106-year-old ‘Uncle Yakov’ here from US

“If God let’s me live, this won’t be the last time I come to Israel.”

An El Al jet takes off (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
An El Al jet takes off
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yakov Shaffer has traveled to Israel 10 times during his 106 years on earth, but this time is the best, he said Monday after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, where was greeted by long-lost family members singing “Shalom Aleichem.”
“If God let’s me live, this won’t be the last time I come to Israel,” he said.
Until 10 years ago, Shaffer did not know about his Tel Aviv relatives – his sister’s daughter Yaffa Shechter as well as her son and two daughters, Rivka and Osnat. Now, over a decade since his last trip to Israel, Shaffer has returned to Israel to meet his family.
“It’s truly a miracle,” said Osnat Kapara, Shaffer’s greatgrandniece.
Since the start of World War II, the Shaffer family of Galicia has been scattered across the globe. Shaffer traveled to Western Europe, while his niece Shechter made her way to the Soviet Union. Both finally found permanent refuge – Shaffer in America and Shechter in Israel – but neither knew that the other had survived the horrors of the war.
Half a century later, in 1999, with the help of her daughter Rivka, Shechter found her uncle on an online genealogy Web site. Shechter and Shaffer finally reunited at the former’s Miami Beach home in the fall of 2001.
“For more than 60 years, my mother thought that all of her family was lost in the Holocaust,” Kapara said. “She was born again.”
Although Shechter passed away three years ago, the connection she forged among her family members in the US remains strong. Shaffer was able to make the present 10- day trip with the help of members of the synagogue where he serves as president. This Sunday, Shechter’s children plan to host a “big celebration” for “Uncle Yakov,” with all of their Israeli relatives, Osnat says. Shaffer’s trip is not only a means for him to reconnect with his extended family, but also for his relatives to meet one other.
“We never knew we had these relatives in Israel until Uncle Yakov [came along],” Osnat said.
Despite his advanced age, Uncle Yakov has mustered the energy to return to Israel in the hopes of founding familial ties.
This new beginning does not seem to be a daunting task for a man of such robust physical and mental condition.
“How he walks, talks and remembers everything is unbelievable,” said Osnat’s husband Danny. “People at his shul call him the messiah because he has remained in such great health.”