The Gonshers spent 35 years raising their family of three boys “while living in nowheresville” – or Omaha, Nebraska. There, Rini relates, “We became big fish in a little pond.” Allan describes Omaha as “a very small community with maybe a dozen Sabbath observers, many of them Holocaust survivors or ‘greeners’ who had managed to get green cards after emigrating from Europe.” Yet somehow Chabad was already there with an influence Allan describes as “very strong – unbelievable.”
Though Rini and Allan had met in Israel in 1968, it took them 50 years to make aliyah, mainly because Rini could not leave her aging parents. Amazingly, though, the entire Gonsher nuclear family is here today. Allan and Rini live happily in Efrat. As for their sons (and “their educated, talented and sweet wives,” plus their offspring), Zach, the youngest, is a social work therapist and Chabad emissary living in Kfar Eldad, near Tekoa. He arrived 10 years ago from Omaha. Ben, their middle son made aliyah from Boca Raton, Florida, two years ago, lives in Beit Shemesh and is the executive director of Aish International. Josh, the oldest and a clinical psychologist, came to Efrat a year ago from Baltimore.
“Making aliyah and raising our children as religious Zionists” is how Allan defines their life dream. The aliyah part was a dream deferred but ultimately attained. Because both Gonshers grew up in traditional, in what Allan terms “Conservadox” homes that were committed to Zionism, perhaps their encounter in Israel was not surprising. Rini came from Cincinnati, a commercial center dubbed “queen city of the Midwest.”
In 1968, she attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during her junior year abroad. Coincidentally, Allan was there too after a year of college in Phoenix. He relates that “I also came to Israel that year wanting to see the world. I wound up joining the same program and met Rini at Sde Boker. We have been together since and just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.”
As for family history, Rini’s grandfather was an opera singer in Ukraine but refused to perform on Fridays and Saturdays in America. Instead, he became cantor of the town’s first Conservative congregation. Rini’s parents, Labor Zionists, founded Cincinnati’s Jewish day school, which she attended. She then studied education and sociology (“what everybody did then!”) at the University of Cincinnati.
Allan was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where his parents had relocated from New York after World War II. Jews were few, but his parents were “shul people” who regularly attended a Conservative synagogue. Though his father, orphaned young, never had a formal Jewish education, he loved being Jewish and was enthusiastic about Israel. In fact, one day he came home bursting with pride, declaring, “There are Jaffa oranges in the supermarket!”
Getting married and searching for a more Jewish life
AFTER THEIR marriage in 1972, Rini joined Allan in Los Angeles. He had continued college in LA “in search of a more Jewish life.” Rini then began a graduate degree in education “but didn’t finish because I wanted to teach already and swim and be a Californian!”
Allan then attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, where he received psychoanalytical training and obtained a master’s in social work. Then, “the rabbi in Phoenix helped me come back to Israel for a year, where I learned in [Yeshivat Hamivtar or] Bravenders yeshiva in 1976.” Their eldest son was born in Misgav Ladach Hospital in Jerusalem.
Next, the Gonshers moved to Omaha, Nebraska, because Allan was appointed executive director of Jewish Family Services. For the last 45 years of his long career, he has specialized in child-centered play therapy in cases of sexual abuse. “I have a specialty very few people have,” he states and, referring to the traumas of his young patients. “Hashem blessed me with the tools to help them manage the pain.”
In Omaha, Rini taught Hebrew in many places and tutored Torah reading for bar- and bar-mitzvah students. Her aim was “to spread the joy of learning so my students could enjoy being Jews.” In addition, “I always worked summer Jewish camps, and the boys got to go there for free. I worked as a Hebrew teacher, assisted in the infirmary, was the cook – over the years – but ultimately became a counselor for groups of senior citizens.
“They only came for five days, but what interaction they had with the campers! They loved arts and crafts, Israeli dancing (a little slower!), pontoon rides, Shabbat services, performing songs that incorporated their names!”
Life in Omaha was never dull. The Gonshers invited many Shabbat guests, helping some 20 young people become more religious. They volunteered in the hevra kadisha (burial society), an activity Rini continued in Kansas.
Their sons often attended summer programs in Israel and learned in yeshivot here. When they were grown, the couple moved to Kansas, Ohio, where they lived for 15 years. Rini worked in sales for a mail-order business and in a store. She also enjoyed volunteering for Kosher Meals on Wheels, cooking and preparing quantities of food. Allan helped start a kollel (yeshiva for married men) in Kansas.
Not idle in Efrat either, the Gonshers now volunteer at the soldiers’ corner, and Rini helps with the charitable distribution of food. Allan summarizes his retirement activities, saying:
“I have an office in both Efrat and Jerusalem, seeing clients two days a week. In addition, I supervise other clinicians all over the world in English. I also learn every morning at Yeshiva Darche Noam from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.” Besides consultant activities (which include a 20-year involvement with haredi and hassidic communities), he teaches a course in the family therapy program at Neve Yerushalayim College.
“I have an office in both Efrat and Jerusalem, seeing clients two days a week. In addition, I supervise other clinicians all over the world in English. I also learn every morning at Yeshiva Darche Noam from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.”Alan Gonsher
But the Gonshers’ greatest pleasure is their family, “who all live within 20 minutes of each other, and like one another and want to be together.” ■
ALLAN AND RINI GONSHER From Kansas City, KS to Efrat November 2019