101-Year-Old olah finally returns to her native homeland

Stella Rockoff has returned to her birthplace: “My family left at a time when ‘the Jewish State was just an idea; today I am proud to call it home.”

At the age of 101, Stella Rockoff made aliyah to Israel

At the age of 101, Stella Rockoff made aliyah to Israel, the oldest immigrant from the USA in the last five years. Stella was born in 1921 in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine and immigrated with her family to the USA at the age of five, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Ninety-six years later, she was finally able to make aliyah, along with her daughter and son-in-law. 

“All my life, I dreamed of returning to my native country,” said Rockoff. “This is a day of celebration for me – the day I return to my homeland, and I am overjoyed. I can’t wait to be reunited with my many grandchildren, twenty-two great-grandchildren, and two more great-great-grandchildren in my old-new home.” 

Stella’s birth certificate, given to her in Palestine, is written in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. At the age of five, Stella’s family decided to immigrate to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, New York. In 1940, she married Rabbi Herman Rockoff. The young couple moved to Pennsylvania, where they were distinguished leaders in the local Jewish community and created a family of their own with four children: the late Seymour, Elaine, Jonah, and Sharon. 

Later, the family moved to Manhattan, where Rockoff was appointed executive secretary of the Rabbinical Council of America. As part of her role, she worked closely with leading rabbis and was very active in managing annual conferences throughout the US and with Israeli institutions, including the Yeshivat Hadarom in Rehovot and the Eretz Hachaim cemetery in Beit Shemesh. Prior to her Aliyah, Stella resided in Clifton, New Jersey, and was the oldest member of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. 

“I’m proud to call it home”

 Last week, Stella made Aliyah to Israel with her daughter, Elaine, and son-in-law, Michael, on a group Aliyah flight coordinated by Nefesh B’Nefesh, in partnership with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and JNF-USA. The flight alone brought nearly 60 new Olim to Israel.

 “My family left at a time when “the Jewish State” was just an idea, an idea that has since become the State of Israel, now a strong nation and a leader in innovation, and I am proud to finally call it home,” said Rockoff, a music lover who has written numerous songs about American Jewry and her love for the Land of Israel. Her late son, Seymour, was a well-known and sought-after cantor, who even performed an entire concert of his mother’s compositions.

Michael and Elaine Reinheimer, Rockoff’s daughter and son-in-law who accompanied her, remarked, “The idea that she will be reunited with the family in Israel makes mom very happy. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren can’t wait for her to arrive. America has been very good to us, but now it’s time to go home.”

What is the first thing you would like to do in Israel?

“The thing I’m most excited about right now is seeing my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren who came to greet me at the airport. I have over 20 close relatives in Israel, and I want to spend as much time with them as possible.”

In retrospect, do you regret that your family didn’t stay in Israel when you were growing up?

“During that time, it was very difficult to live in Israel. My father had to move to the USA to support our family. So, in 1926, he brought my mother, brother, and me to America. After that, life just happened. I started going to school there, all my friends were American, and then I met my husband, and we got married when I was 19 years old. But it has always been important for me to retain my connection to Israel and my Judaism, and I was fortunately able to do so throughout my career working with many Jewish organizations and institutions.”

“I congratulate Stella and her family for making Aliyah, proving that it is never too late to return home,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. “Stella was born at a time when we were fighting to establish a home for the Jewish people, and now she is returning to a country that welcomes thousands of Jews every year who are continuing to build it in every facet of life. This is the essence of what Nefesh B’Nefesh has been striving for these past twenty years.”