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True Role Models (Part Thirteen)

This is the 13th part of a series on Aliyah and Klita (absorption) stories of American Jews who came to Israel for ideological and religious reasons in the past years. The purpose of the series is to emphasize the quality of the early olim to Israel and to tell the stories of these true role models for American Jewry.

I once thought that my study of logic would prepare me to understand how the world behaves. Living in Israel these past months has cured me of this assumption.

The logic of freeing 500 terrorists escapes me. For a majority of the right wing Likud party to vote to give away hard-fought-for territory and to transfer their own citizens from their property and homes in order to get nothing in return from their sworn enemy but “promises” – which these right-wing leaders themselves understand to be empty promises – is beyond understanding.

To continue the process, knowing that no matter how much you give away, the enemy will not be satisfied, as we have already heard on the news this morning, is beyond comprehension. Yet, we endure and pray and know that a day will come when a majority of reasoning and believing Jews will come from the Diaspora to Israel in order to out-vote those who no longer have any faith or self-respect. We are here, and here we will remain!

Shalom Cohen grew up in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens and Fruma (Faith Elfenbein) grew up in Woodmere. Shalom spent many summers in Bnei Akiva’s Camp Moshava and grew up knowing that Israel is the Jewish homeland. Faith joined Bnei Akiva in high school and quickly internalized its teachings and ideology. The year after graduating high school, Shalom and Fruma took part in Bnei Akiva’s year long Hachshara program working and living on a kibbutz in Israel.

When the Hachshara year ended, they returned to Queens College. After they married in 1982, they continued living in Queens where they were Bnei Akiva youth leaders. Meanwhile, Faith earned her Master’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language.

Two years later, Shalom and Faith became Bnei Akiva emissaries to South Florida. For two years, they lived in North Miami Beach and while Shalom worked during the day as a computer programmer, Faith stayed home with their newborn baby and ran the Bnei Akiva office and planned its activities from their home.

In 1986, Shalom and Fruma made aliya to Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv in Emek Beit Shean. For 11 years, they lived a happy and fulfilling life on the Kibbutz with their growing family. Ein Hanatziv has a very Israeli atmosphere, and Shalom and Fruma integrated into Israeli culture and language.

Shalom worked in the dairy barn (with its 400 cows) and Fruma worked in the children’s houses and then went to teach English in the regional school.

In 1997, with mixed emotions, the Cohens left Kibbutz and moved to a Yishuv, Hashmonaim. There they found many warm and caring friends and neighbors. Their children totally adjusted to the independent life style. Today, Shalom works as a Network Administrator for the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Israeli government and Fruma teaches English in junior high school.

The Cohen’s daughter, Mazalit, 20, finished two years of Sherut Leumi (national service), one year working for Bnei Akiva in Ginot Shomron and the second year as a counselor for the American girls’ program in Midreshet Harova in the Old City.

Zamir, 18, is completing 12th grade and is busy exploring his different options for army service beginning next year. He has been an active member of the volunteer police for two years.

Yonit, 17, is finishing 11th grade and is busy with her matriculation tests. Ayal is in 8th grade and Achva is in 5th grade. All the children take an active part in the youth activities in the Yishuv and are socially welcoming to the many children of new families that come to live in Hashmonaim every year.

The Cohens are a family that believes that living in Israel is a Mitzvah that cannot be distinguished from any other Mitzvah. It is no less important than keeping Kosher or observing Shabbat. Raising children in Israel without the benefit of close by grandparents is a big disadvantage, but this is the land of the Jews, and this is where they belong!!

* * *

Benjy Weiss came on Aliyah in 1967, after many years as a Bnei Akiva member and leader. Before coming to Israel, Benjy was a staff member at the IBM, T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights.

In Israel, Benjy joined the faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and he became a full professor in 1974. In 1973, Benjy married Bracha Shkolnik and they have six children, all of whom live in Israel. Their three eldest children are married and have produced several grandchildren. Benjy and Bracha’s youngest child is in her second year of army service.

In 2000, Benjy received a rare honor when was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member. Like many of his fellow American olim, Benjy left behind his family, a great career and an excellent salary in order to tie his destiny in with the Jews of Israel.

* * *

Steve and Mindy Frankel made aliyah as part of Garin Matityahu to Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak in May of 1976. Steve and Mindy were active for many years in Bnei Akiva. Steve is a Brooklyn College graduate who studied political science, and Mindy has a BS in education, also from Brooklyn College. Steve went to Israel with a volunteer mission during the Yom Kippur War with 100 other Bnei Akiva members from the USA and Canada. In 1971, Mindy attended the Bnei Akiva Hachshara in Kibbutz Yavne.

After coming to Israel, Steve was asked to be the Madrich of the Hachshara in Israel from 1981 to 1984. In 1985, Steve and Mindy and their family left kibbutz and moved to Neve Tzuf. Three years later, they moved to the Hashmonaim settlement as the 35th family. Steve is presently the Israel program director for the United States and Canadian Bnei Akiva and the director of the American program “Mach Hach” in Israel. Mindy teaches English in the Ulpana in the new city of Modiin. They have four children, two of whom are married. One is a soldier in Hesder and their youngest will become a soldier in March. They have one grandson.

They feel that they gave up absolutely nothing to live in Israel, but rather have gained by living here far more than anything they could have had in the Diaspora. There is nothing more natural for them and for all Jews than to live at home.

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