Ron and Judy Aronson never used backpacks and shopping carts before moving to Israel in 2012. They drove cars; now they take buses. They have a whole new circle of friends.
And yet with all those changes in lifestyle, the retired couple says they adjusted quickly and feel content amid their new surroundings.
“Our Israeli friends ask if we had a soft landing. We can honestly say we did. Our introduction to Israel has been wonderful,” says Ron, a retired pharmacist. “We are fortunate to have wonderful friends, both Anglos and Israelis. We keep very busy; there are not enough hours in the day for all we want to do.”
They each grew up in Zionist families in different neighborhoods of Queens, New York. Introduced by a cousin, they got married in June 1956.
Ron graduated from Queens College and Columbia University College of Pharmacy, and in 1955 began a two-year stint in the US Navy at the end of the Korean War. Later he earned a master’s degree in pharmacy administration.
He relates that Golda Meir, then Israel’s UN ambassador, once came into his drugstore in New Haven, Connecticut to buy three cartons of cigarettes while visiting her son Menachem, a renowned cellist living nearby.
After 19 years in New Haven, the Aronsons moved to the Boston suburb of Brookline, where he directed an HMO pharmacy for many years and was active in the Young Israel synagogue and in civic affairs.
Judy has degrees in speech and language, children in healthcare settings and special education. In New Haven she established a preschool in a minority neighborhood at the request of the Black Panthers, and also started a special needs preschool, a Shabbat-observant Girl Scout troop and a chapter of AMIT Women.
In Brookline, she established a special- needs preschool at Framingham University and a P’TACH (Parents for Torah for all Children) chapter at the Maimonides Day School.
When the Aronsons moved to Florida, they were instrumental in starting the Delray Orthodox Synagogue.
“OUR FIRST trip to Israel was in 1969,” says Ron. “We took the family and went on an American Jewish Congress tour for four weeks, and it made a lasting impression.
“Because of that, Judy and I came back to Israel two years later on a pilot trip. But it didn’t work out because I couldn’t sell my business in New Haven and the children were just not ready. But as the years went on, we made many trips to Israel.”
In 1985 and 1991, they volunteered together in Sar-El, a program in which people from many countries carry out civilian tasks on military bases. “We did dirty work, but it was gratifying and we made lasting friends,” says Judy.
Their son, Seth, lives in Riverdale, New York, and visits Israel at least twice a year. Their older daughter, Tami Gross of North Carolina, has a vacation apartment in Israel. Tami and her son, Judah Ari Gross, the military correspondent for the Times of Israel, run the Jerusalem half-marathon every year for the Michael Levin Memorial Fund for lone soldiers. The Aronsons’ younger daughter, Abby Sternlicht, made aliya in 2006 to Rehovot.
So it is no surprise that when Abby and her husband encouraged her parents to tour the then-under-construction Protea Hills pluralistic retirement community at Shoresh outside Jerusalem in 2011, Tami and Seth fully supported the idea.
“I have an Israeli cousin who is also a good friend, and she drove us up on a rainy, cold winter day to the top of the mountain to the construction site. We were very happy in Florida, but when we saw the spectacular view, Ron said, ‘Okay, that’s it,’ and it was really the right decision,” says Judy.
They made aliya on Valentine’s Day 2012, and moved to Protea Hills on April 1. They were the 12th family to move in and the first Americans among several Anglos. Right away, they rolled up their sleeves and got involved.
“Our motto is ‘Make a difference wherever you live,’” Ron says.
Warner Kenton, a longtime resident of Moshav Shoresh originally from Wales, came by to offer his assistance to the English-speaking newcomers at Protea Hills in getting assimilated to life in Israel. They formed a club called Warner’s Group, which today has more than 70 members including some English- speaking Israelis among the 400 residents of Protea Hills.
“We organize lectures and day trips and compiled an English pamphlet of information for newcomers,” says Judy.
Both are active in Warner’s Group and in other pursuits. They attend exercise classes every morning; Ron is the gabbai of the on-premises synagogue and was elected treasurer of the Residents Committee; Judy produces and directs the annual Purimspiel, and founded and runs the English library.
“The only thing I really miss from America is the public library,” she confides.
THE COUPLE took ulpan in Jerusalem, where they met people from around the world. They even started experimenting with recipes from other Jewish cultures. “Ron makes a mean shakshuka,” says Judy with a smile.
“We go to the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk and the spice guy recognizes us. If I’m alone, he asks, ‘Where is your husband?’ It makes us feel we belong here.”
The Aronsons decided against buying a car in Israel.
“We don’t need a car,” Ron explains. “There is a shuttle from Protea Hills to Jerusalem twice a day, and the public bus comes to our door.”
Judy has found that walking has given her a deep familiarity with Jerusalem’s geography. “Because we walk, I am able to give people directions when they ask, and I feel good about that,” she says.
But perhaps the best aspect of living in Israel, she adds, is their ability to spend quality time with Abby’s four children. “It’s nice to be here for vacation trips, sports tournaments, graduations and Scouts plays – the everyday things we wouldn’t have come in for from America.”
The couple has shared some oncein- a-lifetime moments in Israel as well. On April 12, they went to the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv for the Israeli Philharmonic concert in honor of conductor Zubin Mehta’s 80th birthday, with guest violinist Itzhak Perlman. It was a sweet reprise, as in 1985 they had been in the same hall, then called the Mann Auditorium, to see Zubin Mehta conduct the Philharmonic in a program featuring the same violin concerto played by Perlman.
Only this time, they attended the concert as proud citizens of Israel.