You’re never too old to make aliya

Some 59 years ago the Gaitos lived in Israel. Now, they are back.

HAZEL (AT right), husband Herbie and just some of the grandchildren and great-grandkids. (photo credit: MICHAL GAITO)
HAZEL (AT right), husband Herbie and just some of the grandchildren and great-grandkids.
(photo credit: MICHAL GAITO)
Growing up in the (East London) South African Habonim Dror movement, nine-year-old Hazel always knew she’d live in Israel. And she did, never looking back.
Gaito, her husband, Herbert (“Herbie”), and their two young children, 15 months and three months old, made aliyah to Israel in 1961, taking with them their strong Jewish identity, love of Israel, and hatred of apartheid in their native South Africa.
Nothing too unusual there, except Hazel’s life has been a journey of giving, learning, of mastering many professions, experiences and the unexpected, not the least of which was receiving her PhD at the age of 75 almost six years ago. And like the Duracell Bunny, Dr. Hazel Gaito is still going strong.
Fifty-nine years ago, the Gaitos arrived in Israel and were sent to Kibbutz Gesher to a family ulpan, where Hazel worked hard at mastering Hebrew.
Herbie loved the idea of living in the country, working in agriculture and being outdoors, but with his degree in hotel management and a job offer too exciting and challenging to refuse, the family left the pastoral kibbutz life and moved to the busy port city of Haifa, where Herbie was overseeing the Dan Carmel Hotel for its grand opening.
Six months later, he told Hazel that he missed the rural life, and a young moshav, Timorim, near the small town of Kiryat Malachi, was looking for members. Hazel was reluctant to leave Haifa, where she had her eyes on studying at a university that would soon open, but she and Herbie agreed to try rural life for one year. Timorim has been their home ever since.
On the moshav, Hazel and Herbie did whatever was needed of them, but Hazel also found time for her hobby of studying, even it was in the early hours of the morning.
It started with a course on teaching ceramics under the auspices of the Education Ministry. With that, she began her first foray into teaching, teaching ceramics, drawing and ancient history in nearby Kibbutz Kfar Menahem.
Between having two more children, she did diplomas in journalism and advertising, and academic degrees in English literature, which were followed by a BA in Hebrew literature, explaining, “I just love to learn.” During this time, Timorim opened a dental clinic, which Hazel managed for the next 23 years while studying for a degree in education from 3 to 6 in the morning, and then getting the kids up and ready for school.
“I did all kinds of jobs on the moshav, but it never got in the way of raising my kids and studying. I worked in the field, in the moshav’s plastic factory, the dental clinic, wherever I was needed.
“In 1988, I told Herbie that it was time. I had all these degrees and I needed to put them to use. I also wanted to get off the moshav for a bit during the day. I had been working there for the last 27 years, give and take the few hours a week I was teaching in Kfar Menahem.
“Word was out that I wanted to teach kids who were ‘slow’ learners. A native English-speaker with an academic degree in education was a premium then, and there were many problematic pupils that teachers without special training didn’t know how to handle. Don’t forget, in those days, no one knew about the various learning disorders that exist. The kids were either ‘slow’ or ‘had ants in their pants’ and couldn’t sit still.” While teaching in the elementary school in the Be’er Tuviya Region (Kiryat Malachi) for 10 years, Hazel was able to put into practice all the theories, skills and strategies she had learned in the classroom.
“I took more courses in reading comprehension and the new and growing understanding of learning disabilities. I got exciting results with my pupils who had never before succeeded in English.
“Their successes made me want to go on into higher grades. I taught reading comprehension in Open University and in the Achva College preparatory program [for students after the army who need matriculation to go on to academic studies in colleges and universities]. It was wonderful to put all the theories and actions I had learned into success after success after success.
“With Herbie’s support and encouragement, I kept taking courses related to teaching, including how to improve the lives of the children I was teaching in Be’er Tuviya. I got an Israeli English teacher’s license and, in 2000, a master’s in education (with an emphasis on teaching students and adults with learning disabilities in English), while still teaching in Achva and also in Ben-Gurion University on the Achva campus.
“Herbie was busy on the moshav, my kids were all married and out of the house, so I started playing around with the idea of a doctorate. Why not? And so, at the age of 75, I got a PhD in improving English education for weak adult learners of English, and wrote my thesis titled ‘Improving English reading and reading comprehension for mature adults, nonreaders, weak learner students in the 30+ preparatory program.’” A book about her 335-page thesis, The University English Exemption for Weak Adult Learners. A Journey: The Sweet Taste of Success, is available on
With Herbie by her side, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandkids, and over 61 years of marriage, Hazel is still going strong, teaching in Achva Academic College in the 30+ program for students between the ages of 30 and 60+ who want to get their undergraduate degrees.
Miri, age 36, completed the program last year and got her bachelor’s degree in education.
“When I was in high school,” she says, “I couldn’t pass English, no matter how many private lessons I had or how hard I tried. English was my enemy; it was the only thing that stopped me from getting a degree 10 years ago. Thanks to Dr. Hazel, I am finally able to pick up an academic article in English and not only read it but understand what is written. Her classes were a life-changer to me, and I know I’m not the only one. At the risk of sounding kitschy, my degree belongs to her, too, and I will always be grateful.” “I’m so proud of Miri and all my students,” says Hazel, “and I have an absolute sense of great joy and privilege to be able to teach them.
“This semester was very challenging, but we kept at it successfully via Zoom and Internet meetings. I am so proud of my students, who hardly missed a beat. That in itself brings me an inordinate feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
“I’ve also got my eye on a few more courses to take post corona. There are so many exciting developments in the world of education that I just can’t wait to be in on them.”