Aliyah with a Chicago Flavor

‘We feel like we are on vacation. Our apartment overlooks the Mediterranean, and I feel like I am living in a hotel. It’s a dream. Netanya is a senior citizen playground’ – Ginger Pinchot.

The Schaffels are greeted by their daughters upon their aliyah. (photo credit: JONNY FINKEL PHOTOGRAPHY)
The Schaffels are greeted by their daughters upon their aliyah.
(photo credit: JONNY FINKEL PHOTOGRAPHY)
In the late 1960s, three Chicago-area couples formed life-long friendships, founded a synagogue, raised their families, and established successful careers. More than 50 years later, these three couples have reunited in Israel, and together with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, are enjoying their retirement years and fulfilling the aliyah dreams of their youth.
Ginger and Roy Pinchot grew up in the Chicago area, eloped in 1964, and married in Jerusalem. After their wedding, which was officiated  by Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, Israel’s chief rabbi – who happened to be staying in the same hotel and heard about the couple that had traveled to Israel to get married – the Pinchots returned to the United States. Nevertheless, “Israel was in our hearts, even at that time, and we said that some day we would come back,” says Ginger. Roy, a publishing executive, was among the founders of Congregation Or Torah in Skokie and served as the synagogue’s first president. Ginger was a high school English teacher, studied for a master’s degree in learning disabilities, and worked with students with learning disabilities. The Pinchots moved to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1979, when Roy became the editor and publisher of US News and World Report’s book division, based in Washington, DC.
Jerry Fishman, born and bred in Chicago, visited Israel for the first time in 1959, and thought about moving to Israel, because of his background in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, but he says, “I kind of suppressed it.” In 1969, Jerry together with his wife, Judy, also a Chicago native, visited Israel. “I fell in love with it,” says Judy, “and I wanted to move immediately.” Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs in Israel for young lawyers like Jerry, and the Fishmans remained in Skokie. Jerry served as Or Torah’s second president, succeeding his friend and fellow co-founder Roy Pinchot. Judy was a third-grade general studies teacher for 20 years. The Fishmans raised four children, and after all four moved to Israel within a span of seven years, themselves decided to make aliyah, arriving in 2009, with the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Sheldon and Cookie Schaffel grew up in Chicago, and moved to Skokie in 1970, where the couple, befriended by the Fishmans and the Pinchots, also became members of Congregation Or Torah. Schaffel, a guidance counselor, principal, and high school basketball coach, served as Or Torah’s third president, succeeding Fishman and Pinchot. Cookie Schaffel taught primary grades and pre-school for 30 years. After two of their five children moved to Israel, the Schaffels found themselves spending increasing amounts of time there on family visits. “When I retired,” says Cookie, “we started spending time in Israel, because our daughters were here. The first year we spent two months, and then the following year, three months, and then the following year four months, and when we were getting close to five months, I said,‘I think this is where we should be.”
Meanwhile, in Silver Spring, the Pinchots were approaching retirement, and wanted to move to Israel. “We knew that we wanted to move while we still could, while it was relatively easy to move,” says Ginger. “It was the right time for us. I really believe that everyone should live in Israel, but it has to be at the right time for them.” Though three of their children remained in the United States, one of their daughters had made aliyah and was living in Zichron Yaakov with her husband and children.
Three families – the Schaffels, Pinchots, and Fishmans – reunited. (Credit: JONNY FINKEL PHOTOGRAPHY)Three families – the Schaffels, Pinchots, and Fishmans – reunited. (Credit: JONNY FINKEL PHOTOGRAPHY)
On October 11, 2018, Roy and Ginger Pinchot, together with Sheldon and Cookie Schaffel, flew to Israel on a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah flight. The fact that the Schaffels and Pinchots were among the more senior olim (immigrants) on the flight did not dim their enthusiasm in the slightest.
“It was just amazing,” recalls Sheldon Schaffel, 81. “We took the flight together with the Pinchots, we got off the plane together, and we went to the passport area together. We came to the arrivals section where our family, the Pinchot family, and the Fishmans were all waiting for us. There, we saw our grandchildren who were excited about the fact that their Baubi and Zaidi were making aliyah.” Ginger Pinchot echoes Schaffel’s comments, saying, “It was amazing beyond words. It’s a dream come true.” Jerry Fishman adds that while they have quite a few friends from Skokie who have made aliyah over the past ten years, “the capstone for us was the aliyah of the Pinchots and the Schaffels. We’ve always been very close with them.”
After arriving, the Schaffels moved to Jerusalem, and live near the Fishmans. The Pinchots wanted to be nearer to their children in Zichron Yaakov and moved to Netanya. Today, all three couples spend their time attending classes, going to plays and concerts, visiting friends, and enjoying life. “We’re having fun,” laughs Judy Fishman. “Our children think that we are very busy.”
The Pinchots are delighted with the South Netanya Ashkenazi Congregation (SNAC),that serves the English-speaking residents of South Netanya, and which offers a wide variety of activities. Roy, who was the captain of Northwestern University’s swim team in his collegiate days swims almost daily. “We feel like we are on vacation,” marvels Ginger. “Our apartment overlooks the Mediterranean, and I feel like I am living in a hotel. It’s a dream.” She laughs and says, “Netanya is a senior citizen playground.”
Cookie Schaffel loves people-watching, enjoys Jerusalem’s diversity, and volunteers in a public school. Both she and her husband attend classes at Pardes and Matan. “The fact that we have come here and met such wonderful people is just amazing. It’s a chance for renewal and growth.”
The Schaffels, Fishmans, and Pinchots get together frequently and are always in contact with each other. Having been in Israel for 10 years, the Fishmans have helped their former Skokie neighbors acclimate to their new lives. “They have grandchildren here, and our kids are like cousins with each other, because they grew up together and have known each other all their lives. It’s like having extended family together again, which is very special and it’s special for our kids as well.”
While the three couples are gently critical of some of Israel’s shortcomings – “too many horns honking,” “the traffic,” and the aggressive and rude behavior of some Israelis – they are all reveling in their retirement and enjoying the blessings of their aliyah. “Our grandchildren are the soldiers defending this land,” says Judy Fishman. “There’s no greater place for a Jew to live, in my opinion.” “Our opinion,” adds Jerry, to laughter.
Despite their limited Hebrew skills, the three couples have managed to navigate Israeli bureaucracy and shopping, though Ginger Pinchot says that the first few times she thought that she had purchased cottage cheese at the supermarket, it turned out to be sour cream instead.
Having lived in Israel for 10 years, the Fishmans no longer celebrate Thanksgiving. “Our kids were not into it, and it’s just a regular day in our lives now,” says Judy. The Schaffels will also skip the turkey dinner this year, but the Pinchots are planning on continuing their Thanksgiving traditions in Netanya. “We’ll have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, and I will read Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation.” Chuckling, she adds, “The kids will roll their eyes, and they’ll say, ‘There goes Grandma Ginger reading that again.’”
Regardless of their turkey plans for next Thursday, Ginger and Roy Pinchot, Sheldon and Cookie Schaffel, and Jerry and Judy Fishman are thankful that they have been able to make aliyah during their retirement years and reunite their three families once again. “It’s been a real kick to be together again after so many years,” says Judy Fishman, “It’s a fulfilling feeling.”
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partners Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration,
The Jewish Agency and JNF-USA.