‘Our children and grandchildren were born in Israel,” says Ben-Zion. “How can they grasp the meaning of aliyah? How can they understand what a privilege they have to be born here? One of our goals has always been to shine a light on how important it is for us to live in this country, ours after 2,000 years of exile.”
July 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the aliyah of Ben-Zion and Suzie Lowinger, who arrived in Beersheba with a fierce and enduring Zionist spirit.
During their three-day celebration, everyone in the family wore a blue T-shirt inscribed with the words, “I have come to the land.” (Deuteronomy, 26:3) The grandchildren were then challenged to answer the question: “But why are you, who were born here, wearing those significant words?”
“I explained that just as we emphasize on the night of the Passover seder that in every generation we must view ourselves as if we were taken out of Egypt, so they too must see themselves as if they have come to this land from far away, but thankful that they were born here,” says Ben-Zion.
Ben-Zion and Suzie both grew up in New York and met there as teenagers. But their paths to Zionism were very different. Suzie was born to second-generation American parents, Ruth and Irving Oratz, who fostered in her a strong Zionist foundation. She recalls the influences of the Shulamith School for Girls, summers in Camp Massad, and Bnei Akiva.
Ben-Zion’s love of Israel was born of the experience of his parents. During World War II, his parents, Elizabeth and Samuel, survived the Budapest ghetto, but lost their parents and siblings. They eventually made their way to the US, though they believed fervently that Jews were not safe anywhere in the world. Ben-Zion understood that the only place for a Jew to live was in Israel.
He recalls an experience during his army service. “One night I was doing guard duty at a key location surrounded by barbed wire, and as I was looking out of the military installation I thought, not long ago my grandparents, powerless, were looking out through barbed wire from a concentration camp. It’s a miraculous reversal. I feel grateful that one month a year for over 20 years I was able to serve.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics, Ben-Zion came to Israel to study in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh for a year. He returned to New York to complete a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering and began working for IBM. At that time, he also received smicha, rabbinic ordination. Suzie completed a Master of Arts degree in psychology at the New School for Social Research.
Ben-Zion and Suzie were married in 1969 and made aliyah two years later.
A BEAUTIFUL mosaic designed by Suzie, depicting their aliyah path, adorns their home. She describes the images, “It traces our aliyah in a path from New York City (the twin towers) to Beersheba (palm trees), to Rehovot (orange groves), to Elkana with its red-roofed private homes, and culminates in Jerusalem where we now live. The names of our children and their spouses appear on the boundary.”
Their first home was in Beersheba where they lived for three years. Ben-Zion worked for IBM and Suzie, a developmental psychologist, worked for the Beersheba Ministry of Health.
When Ben-Zion transferred to the IBM office in Tel Aviv, they moved to Rehovot. Eventually he left IBM and developed his own software company. Suzie worked at the Kaplan Medical Center helping parents with their newborn infants. She decided to pursue a doctorate at Bar-Ilan University on an essential topic – the critical mother-infant relationship and the effects of the sensitivity a mother shows toward her infant’s needs. She found that from the moment of birth, physical touch, holding an infant, is fundamental to nurturing and well-being.
She received a PhD in psychology and taught in the Department of Early Education at Bar-Ilan. Later she served as head of the Child Autism Research Clinic. She is the researcher and editor of a series of books in Hebrew on the diagnosis and treatment of children on the autistic spectrum, and recently co-edited the textbook, Autism in Adults (Springer, 2019), on higher-functioning young adults with autism.
After living in Rehovot for 12 years, they moved to Elkana, in west Samaria, where they lived for the next 30 years and raised their family. “The idea of Elkana kindled our pioneering spirits. It was an opportunity to be part of something new, to live in our ancient biblical homeland. This is what Zionism is all about,” they say.
While living in Elkana, Ben-Zion initiated a weekly Tanach class, which he continues to give to this day. When he sold his software company, he made a major shift in his direction and concentration – from working in hi-tech to full-time learning and teaching. He decided to systematically and intensively study the Tanach. In parallel, he enrolled at the Lander Institute and received the Ministry of Tourism tour guide license.
SIX YEARS ago they moved to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona. On Sunday evenings at the Beit Boyer Synagogue, Ben-Zion teaches a class (now on Zoom) to a group of enthusiastic and devoted students. He presents an innovative method – a cross-Tanach study of the biblical sites in the Land of Israel. His vast knowledge of the land, acquired from the tour guiding course, combined with his command and appreciation of the intricacies of the Bible, resulted in a new way of learning.
He begins with a location and shifts the attention and focus from studying the books in sequential order, as is traditionally done, to tracking and discussing all the events that take place at a specific location. In this way, he brings together time in the text – the past, present and future.
“We ask ourselves, why do certain events happen in specific locations? Why does the Tanach make seemingly superfluous mentions of the site? We know that no verse is arbitrary. In this way, each biblical location takes on a new significance as we discover that each site symbolizes a specific message,” explains Ben-Zion.
To enrich their understanding, the group visits the site together, to experience the landscape, archaeological finds, and the spirit of the area. It is as if, for example, they are standing together with Joshua looking down at the Jordan River.
Ben-Zion explains that in Tractate Sota 47a, Rabbi Johanan defines the concept of hen, grace. One meaning is: hen makom al yoshvav, the grace of a place is upon its inhabitants. With this Talmudic reference in mind, he named his class hen makom al lomdav, the grace of a place is upon those who are learning about it.
“We acquire a special affinity and insight for each place we explore. It becomes an unusual, spiritual connection,” observes Ben-Zion. Presently, they are beginning the study of the Jezreel Valley.
Suzie and Ben-Zion enjoy living in their new community in Arnona. They say it has been a joy for them to befriend many new olim who have decided to settle in Israel later in their lives.
“We wanted to help and support them,” says Suzie, “but it turns out that their optimism is inspiring and revitalizing, and has reinforced our happiness.”
Suzie is also a talented writer and artist. Recently, her first fiction book in English was published, Angels on Friday Night – a collection of short stories for adults highlighting the dynamics of family relationships. Her silk screen paintings are unique. Each one is a personal, singular gift for each grandchild, incorporating their names and a corresponding verse from the Tanach.
From generation to generation. Their children also embrace a life of scholarship, creativity, service and a reverence for the country.
Looking back on their path of aliyah after 50 years, they express gratitude to God who has given this generation the opportunity to declare that indeed, “ ... I have come to the land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give to us” (Deuteronomy 26:3).
Ben-Zion and Suzie affirm, “Living in Israel has given our lives direction, meaning and beauty.”
Yes, the grace of Israel is upon its inhabitants.