Veterans: Judith Blumberg and Shai Schwartz

"I wanted them to have a simpler atmosphere, which Israel had in those days."

Schwartzes 88 224 (photo credit: ABIGAIL KLEIN)
Schwartzes 88 224
(photo credit: ABIGAIL KLEIN)
In high school, Sy Schwartz was affectionately called "Bagel Boy" by teammates on the varsity football squad. Had they known what his future would bring, they might have chosen "Kibbutz Kid." The story of how this small-town Jersey boy met a cosmopolitan Philadelphia "New Lefter" - with whom he raised four true kibbutz kids - has its roots in a shared quest for a simpler life. LIFE BEFORE ISRAEL Seymour Schwartz, a Hall of Fame halfback for the Hasbrouck Heights High School Aviators in New Jersey, graduated from the University of Southern California in 1959 and went to work as an electronics engineer for Ryan Aeronautical. The company that had built the Spirit of St. Louis for Charles Lindbergh in 1927 was now involved in getting the Apollo space program off the ground. "We made the landing radar for Apollo 11," says Shai, now 70. "I was at NASA headquarters in Houston as part of the technical backup team for that mission." While mankind was discovering the moon that summer of 1969, Judith Blumberg was discovering Israel. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Brandeis University with a major in Romance languages, Judith had worked in Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway between 1961 and 1962. Back home, she took a job in urban renewal and got involved in the civil rights, anti-war and women's liberation movements. By 1969, she was ready for a change. "I was single and I could do anything I wanted," she recalls. Judith and a friend started teaching English to Turkish sailors at a local naval base, and visited Turkey in the summer. They took a quick side trip to Israel - a place Judith had only heard about at her Reform synagogue's Hebrew school. "I barely knew that Jerusalem was in Israel. I didn't know what to expect. Lo and behold, I discovered that it was like a Jewish Italy here, very Mediterranean. I loved it from the minute I got here." That same year she decided to make Israel her home. In the meantime, Shai's marriage was unraveling. And in 1972, he made the tough decision to take his three children - then five, seven and 11 - and start over in Israel. ARRIVAL "I ended up on a kibbutz for the children's sake," says Shai, who took the Hebrew name "Shai" as it closely matched his English nickname. "I never thought of going anywhere else. Life was very materialistic [in the States] and I wanted them to have a simpler atmosphere, which Israel had in those days. There was no telephone, no TV." The family first lived in a Jerusalem apartment that an Israeli friend from San Diego had rented for them. Shai enrolled himself in ulpan and the kids in school. He spent most of his time seeking admittance to a kibbutz - any kibbutz. Judith's arrival had preceded Shai's by three years. "When I got here, there was one phonebook for the whole country, and it was pretty slim," she says. "It was that kind of smallness and simplicity that I loved, and still do." She completed an ulpan at Kibbutz Ein Hamifratz, near Acre, happily working in the chicken coops half the day. But as a single, she didn't feel ready for long-term kibbutz living. SETTLING IN "I spent two months doing my pet hobby, archeology, in the Golan and then tried to get work in urban renewal in Jerusalem, but the field was very undeveloped then," says Judith. She worked for the city welfare department for a year, and then in 1971 with the company that later developed Mamilla. Around the time Shai arrived, Judith was starting a four-year stint in the public relations department at Hebrew University. After eight months in Jerusalem, Shai was invited to join Kibbutz Ginossar near Lake Kinneret, which needed his engineering expertise for its electronics factory. He and the children took to classic kibbutz life like fish to water. Every Friday evening, the family was presented with a cake. "You had to have a cake for Shabbat, and they figured a single father did not know how to bake," Shai says. But single parenthood did not exempt him from military service. "I went in for basic training and then did reserve duty like everybody else, until I was 54," he says. He served in a communications unit in the first Lebanon war. In 1974, he and the children went on a vacation to Jerusalem, where a friend had arranged a blind date for him. Shai and Judith hit it off, and he asked her for a second date - to meet his kids. "That was the scariest thing I ever did," says Judith. "I knew nothing about kids. But I liked Shai and I wanted it to work." And so it did. She joined Ginossar in 1975, and married Shai on Lag Ba'omer in 1976. Two years later, their son David was born. DAILY LIFE While Shai worked in the kibbutz factory, Judith tried a variety of jobs, beginning at the reception desk of Ginossar's hotel. She worked in the children's house and wrote English-language marketing brochures for the factory's medical devices. She finally found her niche as health coordinator for the kibbutz, which led to managing its small nursing home for the last 10 years of her working life. By 1999, Ginossar had become privatized and she decided to step down and let her younger assistant take her job in order to make a living. Shai also retired that year. "It was a hard decision, but from the minute I retired I have been 100 percent happy," says Judith. "It left me free to do all the things I didn't have time for before." She took classes in weaving, ceramics and sculpture; he learned the art of stained glass. The fruits of all these hobbies today decorate the inside and outside of their kibbutz home. The Schwartzes have also used their retirement years to travel, hike, and dig. "In 1999, we started talking to archeologists who were staying at Ginossar while they worked at Bethsaida," says Shai, referring to the nearby site that figures prominently in stories from the Gospels. Every year since then, they've participated in digs there and in Tiberias, and they volunteer at the English library in Safed. They have hiked all over the world, and Shai has climbed mountains in California, Kenya and Nepal. The Schwartzes' son Harold (now Har-El) and his family live close by in Karmiel. Ann, her husband and daughter are coming back this summer after 12 years in California. David and his family are in Seattle. Benjamin (Binyamin) lives in California, but his son Daniel lives at Ginossar with Benjamin's ex-wife and her new family. "We will take him to the US after his bar mitzva this summer," says Judith, who is tutoring Daniel in English. ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Expect it to be hard at the beginning," says Judith. "The first year I lived in seven different places, and wasn't fluent in Hebrew, but whatever problem I had with housing or language or jobs I just solved. I never thought to go home. So stick it out. If it's right for you, it can be very right." "Savlanut," says Shai. Patience. To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]