How are these olim living their lives after retirement in Israel?

The Magazine spoke with nine English-speaking immigrants to find out where their open highways are taking them.

 FOUNDERS LAYA SAUL JACKSON (R) and Chaya Barth Shechter at the future site of the Children’s Museum of the Galilee.  (photo credit: Efrat Moskivitz)
FOUNDERS LAYA SAUL JACKSON (R) and Chaya Barth Shechter at the future site of the Children’s Museum of the Galilee.
(photo credit: Efrat Moskivitz)

People are multidimensional. After retirement, they often have the luxury of nurturing sides of themselves that might have gone neglected during years spent working and raising families.

It is said that “retirement is not the end of the road; it’s the beginning of the open highway.” The Magazine spoke with nine English-speaking immigrants to find out where their open highways are taking them.

Hebrew scribal artist

Carl Jacobs of Jerusalem retired a few times. He made aliyah with his wife, Anita, in 2011, after his initial retirement. Since arriving in Israel, he has combined working part time with “a lot of volunteering [at] food banks; Encore Theater set/prop building; Sar-El; and various archaeological digs around the country.” He has also served on the boards of Encore and AACI.

He and his wife have nicknamed themselves “vatikim bodedim” (lone veterans), since all their children and grandchildren live in the US.

Besides traveling to see them, Jacobs shared that the couple does “a fair amount of touring around the country, [and] we have been to over 30 countries since we came in 2011.”

 CARL JACOBS (credit: Courtesy Carl Jacobs) CARL JACOBS (credit: Courtesy Carl Jacobs)

As of 2021, retirement seems to have stuck. Now 75, Jacobs has taken painting classes and studies Hebrew scribal art. So far, he has written two Scrolls of Esther, the Book of Ruth and Song of Songs. He is also writing texts for mezuzot for his grandchildren. Working with quills, ink and parchment, Jacobs spends eight to 10 hours a week perfecting his scribal skills.

“I had no clue as to what I wanted to do after working for 30 plus years. It takes some time to decompress,” he reflected.

To olim who are trying to reinvent themselves after retirement, Jacobs advised, “Pick something new to do, outside your comfort zone. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, ‘You don’t need to master something to enjoy it; sometimes it’s perfectly fine to suck.’”

“You don’t need to master something to enjoy it; sometimes it’s perfectly fine to suck.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Volunteer extraordinaire

Evelynne Goldman and her husband made aliyah in 1990 from London to Ra’anana. Now living in Rehovot, Goldman lives and breathes the social service organization Emunah, where she volunteers a few hours every day on a dizzying array of projects.

Between Ra’anana and Rehovot, she has served on the Emunah national board and as secretary on the local board.

“About six years ago, I became chair of the English-Speaking Chapters in Israel, holding board meetings in the Tel Aviv office. [I also] organized a volunteers’ luncheon every year for approximately 150 people with a bazaar for about 20 vendors, a brochure and a guest speaker. [Before COVID] I also organized days of intensive study on a single theme every year for about 100 people with a guest speaker.

“Two years ago, I became chair of our local Emunah Rehovot Chapter, where I have a great board who organize lectures every month. We raise money to deal with various projects of the Emunah [daycare centers] in Gan Yavne and Gedera.

“The Rehovot Chapter publishes an amazing calendar every month, which has been copied by another organization, and I am the sales distributor, amongst my many Emunah hats,” she related.

Goldman advises olim and retirees, “Take time to know your community, go to meetings to meet other olim and to make new friends.”

“Take time to know your community, go to meetings to meet other olim and to make new friends.”

Evelynne Goldman

Poet

When Yochanan Zaqantov made aliyah in 2018, he had every intention of continuing to work for a few more years but found that “the job market here was too difficult with my lack of Hebrew skills.”

Today, he fills his days writing and self-publishing poetry.

“I also volunteer for an English poetry organization in Israel called Voices Israel. Poetry is my passion, and I have been exploring and developing different styles of poetry, from structured forms like limericks, villanelles and acrostic. I also have been writing using freestyle and rhyming forms. My latest effort is Japanese poetry forms. I write haiku, senryu, sedoka, tanka and haibun,” Zaqantov related.

“I started writing poems when I was in the US Army. I wrote some for my high school sweetheart and continued after we were married. I have always been a romantic person, so my poems reflect that.”

He estimates that he spends four to five hours a week immersed in poetry as the muse hits him.

Zaqantov is “also a fan of [Japanese] light novels, manga and anime.

“I really enjoy reading and learning,” he said. “I also volunteer for a religious educational institution. My hobby is learning acoustic guitar.”

Although it seems he has retirement figured out, Zaqantov admitted: “At first, I did flail around. I was a hi-tech geek, but my lack of Hebrew and age held me back.”

His advice to fellow retirees? “Don’t lock yourself into any one interest or goal. There is a Taoist quote, ‘Be like water.’ Be flexible and adapt.

“Don’t lock yourself into any one interest or goal. There is a Taoist quote, ‘Be like water.’ Be flexible and adapt.”

Yochanan Zaqantov

“In America, I was always so busy making a living that I really wasn’t living. Here I am living and enjoying my retirement,” he concluded.

Fiber artist

In the UK, Jerusalem resident Sara Levene worked as the senior medical officer for recruitment for Scotland Yard. It was her responsibility to determine “whether people with disabilities were eligible to enter the Police Service.

“My daughter is a doctor in Israel,” she said, “so I get a little fix of medical discussion. But I don’t miss work. I love being retired.”

She and her husband made aliyah last year, and from her home in Jerusalem, she indulges in her passion project of fibercraft.

“Mostly I knit, but I also have a fleece which I am carding and will eventually spin into yarn. I have a loom and weave.

“I’ve made silly, simple things, like a baby bonnet, and complex, beautiful things, like a shawl in the traditional style of Shetland lace. I also present a [Torah lecture] on the [creative activities prohibited on] Shabbat related to producing fabric, with hands-on experience of dyeing, carding and weaving.”

Levene said she prepared for retirement “by bringing 17 cartons of yarn over with me and the fleece which I had bought as a retirement project. I also brought over three looms, a spinning wheel and a carton of knitting needles.”

Knitting has been a minor note since she was young.

“My grandmother taught me when I was a small child. She was famous for knitting gorilla sweaters, where the sleeves were far too long.

“I kept it up in a limited way. I used to knit when commuting on the London Underground. I also spent four years on a remote knitting course from America, which increased my skills enormously.”

Today, she spends a few hours a day working on various knitting projects.

“I have two projects on the go: one complex one when I’m able to concentrate; and a simple one for when I’m on Zoom,” Levene elaborated.

When she doesn’t have a pair of needles in her hands, she studies Torah, volunteers with her synagogue and is learning the art of making stained glass.

 ALLAN GONSHER with study partner Ya’akov Johanix.  (credit: Hayim Reiffman) ALLAN GONSHER with study partner Ya’akov Johanix. (credit: Hayim Reiffman)

Yeshiva student

After 40 years of practice as a child therapist, Allan Gonsher positively oozes enthusiasm for his dual passions – his family and studying Torah.

Gonsher retired in 2019 and made aliyah to Efrat. He studies Torah 30 hours a week at the David Shapell College of Jewish Studies/Yeshiva Darché Noam and said he spends the rest of his waking hours with family.

“All of our kids live in Israel,” he shared.

“To be quite honest, because of my reputation, when I came to Israel I couldn’t retire. People knew my work, so I continue to see clients and provide a good deal of supervision/consultation. I squeeze that into all of the above. I don’t believe I will ever [fully] retire from doing what I do. But I certainly have adjusted my priorities at my age. Now I have no problem canceling clients or consultations for learning or family.

“I knew what I wanted to do when we made aliyah – what I call the ‘lamed’ stage of my life,” he shared, referring to the Hebrew letter that begins the infinitive form of the Hebrew verbs for “to help,” “to learn,” “to love.” “It was my chance to learn, help others, and really love my family.

“Not that I didn’t do it in my ‘real life,’ but now I could really do it. I immediately started adjusting as soon as we landed. I love my life! I am so blessed. I wish this on all who come.”

Gonsher has advice for Jewish retirees who live outside of Israel. “If you can’t live here and enjoy it the way I am, at least come for a month [or two]. Get an apartment and relax, learn, visit the land, make friends, volunteer, travel. If you are like me and grew up with a love for Israel, come and experience it. Just sit back, relax and feel the holiness,” he enthused.

“If you can’t live here and enjoy it the way I am, at least come for a month [or two]. Get an apartment and relax, learn, visit the land, make friends, volunteer, travel. If you are like me and grew up with a love for Israel, come and experience it. Just sit back, relax and feel the holiness,”

Allan Gonsher

Genealogist

Retirement gave Chaim (Claude) Schochet the opportunity to finish an enormous undertaking that began in 1983: He published an extensive family genealogy.

In 2015, Schochet retired from his position as math professor at Wayne State University. He and his wife, Rivka, “now live in Bar Yohai, which is a 200-family yishuv near Meron in the Upper Galilee.” From 2015-2022, he served as a visiting professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Conducting research in math, spending time with the six grandchildren who are currently in Israel, hosting visitors and attending Torah lectures all continue to engage his interest.

But the main output of his retirement has been the 175-page family genealogy he helped research and publish.

“I have been interested in family genealogy for many years.”

Starting with “a handwritten family tree that his father drew up in 1983, with the assistance of various relatives,” Schochet “completed a 63-page genealogy in 1986, but it was quite difficult – the technology wasn’t available.

“I started working seriously on [a more expansive version] around 2010 and got much more serious about it in the years 2018-2021.

“More than 95% of the genealogy work that I did in recent years was done via the computer, via email, getting lots of information from relatives and via Zoom, where we had a few very large family meetings, as well as several small meetings with relatives who were of major assistance in the production of the book.”

Schochet also did research on genealogy websites such as ancestry.com and findagrave.com, as well as DNA research. During the most active phases, he spent up to 20 hours a week on the enterprise.

Not surprisingly, Schochet, who made the unusual choice to live in an Israeli yishuv with only a handful of other English-speaking families, urges retired olim to master Hebrew.

“Knowledge of Hebrew makes a huge difference in your aliyah experience,” he asserted. “Lack of Hebrew means that there are many places where you cannot live, for purely practical reasons. Housing [in English-speaking enclaves] is two to three times more expensive than in the periphery, and lack of Hebrew cuts you off from a large portion of the Israeli population,” he noted.

“Lack of Hebrew means that there are many places where you cannot live, for purely practical reasons. Housing [in English-speaking enclaves] is two to three times more expensive than in the periphery, and lack of Hebrew cuts you off from a large portion of the Israeli population.”

Chaim (Claude) Schochet

Educating others

While planning their aliyah, Tovah D’Souza and her husband “both envisioned making a difference here in Israel.” Formerly a healthcare worker based in California, D’Souza found her niche in education.

“I currently educate in five areas: recovery from domestic abuse; what Tanach has to say about spiritual and psychological health; how to study Torah; strategic planning; and English.

“As I see it, of all of the educational topics that I could teach, reconnecting women to their God through Torah learning is topmost in importance. It is topmost in importance for myself as well.”

D’Souza is happiest when she is busy.

“Although we do take time to drive to other parts of the country and see archaeological sites, farms and nature reserves, I do not enjoy large amounts of unstructured time.

“I did not expect to be so long without work. After getting over the shock of not being active, and resisting the temptation to feel rejected and unwanted, I understood that I needed to put in the effort to mobilize myself in a different way. Being flexible, having a good imagination, and being persistent in communicating with others has paid off.

“Outside of this focused effort, my husband and I wrap our private lives around prayer and Torah learning, exercising or taking walks, container gardening and meeting any community needs that come along.

“It continues to amaze me how much more spiritually productive it is here in Israel. Every prayer, every ritual, every study has greater meaning and effect on us than previously,” she confessed.

Museum founders

Laya Saul Jackson and Chaya Barth are volunteer founders of a forthcoming children’s museum in the Galilee. Both women volunteer full time on the project, causing Jackson to remark, “The only thing about me that feels retired is my age – and that I get Social Security!”

In response to a specific prayer request, Jackson had a dream, a literal dream. “I’d had a dream that gave me the mission to build a children’s museum in the north of Israel. It’s a profound experience to be guided in such a way. I remember standing up in my bedroom in awe and saying out loud, ‘That’s really big.’ A voice came into my head and said, ‘You know, you don’t start finished. Take baby steps.’ I answered, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’

“What I can say is that although this isn’t an easy mission, it is nearly always a joy. When my joy goes off track, I remember that a happy place must be built with happiness if it’s to bring joy. Even that thought brings me to smile.

“You know, it’s such a big project. The team we’ve got carries so many aspects of this that I could never ever do alone. My co-founder, Chaya Barth Schechter, who recently retired after 40 years of owning her own business, is the best anyone could dream of, so I never feel like I’m in this alone. Her strengths make up for my weaknesses. She is amazing and is working with me full time on this!

“For this project, I use the metaphor of giving birth. When a woman is giving birth, she’s all-in with the experience. But she didn’t make the baby! That’s how this experience is for me. I’m all-in, and the miracles keep coming, mostly in the form of the people we meet who get involved with their time, talent or treasure.”

As an expert on women in Tanach, Jackson reminds people that Miriam was at least in her 80s when she led the women in song by the sea. “My encouragement to seniors is, You’re never too old to make a difference. You can change the face of the nation by being your truest self,” she advised.

Jackson’s museum partner is Safed resident Chaya Barth, who retired in 2018 from the “green architectural chemicals company” she founded. Building the Children’s Museum of the Galilee with Jackson is one of her post-retirement passions.

Initially, Barth said, she “was recruited to provide some professional counsel regarding green construction,” but soon she found that many areas of her professional experience fit well with the needs of the [nonprofit organization].

“I came to [retirement] enthusiastically after a whole life of work that, yes, I did enjoy. I had no choice but to work to support my daughter and my parents for many years.

I am a person of faith and trust, and I simply decided to leave my business because I had enough. I left with no plans, with no expectations, only with a home that I owned and enough to live on.”

In addition to the 30 to 40 hours a week she invests in the museum, Barth studies a daily page of Talmud, runs a few times a week, participates in at least one half-marathon a year, does Pilates, gardens and maintains a social and home life.

And in the spirit of making the most of one’s retirement, she married for the first time at age 68.

Despite the fact that Israel is often accused of being a youth-oriented culture, approximately 12% of Israelis are 65 and older, a statistic that is increasing by nearly 1% per year.

Most olim have already reinvented themselves at least once. From these stories, it’s clear that there is something special about life in Israel – a marriage of inspiration and opportunity that allows individuals, from poets to yeshiva students to museum founders, to squeeze every drop of juice out of their retirement years.