Arrivals: With a twinkle in her eye

Surviving the Holocaust and an early settler of Palestine, 95-year-old Ida Jacobovici is happy about her present return to Israel .

Aliya from Toronto to Ra'anana (photo credit: LORI POLLY NEMOY)
Aliya from Toronto to Ra'anana
(photo credit: LORI POLLY NEMOY)
Five years ago, as she was nearing the age of 90, Ida Glasser Jacobovici decided to start a new phase of her life – and left her Toronto home for Israel.
Her son, Simcha Jacobovici, a well-known documentary filmmaker, had already settled in Israel two years before with his wife and children. She decided she would join them in Ra’anana together with her daughter, Sara, a creative art therapist; the two live in a pleasant apartment overlooking the cultural center of the town.
It has been a long and arduous journey for the diminutive Jacobovici, who was born in Romania a year after the end of World War I.
For someone who spent her formative years in the anti-Semitic environment of Lasi, the large city in the Moldavia region where the family lived, moving to Israel has been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“When I was growing up, we always had to keep a low profile as Jews,” she says. “I was lucky in that I didn’t look especially Jewish and my name, Glasser, was a German name. I never denied my Jewishness if I was asked by the other girls in school. Only after the Germans came did we do our best to hide it.”
Rounded up with thousands of others, the family somehow survived the concentration camp in Transnistria where they were sent and spent a year and a half.
Because Lisa, her older sister and a doctor, had access to information denied the other prisoners, they knew they were going to be moved to another camp, so they planned an escape.
In a perilous journey on foot, the Glassers crossed over to Russia, sleeping in barns and trading their meager possessions for potatoes.
When the war ended, Jacobovici was 26 and wanted to study medicine like the much older Lisa, but had to settle for biochemistry. The family was lucky to be reunited after the war – all except for the youngest brother, who went missing.
“I’m still looking for him,” says Sara of her uncle.
After the war and before coming to Israel for the first time, Jacobovici began working in a research institute translating chemistry books from Russian to Romanian.
In 1948, Jacobovici’s future husband decided he would try and get to Palestine.
“My father was on a boat which was sent to Cyprus,” says Sara. “He managed to escape and came here and fought in the War of Independence. He knew my mother but they were not yet married; he said he didn’t want to take her from one war to another.”
But from 1952 to 1962 Jacobovici did live here, giving birth to her two children.
“I was very happy here,” she recalls. “Although it was the times of tzena [austerity], it was wonderful to realize that one could be a Jew openly and freely after living in Romania, where we had to hide our Jewish identity.
“The street cleaners, the policemen – all Jews; it was strange, like living in a dream.”
When Jacobovici became very ill with a thyroid condition which she was told was untreatable in Israel, the family moved to Montreal. Jacobovici spent the next 47 years in Canada, working as a biochemist; her husband, a plastics engineer, had a good job – and Israel receded into the past.
Eventually, the family moved to Toronto and it was from there Jacobovici made aliya five years ago.
The first thing she did was to register at an ulpan and try to learn some Hebrew. She already speaks four languages – Russian, French, English and Romanian – but Jacobovici wanted to be able to converse with Israelis in her day-to-day life.
“My parents made sure we never learned to speak Yiddish,” she recounts. ‘They wanted to make sure we spoke perfect Romanian unaffected by a Yiddish accent.”
Although she suffered from malnutrition so many years before in the camps, she enjoys relatively good health and spends quite a few of her daylight hours at the Ra’anana Country Club, where she can be seen on the treadmill, stationary bicycle and other sports equipment at least twice a week.
“She even climbed Masada, up and down, when she was a mere 88,” says Sara. “One of the grandchildren wondered about getting her in Guinness World Records.”
“I was only a youngster then,” says Jacobovici with a twinkle in her eye.
“She really is indefatigable,” says her proud daughter.
“One day last week I had a business networking meeting and she came along to support me, she likes to be involved. After brunch we did some errands, and then I had a presentation which went on all evening.
At the end she said, ‘Let’s go for a nightcap’ – by this time it was 10:30 p.m. – and I was exhausted, but she insisted, so we went to a café. There was no one over 30 – except us.”
Sara is very proud of her mother and protective, as though the roles are reversed.
“I honor her and for me, she is a role model,” says Sara. “Telling her story like this sends an important message to her grandchildren, one of whom is now serving in the IDF.
“Many people who went what she went through would have given up; she refused to give up.”