Aliyah advice from Murray Greenfield

"What I’ve found is that the guy who gives up and throws up his hands in disgust gets no place," is the one-liner advice from 59-year-old Murray S. Greenfield, who made aliyah in 1947.

 Murray Greenfield (photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)
Murray Greenfield
(photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)

On October 1, I attended “Friday with Murray,” the 95th birthday celebration of Murray S. Greenfield at ANU-Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, not far from the family home he built and still lives in. It was a festive affair, attended by President Isaac Herzog, family and friends.

Greenfield, who was born in New York on September 11, 1926, is a very special man of many accomplishments.

After participating with other North American Jewish volunteers in Aliyah Bet’s heroic rescue of thousands of European Jews after the Holocaust, Greenfield documented it with Joseph H. Hochstein in a book titled The Jews’ Secret Fleet.

Following their illegal arrival in 1947, Murray married Holocaust survivor Hana Lustigova, who authored Fragments of Memory, and had three children, Dror, Ilan and Meira, 10 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Dror died tragically at the age of 47 in 2003, while Hana, Murray’s beloved wife for 60 years, passed away in 2014. Meira Partem Greenfield noted that Murray’s latest grandchild, who was born recently, was named Shalom Dror.

Greenfield worked in Haifa enlisting foreign investors in the Palestinian Economic Cooperation, then moved to Tel Aviv, where he was a founding member and later executive director of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), establishing loan funds, a mortgage company and immigrant housing projects, and dedicated much of his time to the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry, serving as volunteer director for seven years of the American Association for Ethiopian Jewry (AAEJ).

Olim arriving in Israel (credit: DAVID SALEM-ZOOG PRODUCTIONS)Olim arriving in Israel (credit: DAVID SALEM-ZOOG PRODUCTIONS)

In 1981, Murray and Hana founded Gefen Publishing House in Jerusalem, which is currently run by his son, Ilan, and he also launched Israel’s first English-language magazine, FrontPage.

At the Friday event, held in the museum’s auditorium and moderated by Ilan, Murray was presented with a special award by Israel Navy officer Col. Semyon Toar, speeches were delivered by President Herzog, Museum CEO Dan Tadmor, Ilan and Meira, a film was screened on Murray’s colorful life, and his great-grandchildren gathered on stage for a happy photograph. 

Guests were given a new edition of a book Murray penned 50 years ago titled, How to Be an Oleh or What the Jewish Agency Never Told You.

“My father is a brilliant person – he is the best marketer I have known – and what is so unique is that his ideology always fits in with his entrepreneurship and vice versa,” Ilan writes in a letter from the publisher.

In the introduction, Murray explains why he wrote the useful guide for olim (immigrants) – “a guide that would help them laugh their way through the process of aliyah. I wanted to give olim an angle that would smooth their journey of becoming Israeli.”

Rereading the book today, it amazed Murray how some things never changed. “Don’t get me wrong – Israel has turned into one of the finest and best countries to live in,” he writes. “Today Israel is a country where you can get all you want and all you need. It is a vibrant country with high-tech like no other country has. Israelis (those born here and those who joined in) have made a huge difference to the world.”

Among the wise words of advice, Murray imparts to immigrants to Israel in the book is the following: “You’re living in a pressure cooker in Israel. If you can keep your cool and don’t boil over, it’s exhilarating.”

A final pearl of wisdom comes at the end of the 94-page paperback: “I think the right attitude is the ‘always ready to try’ philosophy,” he writes. “What I’ve found is that the guy who gives up and throws up his hands in disgust gets no place.”