Israel veterans: A lasting impression

From Antwerp to Manhattan to Hartford, and finally Petah Tikva, Abe Brot has come a long way, working, speaking and living Hebrew in the Land of Israel.

MANY GENERATIONS: The Brots have three grown children, 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MANY GENERATIONS: The Brots have three grown children, 19 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The paper may be yellowing, and the words on the page may be fading, but 80-year-old Abe Brot still treasures the letter that he received from the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund over 70 years ago, when, as an eight-year-old, he managed to scrape together enough money to purchase eight trees for planting in the Land of Israel.
“I had some spending money, and together with my parents and grandparents and a few uncles, we gave enough money for eight trees. In those days, that was a big sum.” A few weeks later, Brot recalls, “I received a letter from the person involved with the project, who wrote, ‘Maybe one of these days, you’ll visit Israel.’ That made a big impression on me.”
The letter made enough of an impression on Brot that he decided to move to Israel 23 years later, in 1970, with his wife and three young daughters. Having lived in Israel for the past 49 years, Brot recently celebrated his 80th birthday together with his wife, Barbara, and their three grown children, 19 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.
ABRAHAM BROT was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1939.
“I was very lucky,” he explains, “because in 1936, my grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Brot, who was then living in Warsaw, received an offer to become chief rabbi of Antwerp. In 1936, my parents were married in Poland, and when my grandfather accepted the offer to move, they decided to accompany him to Antwerp.” World War II began in September 1939, and, Brot explains, “it was much easier to get out of Belgium than Poland.”
Brot’s parents and members of his father’s family went from Belgium to France, back to Belgium, and again to France, eventually escaping through Spain to Portugal, and finally making their way to the United States in 1941. The family settled in New York, and Brot’s grandfather became the rabbi of Congregation Moriah, where many former Antwerp residents prayed.
Brot’s parents decided to provide him with a Jewish day school education, and he attended Jewish schools from kindergarten through high school.
Recalling the rigorous dual curriculum program that began at 9 a.m. and ended at 4:30 p.m. daily, Brot says, “Although I didn’t feel that way at the time, my parents did something very smart by sending me to Jewish day school.”
Brot attended kindergarten at Ramaz and then studied at Manhattan Day School for the next eight years.
“The school taught subjects in Hebrew,” he says. “We read from texts in Hebrew, and then we had to ask a question in Hebrew. I became at ease with Hebrew.”
Brot’s Hebrew proficiency was further enhanced when his parents decided to send him to Camp Massad, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Hebrew was spoken at all times in the camp, and as Brot says, “This put me in a situation where Hebrew was not foreign to me, and I understood it well. If need be, I could have a conversation with an Israeli in Hebrew. At the time, none of us knew we would be living most of our lives in Israel, and it really came in handy.”
After graduating high school, Brot attended college at Cooper Union, where he received his degree in mechanical engineering.
In 1959, he met his future wife, Barbara Rubin, on a blind date, and they married in 1961. Shortly after their wedding, Israel again entered the picture.
Brot says, “We had to decide where to go for our honeymoon. I said, ‘Let’s go to Florida.’ Barbara, who had spent several weeks in Israel in 1957, said, ‘Why not Israel?’ That’s what we did. We spent a magnificent month in Israel.”
The Brots settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where Abe worked as an aeronautical engineer for Pratt & Whitney for nine years. During that period, he earned a master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in mechanical engineering. Their three daughters, Adina, Yehudit and Elana, were born in Hartford, where they attended Jewish schools.
“MOVING TO Israel was in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t something that I really had planned,” says Abe. “But, after the Six Day War, things changed, and we became more interested in making aliyah.”
In 1969, they decided to make the move, and in the late summer of 1970, the family sailed to Israel together with 800 other new immigrants – the largest single aliyah from the United States on one boat.
Abe was hired by Israel Aircraft Industries, and the family started out in Lod. Six months later, they moved to Petah Tikva, and Abe and Barbara purchased an apartment in 1972, where they still live today.
“I made a rule for myself,” he says, “to live no more than 20 minutes away from work. Petah Tikva was ideal.”
The Israel of 1970 was much different from Israel of today, says Brot. “In 1970, Israel was a very rough place to live. Financially it was not very stable. It wasn’t a place that you could be confident that you would be able to work for many years, because you didn’t know what was going to happen with the economy.”
At IAI, Abe specialized in testing airplanes for metal fatigue.
“Every airplane has failures due to metal fatigue,” he explains. “You need to run a fatigue test in a laboratory that simulates the degree of fatigue that the aircraft will see for two-and-a-half lifetimes, which is 50,000 flights. You have to inspect it and catch the failure, and then repair it.”
Brot was a department head at IAI for 20 years, and over the course of his career there worked on both military and civil projects, including the Kfir combat aircraft, the Lavi fighter, and numerous business jets. He worked for IAI until 2004, retiring at the age of 65. He continued working as a consultant for IAI (renamed Israel Aerospace Industries in 2006) until 2016, and still does consulting work on a part-time basis. He attended numerous conferences on aeronautical fatigue around the world, and received an award in 2013, when the conference was held in Jerusalem.
Brot remembers when calculators were first introduced in the 1970s at IAI. “I received a calculator. It was a regular calculator – that today you can buy for NIS 10 – but in those days it cost $240. Each department got one, and there was a sign-in sheet. When you wanted to use it, you signed in; and when you gave it back, you signed out.”
He adds, “In those days we had punch cards and they ran your program and you received the results a day later. Things have changed a lot.”
Looking back to his fluency in Hebrew, which he achieved at an early age, Brot says, “There is no question that it made a big difference.”
Continuing the family’s linguistic tradition, Brot has always spoken only Hebrew to his children.
“It’s natural for me to speak Hebrew to them,” he says.
From Antwerp to Manhattan to Hartford, and finally Petah Tikva, Abe Brot has come a long way, working, speaking and living Hebrew in the Land of Israel.