Veterans: Busy Bees

No dull moment for this pair, who organize walks, recruit volunteers, and help Israel’s hasbara effort.

311_old peopl olim (photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
311_old peopl olim
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
The adage that “if something needs doing, ask a busy person” could have been created for Hadassa and Stuart Palmer. At any one time they can be seen organizing a sponsored walk, recruiting volunteers for a special needs education center, supporting their community in their local synagogue and providing a “summer camp” for their 15 grandchildren during school holidays. In addition, Stuart is a hasbara activist, giving lectures here and abroad, meeting government and NGO organizational leaders and running a daily blog to enhance the country’s image abroad. Hadassa works as a volunteer with the elderly.
Hadassa, 67, was born in Holland during the Holocaust. In 1960, she went to Sunderland in northeast England to work as an au pair. She wanted to meet a nice Jewish boy and on a blind date was introduced to Stuart.
Stuart, 72, came from Hull, studied at Sheffield University and settled in the northeast. After their marriage they spent some years in Sunderland before moving to Newcastle where they lived till their aliya. Stuart had graduated in mechanical engineering and worked as a director of a company manufacturing mining equipment. Hadassa settled into Jewish community life and was an activist in the 35s, a group of Jewish women all over the UK who fought for the rights of Soviet Jews.
“We hosted Avital Sharansky when she came to promote her book fighting for the release of her husband,” says Hadassa, describing her as shy and quiet but reinforced by her determination to get her husband freed from Soviet prison.
Several factors influenced the Palmers’ decision to make aliya. “Our eldest daughter, Aviva, was 16 and announced that as soon as she finished her A-levels [matriculation exams] she was going to Israel,” says Hadassa.
“And my job was very stressful, I was ready for a change,” adds Stuart. “We didn’t want Aviva to go without us.”
Hadassa says that one day Stuart came home from work and announced: “I’m going to see the aliya emissary.” She was less enthusiastic but “I was dragged along!”
Stuart had gone on a pilot tour before their aliya and had been interviewed by industrialist Stef Wertheimer. He was offered a job with Iscar Blades in Nahariya but was given a period of time to learn Hebrew and settle down. The family went initially to the absorption center in Ra’anana where they were welcomed with a bouquet of flowers from Stuart’s future employers.
“We then had time to learn Hebrew – and American English,” he laughs.
 “We needed to find a home in the North,” says Hadassa, “but I really did not want to live in an apartment block as I had done in Amsterdam during my childhood.”
They decided on Haifa. Friends advised them that if they wanted the sort of synagogue community that they were used to in England, they should look for a home in Ahuza on the Carmel.
Like much of Haifa’s architecture, their apartment has each flat built in steps down the mountainside, with a separate entrance, a large garden balcony and plenty of storage space to keep bedding for their extended family and frequent guests.
“In the beginning, it was hard to adjust to the six-day week,” says Stuart.
In his last period of employment before retirement, he traveled in the field of international marketing.
Hadassa taught English privately to adults and children.
The Palmers made aliya with their son, Danny, then 14, and younger daughter Gila, 11. Aviva arrived a year later after finishing school and went to Kibbutz Lavi for agricultural training, while Gila settled happily at the Carmel School. Danny had a tougher time, but eventually he settled in well at the secular Bosmath Technical High School.
“This did not help with his integration in Bnei Akiva, however,” says Hadassa.
The children are all married and the Palmers spend a lot of time with their 15 grandchildren. The family enjoys hiking and exploring the countryside together. Stuart never misses an opportunity to get material for his hasbara activities. On a recent trip to the Negev to see the wild spring flowers, they made a detour to Sderot so that he could add some of the latest developments to his blog.
Hadassa had three first cousins here. One of them was, together with her daughter, in the group that was exchanged from Bergen-Belsen for a group of German Templers who were expelled by the British as suspected enemy aliens. Another cousin is still alive at 103.
Hadassa was brought up in an Orthodox family, but Stuart only found religion at university. At Stuart’s 70th birthday celebration at their synagogue, the entire Shabbat service was run by him, his son, sons-in-law and grandsons.
Apart from keeping an open house for potential immigrants and helping them settle, Hadassa works with a Dutch organization, Elah, which befriends and looks after the elderly. “I grew up with elderly relatives and enjoy being with older people,” she says. “But everything stops when there is tennis on TV.” Hadassa is an enthusiastic tennis fan. She also crochets kippot for the family.
Hadassa and Stuart coordinate volunteer activities for Chi.L.D, the Haifa center for children with learning disabilities. Situated in a poor-income neighborhood, the center provides a kindergarten and after-school activities for disadvantaged children, trauma therapies for victims of terror and war and a special enrichment program for Ethiopian children. A yearly sponsored walk is organized by the Palmers to provide funds and raise the awareness of the community.
A large percentage of Stuart’s time is spent on hasbara. “When I traveled for my work, people always asked about Israel. At that time I didn’t have enough information to be able to answer effectively, so when I retired I got involved.”
Through the Israel Citizens Action Network, Stuart spends time giving lectures and organizes letter-writing to the media here and abroad. “We started by involving pensioners who had computer skills, volunteers of Sar-El, the army volunteer program and other volunteer groups, motivating them to continue to help Israel when they get home."
In addition, Stuart is active in the Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, an umbrella group of 106 multireligious and multinational organizations worldwide. This work involves contact with government departments and nongovernment bodies.
“For example, when there are accusations that we take water away from the Palestinians, I can present research and information provided by the Water Board that shows exactly the distribution of water in the region. It helps to deal in facts rather than polemics.”
“I believe that life is making things happen, not just watching or asking what happened” is Stuart’s philosophy of life.
The only criticism the Palmers have of Israel is the deteriorating education system, particularly the lack of Zionist vision.
“We know why we came on aliya, but the concept of why we should be here is not taught enough in schools,” says Hadassa.
“We know why we’re here, there is no other place,” say the Palmers.