Hands of gold

Chaim Yadgar, 81, made Aliyah from Afghanistan.

Chaim Yadgar, 81 From Afghanistan to Jerusalem, 1937 (photo credit: AZRI SAMIN)
Chaim Yadgar, 81 From Afghanistan to Jerusalem, 1937
(photo credit: AZRI SAMIN)
Chaim Yadgar is a gentleman and artist who has put his mechanical abilities and artistic talent to good use, making beautiful hanukkiot and other useful items from discarded equipment from Yad Sarah.
Born in Arat, Afghanistan, Yadgar made aliyah with his parents and two brothers. His father was a spice merchant who traveled throughout Afghanistan. “At that time, the spices were also used for medicinal purposes,” he says.
Although he was only three years old when they left in 1937, he grew up on stories of his parents’ life in the Jewish community. He remembers them telling him that they closed the gates at night, like a ghetto, to keep everyone safe. His parents had close to 15 children, but with disease and low mortality rate, only three survived.
The family’s journey to Israel was fraught with danger. They walked, rode donkeys and traveled by truck from Afghanistan to Iran to Iraq. In Iraq, Yadgar’s father was arrested for being a spy and spent three months in prison. His mother, brothers and he were taken in by the Jewish community and his mother went to the jail every day to bring his father kosher food.
A year after they began their journey, they arrived in Israel.
“We came through the Lebanese border and my parents hailed a truck driver and told him to take us to the Bukharan neighborhood in Jerusalem, where my mother’s brothers lived,” he remembers. “By that time, one of my brothers had died, so it was only the four of us who made it to Israel.”
Yadgar has priceless stories of growing up in this neighborhood, where his three sisters were born. But it was not easy. Living conditions were austere and it was difficult for his parents to make a living. His father did odd jobs, including working for the Dead Sea Works, where he was away for months at a time. He finally found a permanent position working on archaeological digs, “because the managers trusted him not to steal anything he found,” he says.
The War of Independence changed the lives of Yadgar and his family. While they were living in a neighborhood bomb shelter, their apartment was hit by a shell. No one was hurt, but they had no home to go back to. They were told to go to Baka, which was also under attack, and find a home to live in there. There were refugees from the Old City and other neighborhoods around Jerusalem. His family found a ground-floor apartment, with a semblance of a basement that they ran to when the shelling became intense. His brother was in the Irgun Zva’i Leumi, and his father worked digging trenches for the soldiers and securing them with sandbags.
At the age of 14, Yadgar went to work.
“I worked in bookbinding and other jobs until a friend of mine told me about a position at a ‘big’ company, Tuttnauer.”
From the age of 15, Yadgar worked diligently at Tuttnauer, a growing company working in the field of sterilization and infection control for medical, dental and laboratory equipment. At the same time, he went to night school to learn mechanics. He climbed the corporate ladder at the company, leaving for three years to do his army service in the Givati combat unit. When he returned to Tuttnauer, his responsibilities grew with the expanding company.
“I worked in all of the departments, including human resources,” he says. He traveled around the world, as the company established overseas offices in the US and China.
However, Yadgar says that the best thing he did in his life was to marry his wife, Edna. He met her through family, and despite their 10-year age difference, he knew that she was the one. They had three daughters, Lital, Ornit and Lior. He is proud that all of them are university educated. “I did not have a lot growing up,” he says. “I wanted to give my children everything.”
While working at Tuttnauer, he came in touch with Yad Sarah, the legendary volunteer organization that provides a full range of medical equipment and health care support services at no cost to hundreds of thousands of people each year. The workers at the company would help Yad Sarah with problems with their equipment.
“I loved what Yad Sarah was doing and I said that when I retire, I will volunteer with them,” he says. At the age of 70, this is exactly what he did.
Yadgar works with other volunteers to find mechanical solutions for people who are physically challenged. He assesses the current equipment, understands the needs of the individuals, and then adapts the equipment accordingly. One mother asked him to make a special walker for her severely disabled daughter whose balance was minimal. He put supports around the walker so she could rest and walk confidently without falling.
Yadgar’s artistic side comes into play using Yad Sarah’s discarded equipment. He makes clocks and coffee tables from wheelchair parts and other household items. But his masterpieces are the beautiful hanukkiot he makes. He donates his time, and the hanukkiot, to synagogues throughout Jerusalem. His only request is “instead of paying me, they give a donation to Yad Sarah.” His hanukkiot are displayed in some 30 synagogues. One that he made for the Atrid Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood can be lit electrically or with oil, possibility the first hanukkia of its kind.
“It takes close to six months to make these menorahs,” says Yadgar. “It is a good feeling to know that my work is lighting up Jerusalem and the proceeds are going to help an amazing cause.”
Chaim Yadgar, 81
From Afghanistan to Jerusalem, 1937