Sarah Lustig Goodman, 87, who lives in a retirement home in Jerusalem, is an active volunteer with organizations such as Women in Green, Emunah Women, and the AACI.
And most of all, she is kept quite busy telling audiences her remarkable story of survival. When approached during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day to be interviewed for the “Veterans” column of the Magazine, she didn’t say no but had to carve out time for the phone call.
“I’m giving seven talks this week,” she WhatsApped me as we tried to schedule our conversation. “Tomorrow morning I’m speaking at Nefesh B’Nefesh in English. Wednesday morning I’m speaking on Zoom to Taiwan for their Shoah program.”
Sarah Lustig Goodman's story: From the Holocaust to New York to Israel
She was barely two and a half years old when her father’s textile shop under their apartment in Dortmund, Germany, was destroyed during the infamous Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938. In early 1939, she and her six-year-old sister, Susan, were spirited out of Germany to live with an aunt in Belgium. Their parents managed to join them three months later.
The Lustig family spent the rest of the war staying one step ahead of the Nazis, fleeing from Belgium to France to Spain to Portugal in a harrowing series of escapades. They sailed to Cuba in 1941, where, 10 days after their arrival, a third sister, Hadassah, was born. In March 1945, the Lustigs moved once again, settling in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.
Ten years later, Sarah Lustig made aliyah to Kibbutz Shluhot with friends from the Bnei Akiva youth movement, after completing a preparatory program (hachshara) in New Jersey. Her aunt and grandmother, having made aliyah in 1933, were living in Haifa.
“In Shluhot, I re-met Rafi Goodman, a man I’d met in hachshara, and we got married there,” she said. “He wanted to do a master’s degree at Yeshiva University, so we went back for what was supposed to be two years. But it took 14 years, and we came back with three children.”
Meanwhile, in 1963, her sister Hadassah and her husband, Moshe Goldberg, had moved from Brooklyn to Haifa. So when the Goodmans returned in 1973 – in the middle of the Yom Kippur War, as it turned out – Haifa was their natural choice of residence. And there, all the first cousins grew up together.
In 2004, Sarah and Hadassah co-wrote a book titled Fleeing Europe: The Miracle of Our Survival and the Kindling of Our Zionism about their experiences.
“Our purpose was to honor our parents and inform our children,” Goodman said. “My niece translated it into Hebrew, and we gave it out to friends.”
After she agreed to tell her story to a grandchild’s class, requests for speaking engagements snowballed.
Goodman, who worked as a bookkeeper for many years, keeps meticulous records of her talks to everyone, from schoolchildren to foreign ambassadors and members of the press. Her interview for this column was 190th on the list. So far, approximately 13,000 people have heard Goodman’s lectures.
“I only ask for transportation, never for money,” she said. “Somebody from Taglit would pick me up from Haifa to speak to groups in Jerusalem week after week for a few years. I feel a mission to do this, and it gives me a tremendous warm feeling.”
The reason for her popularity as a Shoah lecturer, she feels, is “because I have a happy ending. My sisters and I have more than 50 great-grandchildren among the three of us, all in Israel except two.”
Their lives have, however, been touched by loss. Susan, who remained in the United States, died in 2007 and is survived by a son and his family. Rafi Goodman, a psychologist, died 12 years ago.
Sarah Goodman moved to Reuth Beit Barth in Jerusalem in 2014. Four years later, Hadassah and Moshe Goldberg moved to a senior residence in northern Jerusalem, so the sisters are once again in the same city.
She is very proud of her children, who have given her 16 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren.
“They are all brilliant,” she said. The oldest, Rabbi Dr. Yona Goodman, lives in Peduel and is the pedagogic head of all Bnei Akiva yeshivot and ulpanot. Moshe lives in Tal Menashe and is an information systems analyst. Tova lives in Migdal Oz and is a social work supervisor.
Tova was five when the family moved to Haifa from New York, and Goodman was told that all the kindergartens in the National Religious school system were full. Determined to get Tova into that framework, she spontaneously told a white lie to the official in charge. “I said, ‘My husband will kill me,’ and all of a sudden they found room for her. The truth is, he probably wouldn’t have insisted.”
But this is a woman who never hesitates to stand up for what she believes in, wearing her right-wing banner as a badge of honor. She lobbied lawmakers in Washington, DC, on behalf of terror victims and moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. She protested the expulsion of Gush Katif in 2005. She has participated in demonstrations with Women in Green.
“I was once interviewed by a reporter from Holland TV. She seemed like a highly intelligent person. Yet she asked me why, after living in so many countries, I chose to live in Israel,” Goodman said, shaking her head in disbelief at the profound lack of understanding such a question implied.
Besides the obvious fact that her experience in those other countries was that of a young refugee in mortal danger, she said, the point is that Israel is not comparable to any other country.
“It’s my homeland. It is our homeland, all of it. I lived many years in the States, and what I have here is something else. None of my children is looking to go anywhere else, either. You can have a wonderful life here. There is plenty to do.”Sarah Lustig Goodman
“So I gave her a proper answer: ‘It’s my homeland. It is our homeland, all of it. I lived many years in the States, and what I have here is something else. None of my children is looking to go anywhere else, either. You can have a wonderful life here. There is plenty to do,’” she said, before saying good night following another meaningful day of a life well lived. ■
Sarah Goodman, 87 From New York to Kibbutz Shluhot, 1955 From New York to Haifa, 1973