Arrivals: Time to come home

Nisenbaum is very proud that his daughter and son-in-law served in the Israeli army, and is happy that “Jews no longer need be on the run from their enemies."

SMILING ON the roof of their rental flat, Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy)
SMILING ON the roof of their rental flat, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While growing up in Los Angeles, Paul or Pesach Nisenbaum focused on Israel “as our homeland, our dream, our hope. I internalized it all: from praying in daily minyanim and after meals, to learning Bible, Mishna, and Gemara, to Israeli folk dancing, and to making hanukkiot.” After his marriage in 1985, he and his wife, Lida Baker couple visited the country many times.
Nisenbaum and his wife made aliyah in mid-2017 after he retired, and his elderly mother Faye died. But their daughter Galya preceded them. Some 10 years ago, the plucky 17-year-old came to Israel alone on a pre-army mechina program and stayed to serve in the army. After Galya’s service as an officer working with wounded soldiers and trauma victims, she volunteered to teach English in Ethiopia, then returned to study psychology. “She met her husband Rafi from Maryland on their lone soldier program at Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak,” Nisenbaum explains. “He was an army sharpshooter who recently completed his law degree at Bar-Ilan University.”
Baker’s mother was the only survivor of a large Dutch family, who were all murdered at Sobibor and Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
“My mother was in Amsterdam until she was deported to Westerbork for 10 months,” she explains. “She was then deported east to Theresienstadt and was there for another ten months until liberation. My non-Jewish grandparents, from the village of Andijk in West Friesland, were active in the Dutch resistance.”
n the early 1960s, when she was eight years old, her family moved to Israel. After a four-year stay on Kibbutz Dovrat in the Jezreel Valley near Afula, they returned to the US. However, when 19-year-old Baker spent her junior year in Jerusalem in 1973, she rediscovered the childhood Hebrew that she had forgotten. Back in America, she graduated from the University of California, obtained an MA in Applied Linguistics and taught English as a second language for 20 years at the university.
Baker’s connection with Israel was a suppressed one, not fervently ideological or religious like her husband’s. Aliyah for her “was a chance to reconnect with a deep and profound love that was instilled in me during the four years we lived here when I was a child. All my life I have had Israel in my bones – the landscapes, the animals and plants, the music, the language. These are my passions, and Israel provides a venue for their expression.”
Nisenbaum spent a total of 25 years in education. He was a special education teacher in public school, working with disabled high-level autistic students. For a while, he was the principal of a small public high school. He also spent 18 years in high tech as a system analyst and user interface designer, working in publishing and information technology (IT). His computer expertise led to employment as a systems engineer in the IT department at Hughes Aircraft Company. He was happy to join a weekly Torah class at work, known as “the Hughes Jews.”
Shortly after his IT department was outsourced, he returned to teaching, becoming an assistant principal at the Modern Orthodox Shalhevet High School. Sometimes he led 10th-grade trips to Israel which included Gadna (Hebrew Youth Battalions) pre-army programs, and joint programming with Zeitlin High School in Tel Aviv. Besides that, he and his family visited Israel many times. “After leaving Shalhevet,” he says, “I returned to teaching special needs children in a public school.”
HE HAS NOW embraced a new life style. “Lida and I and our black miniature poodle made aliyah from Los Angeles in August 2017 with Nefesh b’Nefesh. We rented a flat in Arnona, Jerusalem. I attended ulpan and now take classes at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. We love going out and trekking... We toured Shiloh, Beit She’an, Herodian and hiked the top of the Israel trail from Tel Dan to Tel Hai.”
“After retirement,” he adds, “I created a startup company, Hope Maven, to produce mobile phone games as fund raisers for non-profits. I created a game and the NGO sells ad space on it and can receive $100,000 in donations. Sponsors can have their names visible every time someone looks at the game.”
The couple has adjusted well to Israel and made good friends. Lida declares that, “Life here is a big adventure. I speak Hebrew fluently. I talk to everybody. I sing in a choir. True, I miss my best friends and my sister very much.” She also continues working over the Internet and by phone, writing and editing teaching materials for adults learning English. She feels quite at home. “Walking down the street in Israel, I have a sense that this is mine. And when I talk to people, I have a sense that these are my people.”
Nisenbaum is very proud that his daughter and son-in-law served in the Israeli army, and is happy that “Jews no longer need be on the run from their enemies. I am blessed with my immediate family united here in Israel,” he says thankfully, adding, “I cry when I attend Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) at Mount Herzl, and at shiva [mourning] minyanim for Jews like Ari Fuld and Ori Ansbacher that were murdered by Muslim terrorists.”
On a more positive note, he concludes, “I just finished shopping at Osher Ad, and the male cashier stood and gave me the priestly blessing. He was that well-known Jerusalemite, Malkiel Lerner, ‘brother of the wounded.’”