Aliya Stories: Opening the door to a new life

Sharon Perry made aliya from North Adams, Massachusetts to Jerusalem in 1979.

Sharon Perry (photo credit: ELISSA EINHORN)
Sharon Perry
(photo credit: ELISSA EINHORN)
 When Simon Perry made aliya from London to Jerusalem as a toddler, he had no idea his future bride, then 5,300 km. away in the US, would one day literally come knocking at his door.
The year was 1976, and it was just two days after the Entebbe raid. Sharon Bashevkin was a junior at Brandeis University, majoring in psychology and American studies, and had just arrived in Israel for a semester-abroad program.
She showed up at the Brandeis facility the evening before the program began and started ringing doorbells in the hope of finding a place to spend the night.
A door opened and there stood Simon Perry. Sharon was wearing US army fatigues and construction boots, and carrying nothing but a backpack, while Simon had just completed the officers’ course in the IDF. After he explained that the facility was closed and that the top floor was family-owned apartments, the 19-year-old Sharon asked where the YMCA was located.
“Don’t worry,” he told her, “my mother has a room.”
Within 10 days, the pair began dating.
As their relationship progressed, the North Adams, Massachusetts, native decided to test the aliya waters by spending summers in Israel on work permits while completing her bachelor’s degree.
Although her parents were not happy about the prospect of their oldest child moving across the world just a few years after the Yom Kippur War, they knew it was partly a result of their commitment to the Jewish community and Zionist ideals being passed along to Sharon and her two younger brothers. These ideals were nurtured by the local rabbi at that time, Paul Silton, who took an experiential approach to teaching Judaism in a city where 10 Jews attended the local high school.
“It was a lucky thing for all of us,” Sharon says. “He taught students to identify with Israel and Judaism. He connected us to the Temple Gates of Prayer community in Flushing, New York, where we would visit twice a year and be hosted by community families with teens the same age. It was the first time we were able to develop friendships with other Jewish peers outside of our small, isolated community.”
Still, maintaining her identity in the small western Massachusetts community remained a balance between being Jewish and being like everyone else.
“We would go to services, have kiddush, and then go to football games,” she explains. “On the way home, we would stop off at the 5:45 p.m. mass for my non-Jewish friends. We would build a succa and they would come over.
They all knew the rules of kashrut and wouldn’t serve meat and milk [together] or pork. I never felt any antisemitism.
We were largely an immigrant community of Italians, Polish and French, in addition to a small Jewish community.”
When Sharon finally decided to move to Israel, she had a carpenter build a wooden crate into which she packed up all her personal belongings. She remembers her father saying, “That will get you there, but how will you get it all back?” figuring his daughter’s pilgrimage would only last a year.
He figured wrong. Sharon made aliya, and married Simon in 1979. Her new husband could never have predicted the impact of that fateful knock, nor could he have predicted the impact this new olah would have.
Sharon and Simon built their Ramot home overlooking the Jerusalem Forest together with 113 other, primarily immigrant families. What began in 1979 as the first non-profit, owner-initiated housing project in the country, according to Sharon, Bayit B’Yisrael was completed in 1984. The community, which also built Kehillat Ya’ar Ramot, the local Masorti synagogue, was a far cry from North Adams.
“We raised our kids together and most went to a TALI school [an acronym for Tigbur Limudei Yahadut, enriched Jewish education] in French Hill,” Sharon reminiscences, evoking Margaret Mead’s “it takes a village.”
It was the lifestyle Sharon yearned for and seemed refreshingly different from what was happening in the US – a drinking and drug culture that began in the 1960s and showed no signs of slowing down in the ’70s.
“I didn’t want to raise my kids with the values of that time,” the mother of three grown daughters says. “And I wasn’t interested in the rat race to succeed.
I wanted a simpler lifestyle. I felt that whatever I did in the States, someone else could do. I wanted to make a unique contribution.”
Suffice to say the Brandeis graduate has done so, making education – in the grandest sense of the word – her mission during nearly the past four decades.
Beginning with a position in an intervention program that served families in low-income housing, Perry’s focus has been on early childhood. She earned both a post-bachelor’s certificate from the Schwartz Program and an MA in education at the Hebrew University and became a trained early-childhood specialist who has been devoted to the development of early-childhood education in Israel.
“I realized what my purpose and passion was,” she reflects regarding her early career.
Too many opportunities to count followed, including serving as the early- childhood director and family-based day care director in a local community center; administrative director for Camp Ramah where she also taught history; pedagogic supervisor and inspector in the Education Ministry’s department of early childhood; pedagogic superviser and lecturer at David Yellin College of Education; and director of the Early Childhood Division for the TALI Education Fund of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, where she combined her love of Conservative Judaism with early childhood and where, under her skillful hands, 17 early childhood programs grew to 70 throughout Israel.
Her biggest source of pride these days is her work with MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, a department within the Foreign Ministry that is dedicated to supporting developing countries in the areas of the agriculture, health and education. Perry has traveled to Ghana twice in the past few years to train local teachers and introduce methodologies derived from Israeli early childhood education programs and adapted to the local reality and culture.
Her work in African schools became a springboard for an effort she began last year, as a consultant for the Center for International Migration and Integration.
The objective this time was to map the asylum-seeking and foreign workers’ communities in Jerusalem with an emphasis on early childhood.
At 60 years old, Perry feels fortunate that she no longer has to work, but still chooses to. “I still need to be stimulated and feel like I am contributing.”