Ochberg’s legacy

In an effort to honor Ochberg and promote his legacy, The Isaac Ochberg Creative Writing Competition was held recently at the Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon.

Isaac Ochberg (photo credit: TELFED)
Isaac Ochberg
(photo credit: TELFED)
“Too few would have known about the South African, Isaac Ochberg, and his heroic rescue of almost 200 Jewish orphans in 1921 from Eastern Europe were it not for a 2008 documentary by Oscar-winning film director Jon Blair,” David E. Kaplan writes in the cover story of The Jerusalem Report. “Due to one man, thousands of Jews – descendants of the 1921 ‘Ochberg Orphans’ – are alive today.”
In an effort to honor Ochberg and promote his legacy, The Isaac Ochberg Creative Writing Competition was held recently at the Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon. It was the initiative of veteran South African immigrant, Advocate Hertzel Katz, who is a volunteer tutor at the school in the English Tutoring Program (ETP) of Israel’s English Speaking Residents Association (ESRA).
He approached Denise Cohen, the head of the school’s English Department, with the idea of an essay competition, and after receiving the support of the principal, Rivka Shemesh, the project was launched.
“The primary purpose was to encourage the students to do research about the deeds of Isaac Ochberg, and right a wrong because he is hardly known in Israel,” says Katz. “This benevolent man, who was a very successful entrepreneur in South Africa and had a wife and children, undertook the hazardous journey to Eastern Europe in 1921 to rescue at least 173 orphans from the pogroms. He brought them to orphanages in South Africa, where they prospered. Today there are more than 4,000 descendants of the Ochberg Orphans.”
The project was supported by The Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee, comprising the originator, Bennie Penzik, the son of two Ochberg orphans, Chairman Hertzel Katz, journalist David E. Kaplan, Ian Rogow, Leon Segal, Joel Klotnick, Peter Bailey and Rob Hyde.
“Ochberg contributed large sums of money to the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund) in Israel. However, few people have ever heard of Isaac Ochberg,” Katz says. “The goal of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee is to make people aware of the deeds of this extraordinary man. Two kibbutzim were established on land purchased by the JNF from money left by Ochberg – called the Ochberg Tract – and there is now an Ochberg Memorial opposite the Megiddo School.”
All the English teachers of the Alon High School invited pupils from 10th-12th grades to submit a piece of creative writing to explain the meaning of the Talmudic saying, “Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world,” and illustrate how it can be applied to Ochberg.
Almost 250 pupils working individually or in pairs and groups researched and submitted creative contributions as an essay, letter, prose, poem or interview. More than 70 entries were received by the deadline, January 27, 2019 – International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was honored to select the top three, and their entries appear in this publication. All pupils who participated in the project will be recognized, the organizers stressed, and prizes will be awarded at a special ceremony at the school on April 1 – including to the three winners who submitted outstanding pieces of work conveying the spirit of Isaac Ochberg.
“I am most impressed with the standard, both from the sensitive insights shown from these students as to the subject matter, as well as their English-language skills,” says Kaplan. “Israel is emerging as an international powerhouse in school and university English debating, notably winning a major international debate recently at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. This creative writing competition and its publication by you in The Jerusalem Report augurs well for the future. May other schools follow Alon’s lead. The Ochberg saga is about children, and maybe Alon’s children, as seen in their work, will take the message into the future.