Arrivals: Following the trail to Israel

A journey from a sheep farm in Oregon through the ‘paradise’ of Naples, Florida has ended up in the Israeli desert.

Yehidit and Yitzhak Anderson 311 (photo credit: Abigail Klein Leichman)
Yehidit and Yitzhak Anderson 311
(photo credit: Abigail Klein Leichman)
It’s been nearly 31 years since Judith Clara Specker (now called Yehudit) and Ross Nichols Anderson (now Yitzhak) met in an Oregon savings bank. Since then, they’ve raised three children, worked in finance and manufacturing, run a dairy sheep farm, kept honeybees, and finally made aliya.
The twists and turns of their already extraordinary lives nearly reached a dead end in 2002, when Ross was diagnosed with an aggressive form of myelogenous leukemia and was given only a 15 percent chance of survival, at best.
His condition worsened to the point where he lay in a coma in intensive care for six months. The doctors summoned Yehudit one night to say her final good-bye. Instead, she rested a hand on her dying husband’s back and prayed aloud.
“Because of Hashem [God], Yehudit and excellent doctors, I’m sitting here today in Eretz Israel,” says Yitzhak, looking hale and hearty as he exchanges loving glances with his wife at their dining room table in Ma’aleh Adumim.
Sheep farmers
Neither of the Andersons was raised in an observant home. Yitzhak was born in Idaho and grew up on the Oregon coast with his widowed mother. Yehudit comes from West Hartford, Connecticut, where she was just as likely to accompany a friend to catechism class as she was to go to temple on a typical Saturday.
Both were free to choose their own spiritual paths.
“My heart and soul were Jewish,” Yehudit says. “Eventually your heart beats a quickened pace – the beat of who you are – and you can’t ignore it.” She started thinking about aliya as early as 1990, becoming more tuned in to a Torah-observant lifestyle with each passing year.
One day in 1981, Yitzhak walked into the bank where Yehudit worked in the loans department, wanting to rent a safety deposit box. Everyone else was out to lunch, so Yehudit assisted him. “She was the prettiest person I ever saw in a bank,” says Yitzhak, who was then working at a hi-tech company.
They settled in the Portland area and Yehudit went into investments and later teaching.
Yitzhak got into the optics field, even handling some Israel Defense Forces contracts in the course of his work. In 2000, when their two daughters and son were grown, they established a sheep farm in Oregon wine country, surrounded by 29 wineries and more sheep than people. Yitzhak’s mother, who has since died, joined them.
Yehudit was the main operator of the farming and cheese-making enterprise and clearly felt great affection for her flock, which began with “a young ram we named Shlomo [Solomon] because he had many wives!” The sheep were guarded by a llama named General Ulysses S., otherwise known as Gus. The Andersons kept a kosher farmhouse, welcoming neighbors of all stripes to break bread with them.
Though Yitzhak was able to return to this pastoral setting after a recovery deemed miraculous by his physicians, in 2003 he relapsed and needed a bone marrow transplant.
A second recovery
This crisis brought them to the Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle for six months.
Yitzhak was given radioactive isotopes and spent eight days in isolation as his marrow was deliberately destroyed to ready him for accepting healthy marrow from a German-Jewish donor. At one point, Yitzhak was taking 56 pills every day and wearing an IV backpack delivering additional medications. Back home, members of a small country community church, and Yitzhak’s co-workers, pitched in on the farm so that Yehudit could be at the hospital with her husband.
“I feel I was used for good,” says Yitzhak, who believes strongly that his illness was part of a divine plan and kept an upbeat attitude despite his ordeal. “People would visit me in the hospital, from fellow Jews to Christians to Mormons, and even an atheist, and they all prayed for me.”
The experience of “knowing the hand of God saved me and put breath into my body” set Yitzhak on a steady course toward deeper observance and aliya. “That is part of the story of why we came here,” he says. “A life-altering scenario like that makes one realize how quick and precious life is.”
Soon after the successful procedure, the couple sold their farm. “With his compromised immune system, he couldn’t be near animals and neighboring farm chemicals,” Yehudit explains.
They moved across the United States to Naples, Florida, home of “Alligator Alley,” for the recovery period. In 2006 the Andersons took their second trip to Israel and volunteered at an IDF naval base.
“Naples is a paradise; we lived near the beach and saw porpoises every day. But we knew it was only transitional,” says Yehudit. “It was time to make aliya.”
“Our hearts were here,” adds Yitzhak. “It was time to come home.”
Life in Israel
The Andersons arrived on December 30, 2009, having chosen Ma’aleh Adumim during a summer scouting trip.
“We’d never lived in a desert, so we came out to take a look,” recalls Yehudit. The city’s new immigrant coordinator found them “a cute little cottage” to rent, whose owner filled it with flowers, wine and welcoming posters for their arrival.
The Andersons took ulpan classes and subscribed to The Jerusalem Post’s monthly Hebrew newspaper as well as Hebrew podcasts. They continue to make a point of socializing with Israelis to force themselves to practice speaking their new language. They also get together weekly with several other Anglo families in their neighborhood to converse in Hebrew.
“I realize Hebrew is a lifelong process, and in the meantime we’ll keep entertaining the natives,” says Yitzhak with a laugh, acknowledging the difficulties of the new life they have chosen. They keep in touch with their children, all on the West Coast, through frequent Skype conversations.
“Now we are seeking vocational direction and are flexible in our thinking,” says Yehudit.
“Yitzhak would like to work in the defense industry, and we also have our background in farming and bee-keeping. We don’t know where we’ll end up.”
In the meantime, they are doing volunteer work and seeing more of Israel, staying in youth hostels to economize. “We didn’t buy a car, so we don’t have all those expenses,” says Yehudit.
“We’ve already done one thing to contribute to Israel, and that’s being here,” adds Yitzhak resolutely. “We don’t know the rest of the story, but we anticipate it’s going to be good.
Every day is a blessing.”