I’ve had to cut down on my blogging because I’m been busy with another mitzvah. About a month ago, I received an email from a 16 year old girl from Europe, saying that she was on the way to the airport to fly to Israel. She said that her mother read my blogs at The Jewish Press and hoped that maybe I could help her, not knowing where else to turn. She wants to finish high school in Israel, make aliyah, and go into the army. Her present high school is all gentile and Moslem and very anti-Semitic. Could I help her, she asked?
I sent an email to her mother to learn more about their background. To protect their identities, I won’t go into all of the details. The parents were divorced, and the father refuses to help his daughter as long as she is connected to her mother. Having to take care of her hyperactive 3 year-old son, the mother wasn’t working and she depended on a modest state stipend for unemployed, single-parent mothers. The father refuses to pay child support. They live in an anti-Semitic neighborhood, and the girl could no longer tolerate being insulted and boycotted at school for being a Jew. Her dream is to live in Israel.
When I asked her if she was Jewish, the mother answered that her mother’s mother was Jewish, spoke Yiddish, survived Terzin and Auschwitz, but that she herself had no official documents to prove it. The Nazis had taken over the country where she grew up, and then the Communists after the war. Her mother had died when she was a child, and her father was deported by Communists, and she had literally survived on the streets and in the forests. She gave me the phone numbers of some people who knew her, and I spoke to the local rabbi and an Israeli family who had helped her after her divorce, and they told me that the Jewish identity of the mother and daughter was very strong, that they kept Shabbat and the holidays as best as they knew how, and that they wouldn’t eat meat because kosher meat was very hard to find.
I told the mother that since her daughter was already on a train on the way to the airport, I would meet her when she landed in Israel, but that it would, of course, be better if the mother came on aliyah also, along with her 3 year-old son. But without official papers, proving that they were Jews, this was impossible. They were willing to go through a process of conversion, if need be, but this was a difficult 7 year project where they came from. Gevalt!
As it turned out, the girl missed the flight, so I had time to look for a suitable program for Diaspora students who want to finish high school in Israel. My good friend, Rabbi David Samson, founded several high school programs for “kids at risk” in Jerusalem, including two religious high schools for English-speaking olim who find it hard to learn in Hebrew, and he recommended the Jewish Agency’s “Naale” Program for Diaspora youth.
Naale sounded perfect for the girl – let’s call her Sarah. It gets the kids learning in Hebrew, provides them with a dormitory, Israel health insurance, an “adopted family,” a chance to make aliyah and join the army, or do National Service for religious girls, and offers an accelerated program of conversion for people who have problematic backgrounds.
The student enrollment director of Naale told me to instruct Sarah and her mother to fly to Paris to be interviewed for the program for the upcoming school year, which starts at the end of August. But after they bought plane tickets and made reservations at a hotel, the interview was canceled because of a lack of candidates. Unable to get their money back with such short notice, they made the trip, spent all of the available money, but were no closer to getting to Israel. Then the director told me that they would have to fly Chicago for the last North America interview day if the girl wanted to have a chance to be accepted for this year’s program. That, of course, was totally absurd, even for the Jewish Agency standards. Finally, he gave me the name of the head of the Naale school in Israel and told me to call him. So I called and he told me to have Sarah and her mother come to Israel for a last-chance interview on August 5. But for the mother to come, she would have to bring her 3 year-old son, and they had no place to stay. In addition, they had already spent their last savings on the futile trip to Paris, so there was simply no chance. However, with God’s help, and the encouragement of my wonderful, kindhearted wife, who told me to trust in Hashem and bring them to Israel, a travel agent I know agreed to issue them tickets, granting me a month to gather the money to pay him.