Coming to the City of Gold in their golden years
Garden State boomers make Israel home
Those who move to Israel are said to have made aliyah, Hebrew for going up. It’s an especially appropriate term to describe the recent trend among those who are making aliyah — they are doing so when going up in years.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, more and more Americans are moving to Israel when they are in their 60s and 70s, and this trend has not missed the Jews of New Jersey. Rather than opting for warm climates in Florida or Arizona, an increasing number of Jews from the Garden State have discovered that not only does the weather in the Jewish state measure up to traditional retirement spots, but there are several other good reasons to move there, as well.
“My quality of life has improved so much,” said Jean Corman, a former Jersey resident who moved to Jerusalem seven years ago with her husband, Richard. “I loved living in Westfield, too, but I had to take the car everywhere. Here I like going to lectures, movies, and seminars, and the neighborhood stores. There is nothing I miss.”
Richard was the executive director of the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains for 21 years and lived a comfortable life in Westfield before he and Jean made aliyah. Besides their commitment to Zionism, the Cormans also came because two sons had already moved to Israel and the births of grandchildren followed. Jean’s parents were in Jerusalem, as well, and after visiting three times a year for three years, Richard and Jean decided to leave their jobs and join their family in Israel.
Before making aliyah, Richard, 66, didn’t know what he would do in Jerusalem. Today he says that the hardest part of living in Israel is that there is just too much to do.
“I wish there were more hours in a day,” he said. “You have to make choices. Some people my age want to golf, some want to study, some want to take it easy. I’m best when I’m busy and giving back to my community and my country.”
To that end, Corman is a development executive for the advocacy organization StandWithUs, is the vice president of the Lone Soldiers Center in Memory of Michael Levin, and the cofounder and vice chairman of the Jerusalem Green Fund. In that role, Corman goes out to the streets at dawn three times a week to pick up litter — and to educate the people who inevitably question him.
“When people tell me ‘kol hakavod!’ (well done) or ask if I work for the city, it sparks an educational conversation in which I say that I am a volunteer and that they should join me, because we have a collective responsibility to work for our community,” he said. “A year ago, I was buying fish in the Mahane Yehuda shuk (market), and a guy put his arm on my shoulders and screamed at everyone that I am a tzadik, because he saw me on the Hebron Road at 5:30 a.m. picking up trash. For those few minutes, I was the star of the shuk. But no, I didn’t get a discount.”
Jean volunteers her time, as well, running a program for women 85 and up at a community center in a poor neighborhood. They come for arts and crafts and to sing songs, and they only speak Hebrew, which Jean said has effectively provided her with a “free ulpan,” an intensive Hebrew language course.
The Cormans are among several later-in-life couples interviewed by NJJN who decided to forego Florida and retire in the other Jewish state. NJJN asked them about their motivation and the unique challenges and benefits of moving to Israel.
A respected author who wrote the New York Times bestselling “Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul,” Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins was the rabbi of the Conservative Princeton Jewish Center between 1992 and 2005. He and his wife, Maxine, made aliyah three years ago when he was 77 for several reasons.
“My wife said we say ‘L’Shana Haba b’Yerushalayim’ (Next year in Jerusalem) at the Passover seder every year, and it was time to take it seriously,” Elkins said. “We made 45 trips to Israel before making aliyah. Every time we went, we said, ‘Why don’t we just stay?’”
Now the Elkins live on the 21st floor of a Jerusalem luxury apartment complex with an incredible view of the Old City from their living room, and two of their six children are also in the country. The transition was relatively seamless, according to the rabbi.
“It’s pretty comfortable,” he said. “We tell everyone we know in New Jersey to come on over, and many people have. My wife raised generations of students for 20 years at the synagogue religious school, many of whom made aliyah. It’s a great place to live, and we feel safer here than anywhere in the U.S., even safer than in Princeton.”
It hasn’t been as simple for Ricki Haber, who worked for Educational Testing in Princeton. She and her husband, Larry, made aliyah from East Brunswick in 2008 when she was 63 and he was 66. Some of Ricki’s challenges stemmed from her having a disability, but she said the adjustment became easier once she figured out how to handle her adopted home. She described Jerusalem as “disabled friendly,” with curbs, bus stops, and buses that are handicapped accessible; medical services that are excellent; and beneficial government stipends.
“Once we learned the system, there haven’t been too many problems,” she said. “Living in a community with other English speakers has been helpful,” especially another wheelchair-bound English speaker who showed the Habers how to navigate Israel and its bureaucracy. They also have two kids in Israel to help.
“I moved here because we belong here,” Larry said. “No one is going to advocate for you. You have to advocate for yourself. The more of us that come, the better it will be for all of us.”
Anne Homa, who moved to Israel from Livingston in 2013 with her husband, Jonathan, also had to learn her way around medical system when she fell on a slippery sidewalk three months ago and broke her leg. Despite the bureaucracy, she said that due to Israel’s socialized medicine system, she has not had to pay a penny for treatment. She was operated on the day after the accident and she has been going to physical therapy ever since.
When Jonathan was offered a good job in Petach Tikvah, Anne, 60, packed up and moved to Jerusalem in only three months, leaving a position as a senior accountant in N.J. for a lesser role in Israel. She has no regrets, she said, and was surprised by her new colleagues’ reaction to her injury.
“Here people were fine with me missing work,” she said. “In the U.S., eyes would have rolled.”
The Homas have one child living in Israel and two in the U.S. Their neighbors in Jerusalem, Mark and Carol Goldberg, made aliyah in 2014 from West Orange at ages 65 and 62, respectively, after all three of their children moved to Israel. Mark was most wistful for the Costco on Route 10, and Carol said she misses her West Orange community, though they have become part of a new one in Jerusalem.
The Goldbergs said they were inspired by an underground seder they attended in 1976 with aliyah activists in Soviet Russia. Financial considerations delayed their aliyah for decades, but their children, raised as Zionists, ended up showing their parents the way.
During Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Mark hurt his back running to a safe shelter as a siren wailed. Even so, he said, his main memory from that was how nice people were to him.
Lily and Irv Cantor also made aliyah from West Orange in October 2012 after they lived in Highland Park and Edison for 30 years. They were preceded by their daughter Shaena, who is a bride-to-be, though their other children and grandchildren remained in the U.S. Lily’s mother, Sophie Lubka, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who still lives in West Orange, encouraged them to make aliyah.
“It was hard to leave her, but coming to Israel to live was her idea,” Lily recalled. “When Irv proposed 47 years ago, I said only if we live in Israel. It took a little longer than we thought.”
Moving when they were 68 and 69, Lily and Irv left behind successful careers: Lily was principal of Shalom Torah Academy in Mercer County and Yeshiva Spring Valley in Monsey, N.Y., while Irv was in charge of computer technology at Johnson & Johnson’s new drug development department. In Jerusalem they work part time in their respective fields, volunteer, and go to plays, lectures, and classes.
The Cantors said they see the challenges of living in Jerusalem as a blessing. One example, they said, was having to join a private health care group that has American-trained doctors because some Israeli doctors don’t speak English.
“You feel like you’re part of a very large family here, because people genuinely care about each other,” Irv said. “It’s the best decision we ever made.”