitely Orthodox."
"I spent my whole life as a cantor, singing Hebrew, so I understand Hebrew pretty well," Spanglet says. "But I'm not fluent in speaking. I do speak Yiddish and English, though, and that's almost always enough to get along."
"I spent six years in Hebrew school," Brooks says, "but the Hebrew I learned there is not what Israelis speak. But I get along with Yiddish and English and the Hebrew I have. If I think I'll need more Hebrew for something, I take someone with me. It's not a problem."
"Plans?" Spanglet says. "That's up to Him."
Brooks adds regularly to a loose-leaf, neatly-typed memoir entitled Autobiography Plus. "It's not just the story of my life, but also some of my thoughts and ideas about all sorts of things. It's for my grandchildren, and their children, so they'll be able to know what kind of a person I was.
"We pray for more years, just to keep the status quo," Brooks says. "Our greatest joy is all the simchas - the weddings, the brits, the bar and bat mitzvas. We're so much at peace here, especially now that our whole family is in Israel."
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