For some people, aliyah begins at 90

Lea Landerer and Alice Even have lived through difficult times and returned to Israel with their children’s help and the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Aliyah, it seems, is not just for kids.

FOUR GENERATIONS reunited in Israel: Lea Landerer (second from right) with her daughter, granddaughters and great-granddaughter. (photo credit: RACHEL GRUNBAUM)
FOUR GENERATIONS reunited in Israel: Lea Landerer (second from right) with her daughter, granddaughters and great-granddaughter.
(photo credit: RACHEL GRUNBAUM)
"We will all go, with our young and our old” (Exodus 10:9)
In the minds of many, aliyah is the province of youth. Packing, traveling and beginning a new life on the other side of the world are tasks more easily accomplished by those with strength and vigor. Yet, for some, aliyah comes at a later stage in life and can be just as meaningful and significant. International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed on January 27, and the following aliyah stories focus on two women who grew up during the dark days of the Holocaust, lived full lives in North America, and recently made aliyah, to the delight of their children and grandchildren living in Israel.
LEA FRIEDMAN grew up in the village of Mielec, 150 kilometers east of Krakow, and was 13 years old when World War II began. She survived the war by hiding in a Polish ghetto. After the war, she married Berish Landerer and moved with him to Belgium before receiving visas to enter the United States. 
“My father went first, and my mother came a few months later with two small children,” says Lea’s daughter, Rachel Grunbaum of Herzliya. “They arrived in New York with $35 in their pockets. They came with practically nothing.” 
Berish got a job working as a manager in a movie theater, and Lea sewed ties in the evenings. He eventually found a position in the diamond industry, and the couple later opened a laboratory in the Diamond District that utilized laser technology to remove pique, black graphite concentrations in diamonds. Their daughter Rachel was born in the United States and moved to Israel 36 years ago. Berish Landerer died in 1999, and Lea lived alone in Brooklyn.
“My mother is very religious,” says Rachel, smiling. “I said to her, ‘Your religion is not Judaism. Your religion is independence.’ She is super independent. She did her own shopping, and until corona, she went to the gym twice a week.” 
Lea, now 94, climbed 100 stairs daily to reach the subway as part of her commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where she worked as a bookkeeper in the same firm that she and her husband had founded. Rachel, who lives in Israel with her husband and children, has long wanted her mother to move to Israel and join them in Herzliya. Lea, however, wanted to keep working, remain in Brooklyn and retain her independence. 
“Unfortunately,” says Rachel, “COVID struck, and my mother’s life changed drastically. She was stuck at home. She would run out to buy her fruits and vegetables and run back home. There was no one to talk to and she felt very isolated.” Lea has suffered from glaucoma for 30 years and her condition had worsened over the past several months. She could no longer manage on her own. 
Rachel flew to New York and helped her mother pack and liquidate the apartment where she had lived for 54 years. 
“It could not have been easy emotionally or physically,” says Rachel. “To me, my mother is such a hero.” 
Rachel is grateful for the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency in handling the difficult details of her mother’s aliyah. 
“She is a survivor and does not have her original birth certificate. Nefesh B’Nefesh was amazing. They put their whole back into it and were supportive, from the guy who interviewed her there to the people here, to when we arrived. Everyone was working together and we were able to bring her on time.” 
Since arriving in Israel in September, Lea has been living in Herzliya in her daughter’s home and stays busy every day, reading and watching television with the aid of a special device that magnifies the TV and Kindle screens, listening to audiobooks, walking outside with her daughter – “She loves the beach” – and getting reacquainted with her siblings, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Rachel reports that her grandchildren help Lea improve her Hebrew vocabulary, and she supplies them with the English equivalents. 
“Plus, she teaches them table manners,” says Rachel, laughing. 
As soon as COVID ends, says Rachel, her mother wants to volunteer and help others. 
“I still have so much to give,” says Lea. Rachel speaks admiringly of her mother’s positive spirit. 
“My mother was a young person during the war. Instead of it beating her down, it made her so resilient. She is one of the most resilient people I know.”
Rachel is appreciative that her mother has a homeland to which she could return in this difficult time. 
“The fact that they smoothed the way and welcomed her, and she has a home here – there is nothing more beautiful than the fact that she can be here now, especially for a survivor. I am very grateful to this country that they made it possible.”
ALICE EVEN was born in Piatra-Neamt, a town in northeast Romania, in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. In August of 1944, she boarded the Mefkure, which was part of a flotilla of three ships – the Morina and the Bulbul were the other two – that departed from the Romanian port of Constanta bound for Istanbul, and then Palestine. Shortly before the ship sailed, Yitzhak Artzi, a Zionist activist in Romania and head of the flotilla, later to become the father of Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi, moved Alice and a few others to the Bulbul, because he suspected that something might happen to the Mefkure.
Several hours after setting sail, the Mefkure was attacked and sunk by the Germans, killing most of the boat’s passengers. Alice, who was aboard the Bulbul, was saved. The ship broke down along the way, but the passengers reached Istanbul by horse and buggy, and from there, went by train to Palestine. Alice appeared on the Mefkure’s passenger list, and her family in Romania thought that she had perished. It was not until a year later that they found out that she had been on the Bulbul when the Mefkure sank. 
ALICE EVEN IN her new Ganei Tikvah home. (Robert Even)ALICE EVEN IN her new Ganei Tikvah home. (Robert Even)
Alice lived in Tel Aviv when she arrived and recalls, “Life was hard. My brother had arrived a few weeks before me and he helped me get a room. I spoke only Yiddish then. I had a bed and a blanket from the Jewish Agency and that’s all.” 
In 1948, she joined the IDF and served as a sports instructor. In 1950, Alice moved to Montreal. She returned to Israel several years later, and she married Michael Even (Menachem Edelstein) in 1959. Like Alice, he had arrived in Israel in 1944 and fought with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army in Europe before participating in the War of Independence in 1948. She then returned to Canada in 1959, and together with her husband, raised two sons. Alice worked as a dressmaker and also managed apartment buildings. Son Robert moved to Israel in 1987 and her husband died in 1992.
When COVID-19 came to Canada, life became difficult for Alice. She could not leave her home, and when her other son, who had been living in Canada, decided to move, she knew that the time had come to return to Israel. 
“I’ve been working on convincing her for 16 years to come to Israel,” says Robert. 
In September, he flew to Canada and returned with her to Israel. 
“Nefesh B’Nefesh helped tremendously when things were stuck on some obscure requests from the Ministry of Interior,” he says. “They were terrific.”
Alice lives in a ground-floor unit in Robert’s home in Ganei Tikva and likes the sun. Once Corona eases up, says Robert, he wants to get her to join a seniors club in the area. She has three grandchildren and relatives living in Israel and speaks Hebrew, English, Romanian, Yiddish and French. 
“When my mother was living in Romania,” Robert says, “she lived with her grandparents in the village of Piatra-Neamt. When we moved to Canada, my grandmother lived with us for a couple of years. Now, for the third generation, the grandmother – my mother – is living in the same house with our kids.” 
Lea Landerer and Alice Even have lived through difficult times and returned to Israel with their children’s help and the assistance of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Aliyah, it seems, is not just for kids. 
This article was written in cooperation with Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partners, the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the Jewish Agency for Israel, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. 

Creating a Memory
“Creating a Memory” is an independent venture founded by Martin Herskovitz, a child of Holocaust survivors who grew up in a house where all talk of the Shoah was forbidden. Over time, Herskovitz sought ways to break the “silence of the Holocaust” through poems and started the initiative with the goal of guiding future generations to approach and connect with the Holocaust from an open, personal and meaningful place. 
Nefesh B’Nefesh recently collaborated on this program marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day with an online event for English speakers. Lori Gerson, a Yad Vashem guide and Nefesh B’Nefesh olah, opened the evening with a historical and personal framework. MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh shared her personal reflections on the importance of Holocaust commemoration, after which community and lay leaders read and responded to poetry that explores how memory impacts our personal and national journeys.
Martin Herskovitz is co-founder of the Steinmetz Herskovitz Fund, established with monetary compensation he and wife Pearl received due to a terror attack on their son. A major project of the fund is the annual Initiative for Zionist Innovation (IZI) grant, dedicated to creating and facilitating community connectivity for olim. This grant, administered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, is meant to empower communities of olim to improve their communal involvement and responsibility. 
The other main project of the fund? Connecting future generations to Holocaust remembrance, harnessing innovative processes.