Israel@70: Ties That Bind
Beverly Kent Goldenberg
Special to the Jewish News
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A Detroiter born in 1948 charts her close relationship with Israel’s growth.
I was a post-World War II baby, born in 1948. This spring, I celebrated my 70th birthday; so did the State of Israel. As I was growing up in Northwest Detroit, my mother, Jennie Levin Kent, made sure our joint destiny of birthdates was a fact I was keenly aware of with each passing year.
We, Israel and I, were new, exciting entities hoped for by my mother: I, the gift from my father Judge George D. Kent’s recovery from severe World War II wounds; Israel, the hoped-for Jewish State that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust. My mother, raised in an Orthodox family, was a passionate, proud Zionistic Jew. Each year, she announced, “You and Israel will be 10 … 16 … 21 and so on.
To cultivate my Jewish identity and knowledge about Israel, my mother enrolled me in Ahavas Achim’s Sunday religious school and the Esther Berman branch of United Hebrew School’s Wednesday afternoon Hebrew school. I have fond memories bringing coins to school each Sunday in January to buy stamps to paste onto a picture of a tree. When it became a beautiful branched tree made from the mosaic of stamps, a tree was purchased and planted in Israel in celebration of Tu b’Shevat.
My highlight in Hebrew school was the year a young Israeli teacher, Mrs. Harari, with long black hair pulled into a ponytail, came to teach us. So different from our older European teacher, she livened our education with tales of her life in Israel and the Israeli dances she taught us.
As a rebellious teenager, I had no interest in this place so meaningful to my mother. In my mind, the young rogue state paled by comparison to the beautiful, historic architecture and culture of Europe that called to me. But, eventually, curiosity got the best of me.
When I graduated from the University of Michigan with my master’s degree, free to go anywhere, I decided to visit the mysterious place that shared my birthday. I signed up for an Ulpan (Hebrew immersion program) in Israel on Kibbutz Mayan Tzvi.
My college roommate, Debbie, prepared me for my forthcoming adventure. She taught me important words in Hebrew, like ice cream, bathroom, please and thank you. I started eating halvah (a sweet sesame seed treat) for breakfast and spread it on bread. “This is what they serve for breakfast on the kibbutz,” she explained.
I have now visited Israel many times, yet the initial impressions of awe of visually seeing the land and places that I learned about, heard about and studied can never be forgotten. Seeing Israel itself with my own eyes, I attempted to bring my experiences and visions into sync with my imagined mind.
Passion For Israel
The months spent in Israel changed me. I had a new, broadened and positive perspective on being Jewish. Now, Israel was no longer just my mother’s passion, it was also mine.
Mostly everyone in Israel is Jewish, but they come from all over the world. No longer identified as Jews, people are categorized by their country of origin. I was no longer the Jewish girl. I was an American. My classmates on the Ulpan were from Argentina, France, England and Germany as well as two young men who walked to Israel from Iraq.
Working at the Welfare Department in Tiberias, I developed friendships with Yemenite and Moroccan Jews. I was surprised to meet dark-skinned Indians and North African people, who also were Jewish.
As a result of my interactions and relationships with people from other countries, I became more open, appreciative and knowledgeable about people from so many countries in the world and their cultures.
Upon returning home, in spite of scoffing at my mother’s suggestions, I did go to the Jewish Center, where she said I would meet a nice Jewish boy. Oh, those mothers are always right!
However, the nice Jewish boy was not a young American professional, lawyer or doctor, as my parents had expected. At the Israel Independence Day celebration in 1976, I met Mickey, an Israeli sabra (a native Israeli, as they are called, because, like the cactus fruit, they are prickly on the outside, but sweet on the inside).
My mother never anticipated or imagined my ties to Israel would be further strengthened by marriage. Mickey and I married in 1978. I now had another way of viewing Israel, through his eyes. My connection to the land and people of Israel expanded as we became a bicultural, bilingual family, and me, part of Mickey׳s loving, supportive extended family.
Dor l’dor (generation to generation), my own children, Etai and Oren, and our grandchildren, Leo and Ami, have their own ties and intimate connections to their father’s homeland, their Jewish homeland, my mother’s passion.
My birthday twin and I now have 70 years of lifetime experiences to reflect back upon; the joyous and the sad. We have marked celebrations together, raised families, progressed technologically. We have both lost friends and loved ones along the way.
In tribute to Israel, my mother, me, my husband and his family members who serve, work and contribute to the fabric of Israeli life, I marked the auspicious occasion of my 70th birthday together with the entity that has marked each year of life with me. I sang, danced and celebrated this Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Independence Day), the anniversary of meeting my husband and both of our 70th birthdays.
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As the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), proclaims, Israel and I are rejoicing together as we mark 70 years of life as “free people, in our Jewish homeland.” L’chaim to both of us.
Beverly Kent Goldenberg lives in Huntington Woods.