The Ochberg winners

The top three of 70 entries submitted by high-school students in Ramat Hasharon.

Isaac Ochberg with Leah Zaicka, and Clara and Sally Tannenbaum, older orphans who were brought out as nurses (photo credit: COURTESY DAVID SOLLY SANDLER)
Isaac Ochberg with Leah Zaicka, and Clara and Sally Tannenbaum, older orphans who were brought out as nurses
These are the three winners of The Isaac Ochberg Creative Writing Competition held recently at the Alon High School in Ramat Hasharon, chosen by the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, Steve Linde. “The standard of the writing I read was really high, and some of the stories, poems and interviews moved me to tears,” Linde says. “Congratulations to the organizers, the teachers and all the students who submitted entries! Ochberg’s legacy lives on!”
The heroic story of Isaac Ochberg
By Daniel Resheff and Lia Gilerman
Isaac Ochberg was a philanthropist and Zionist born in 1897 in a central Ukrainian town, Uman. He was the oldest son of a religious Jewish couple. Ochberg was best known for his humanitarian project in bringing around 200 Jewish orphans, especially orphans from pogroms and attacks, from the Ukraine and Poland to South Africa after the First World War.
In 1893, Isaac’s father moved to South Africa, hoping for greater opportunities after hearing about others who were succeeding there. Two years later, Isaac joined hs father and was sent to learn watchmaking. However, this was not for him, so he decided to set out on a series of business ventures that ultimately built him a fortune. Isaac was always ready to take on new projects and was up for anything – whether it was the opening of new estates, properly speculations, government contracts or financial plans.
Ochberg became a South African citizen in 1899, married a woman from Uman, and had five children. Despite his success, he lived modestly, was incredibly generous and was always helping others in need, not matter their color or their race.
After the war ended, Ochberg was determined to help the Jewish orphans in Eastern Europe after reading reports about their current situation. Although the war had come to an end, people weren’t living in peace. Revolution, civil war and pogroms prolonged what had already been years of suffering.
His plan was to evacuate children to South Africa, and by August 1920, he had won support in both London and South Africa for his plan. Ochberg then launched a four-month campaign to raise money, support and adoption promises for the children. He traveled across the country in order to raise funds for the scheme. Afterwards, he left for London at his own expense to begin the complicated and challenging arrangement.
By June 1921, he was given permission to enter Russia and gather 200 children. He traveled by truck and a horse-drawn cart for two months, visiting orphanages, small Jewish towns and villages in eastern Europe while making the difficult decision – who will he take and who will be left behind.
By early August, Ochberg had gathered the children in Warsaw and set out on the long journey, first to London and then on to South Africa, and by the time they reached South Africa, the children had become attached to him and called him, “Daddy Ochberg.”
Later on, one of the orphans, Becky Greenberg, recalled, “He was like a father to us. There was no difference from one child to another. Every child was a darling, and everyone was patted by him. He was just wonderful.”
Ochberg and the orphans arrived in Cape Town on September 19, 1921. Half of them were settled in Oranjia, the Cape Jewish Orphanage, and half in Arcadia, the South African Jewish Orphanage in Johannesburg. He continued to visit the children and took a great interest in their well-being. Although he accomplished his plan marvelously, Ochberg was still bewildered by what he had seen in Ukraine and returned in the winter of 1922, hoping to rescue more children from the horrors. He distributed food, clothing and medicine and set up soup kitchens supported by the Cape Jewish Orphanage instead because the Soviet government refused his entrance this time because they decided no more Russian children should come under bourgeois influence.
After having seen the famine and poverty from which landless Jews in Eastern Europe suffered, Ochberg dreamed of Jews settling on the land in Palestine, so in the years following the Ukraine rescue, he turned his efforts to Palestine, spurred by a visit there in 1926.
In an interview with The Zionist Record, Ochberg was quoted as saying, “I came away with a feeling of confidence that the Jewish problem can and will be solved ultimately in Eretz Israel only.... There is every prospect of the most important development in Palestine as the country grows,” and so he donated considerable funds to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Moreover, in his Will, he bequeathed funds to the Jewish National Fund for the purchase of large tracts of land suitable for agricultural settlement by Jews. His donations are held as the largest donation to the Jewish National Fund used to acquire massive tracts of land on which now stand two kibbutzim, Dalia and Gal’ed.
According to his older daughter, Bertha, following his 17-year-old daughter Ruth’s passing in 1933, Ochberg never seemed to recover from the devastation of her death. At the time, his already poor health deteriorated and later he was discovered to have been suffering from stomach cancer. Ochberg passed away at sea on December 11, 1937 on his way to Cape Town, just two days before his scheduled arrival.
His funeral cortège, followed by hundreds of cars following his funeral hearse, was believed to have been one of the largest ever seen in Cape Town. Among the mourners were many now grown orphans who had come to know him as “Daddy Ochberg.” He was 59.
Letter to Isaac Ochberg, January 2019
Dear Isaac,
My name is Dalia, and I am the great-granddaughter of a little girl whom you saved almost a hundred years ago, Rachel. In 1921, after the First World War, Rachel and her family, my family, came across a pogrom that occurred in their city, Denkov, in Russia. My great-grandmother and her little brother, Ahod, were left alone. For weeks they were wandering the streets, starving and freezing, sleeping on cold bricks on the frigid floor.
One day, as I recall my grandmother telling me, while Ahod was roaming around the streets near the corner where they were sleeping, looking for food in garbage cans, a stranger came up to him and asked him if he was lost, and Ahod told him that he is not lost, just looking for food. The man asked him if he had no relatives to give him food and Ahod told him right away that he had not seen his parents for a long time and that his sister told him that they are in the hospital because the last time that he saw them they were covered by blood. The man asked him if he could take him to his sister. Ahod took the man back to their corner, and that was when my great-grandmother met you, Isaac Ochberg, for the first time. You took my greatgrandmother aside and asked her to tell you what happened, and she explained to you that her parents and sister were murdered, and that only she and her brother survived.
She even recalled that while they were murdered all she could hear was the agonizing screams of pain and people running around screaming “Jews” in Russian. The moment you heard her saying that sentence, she recalls you putting your hand upon her shoulder, looking her right in the eyes, and telling her to take all of her and her brother’s stuff, because they are coming with you to South Africa, where they will have a home.
My great-grandmother did not hesitate even for a moment. She knew what was best for her brother and her. This day was the beginning of a two-month journey that started from their hometown, Denkov, to London, and from there to what later on became Rachel’s, Ahod’s and almost 200 other orphaned children’s new home. The journey was long and agonizing. She recalled that they had traveled by horse-drawn cart at first, and in the middle of the journey, changing the cart to a truck. Although the journey was long and tough, at least they weren’t sleeping and freezing on a street floor with an empty stomach anymore. You took care of these kids’ needs, and they even called you “Daddy Ochberg.” I clearly remember my grandmother sitting and laughng while this name came out of her mouth.
I could see how much she adored you. On the way to South Africa, my great-grandmother, who was only 12 at the time, and her brother, who was three years younger, met new friends whom they could already call family by the time they had arrived, and Ahod had realized by then what truly happened to his family.
Arriving in South Africa, my grandmother and her brother were sent to one of the two orphanages, the South African Jewish Orphanage in Johannesburg. In the orphanage she met Motke, whom she married years later, after moving to Israel in 1936, with Ahod, who later met his future wife, Galit.
Ahod became an activist against violence as a way to cherish his family who were harshly murdered, and he himself adopted kids who had lost their parents, because – as he said – he wanted those children to have a loving home as he had. Rachel and Motke had three children, and one of them was my grandmother, who had my mother, who had me and my three siblings.
At last, Isaac, I am writing to you today, on the day we remember and celebrate my great-grandmother, Rachel, on the date of her birthday. Today I have two beautiful daughters of my own, Daniel and Lia, and I want to thank you for everything you have ever done, because due to your kindness, your chivalry and your big heart, my great-grandparents, my grandma, my mother and I wouldn’t be standing here alive today – in Israel, in which you believed so much, and you are a very big reason that I am standing in this very developed country, the Jews’ country, today. Thank you for bringing me the gift of living, and the gift of having children of my own – which is the biggest gift of all, as you probably know.
Best regards, Dalia
My Will – Isaac Ochberg
By Galya Zara and Shira Rubin
General Requests from Humanity
1. Human rights: All my life I worked for things that I care about. Now that I am gone, I request my legacy to continue. Please protect human rights: the right to shelter, the right to protection, the right to love, the right to freedom, the right to be equal, the right to be different regardless of race, gender or religion, and, most importantly, the right for a proper life!
2. Jews and Palestine: I hope the Jewish people will continue to live, grow and remain strong. I am a proud Jew! I have always believed that antisemitism would end when we had a land of our own to live in. I am proud of my homeland in the making – Palestine. I admire the people who took it upon themselves to fulfill this vision of having a state for Jews.
3. Relationships: My goal was to raise awareness of the idea that by saving one life, you save the whole world. I hope that every person who is reading this will adopt this quote by preserving the sanctity of human life! I am asking you to take others under your wing: mentor them, fill them with hope, give them good advice, show you care, that they aren’t alone! My biggest dream is that people will ask unknown persons how they feel? Do they need any help? You may say I am hallucinating or that I am naive but I do believe in our community and in human hearts.
Practical matters
A. I hereby leave 165,000 pounds to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) to help poor Jews to settle in Palestine, especially orphaned children from Poland and Russia. Moreover, I request Keren Kayemet to designate parts of Palestine as land for agricultural settlement.
B. I hereby leave 10,000 pounds to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for scholarships to students.
C. I hereby leave half of my fortune to my orphans, my beloved children whom I raised in my orphanage, “Aba Ochberg!” They were all little children from Eastern Europe when I found them. They had no place to be, no family and no reason to live. They were left alone after the war. It was such a terrible war! As a grown man I had a difficult time during the war so I can’t even imagine how hard it was for my little children. The best thing I ever did was to adopt them and bring them to a much better place – my orphanage in Cape Town. Now these children have the right to decide what their fate will be. They have the right to study hard and learn, and they have the right to be safe. That is all I have ever asked for! I want them to keep on living and saving others.
D. I hereby request to be buried in Cape Town next to my beloved daughter, Ruth.
Final Words
Before I set my wings and fly away from the land where I have lived for 59 years, I want to write my last words and thanks. Thank you God, faith or “whatever is upstairs” that rules over this world for letting me fulfill my biggest dreams! I am going away not in sadness or anger – I am going with love and happiness. I have lived the best life I could. So farewell my friends, I hope we will meet again. Please live your life and do the best you can while you still have the time.
Forever yours, Isaac
Out on a limb
By Nadav Kirson, Tamar Yaron and Orr Zilberstein
Little trees, torn from their land –
Their leaves turning grey and bland.
Fearing every waking moment.
They had faced the eye of extinction –
To have their branches snapped and broken.
His presence made the only distinction.
As they stood between blossom and wilt,
Came the philanthropist dear.
He could not stand the bystander’s guilt
He was the only one to hear –
The faint cries and hopeful hymns.
He let them spread their roots into his ground.
It became his life’s goal and dream –
To stop their distressed sounds.
He recovered them from the now barren wastelands.
Gave them shelter and a helping hand.
Planted seeds of hope and offered his condolence.
He gave them his love, without any conditions.
Slowly, the seeds progress from verse to chorus –
As the kind-hearted gentleman became a man on a mission.
From the ashes of the past, a new home for them he built.
He supported them so they’d never shed a tear.
And for that new home, he became the stilt.
All of these deeds, and yet he never got a single cheer
Isaac Ochberg, the light that never dimmed.
Who saved children from an abandoned battleground.
He gave it his all and went out on a limb.
His dream and his legacy – to this day still resound.