Jeff Schreiber talks with Aviva Zacks about how he got connected to Israel and became a Zionist, how he prepared his children for living in Israel and what he misses about living in Detroit.
Jeff Schreiber, 68, regales us with stories of his fierce Zionism and why Zeman’s seven-layer cake and seeing his son are the only things he misses about living in Detroit. Jeff and his wife, Faye, made aliyah 16 years ago and have never looked back. Jeff, an engineering technician, repairs specialized computerized machinery.
Q: Tell me how you got connected to Israel and became a Zionist.
Jeff Schreiber: When I was growing up in Detroit, Israel was this faraway place. Just before I turned 21, in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War, I was tired of going to university. I told my parents I wanted to spend time on a Kibbutz called Sde Eliyahu in the Beit Shean Valley. I was there for six and a half months, working half the days and studying Hebrew in the ulpan the other half. Oddly enough, many people from Detroit have ended up there.
The second time I was in Israel was in 1995, and I arrived with my wife and three children in tow. It was just before my son Danny’s bar mitzvah. Since then, we managed to come every year or two.
Q: How did you prepare your children for living in Israel?
JS: We spent our hard-earned money to send our kids to a religious Zionist day school, and we ended up with religious Zionists.
I used to laugh at my friends who wondered what they did wrong because their kids wanted to live in Israel.
We knew that when our daughter Shira left after high school, if she came back, she was only coming for a visit. That was in 2003. The next year, Danny and I came to Israel for a wedding. I went back to Detroit and said to my wife, “I’ve waited long enough. With you or without you, I’m going.” And to her credit, she took care of everything. She made all the arrangements.
We arrived a couple weeks before Rosh Hashanah of 2005, and we have been here ever since.
Q: What are your kids up to these days?
JS: Our older daughter Avital lives around the corner from us and works at Shaare Zedek Medical Center as a nurse’s aide. She spent many years in the newborn nursery, and now she works in the outpatient chemotherapy department.
Danny is in Detroit, and I miss him. We still try to convince him that this is where he belongs. It has been the better part of 18 months that we have been trying to get him to visit, and now it looks like he actually can.
Shira, our youngest, has been married for 12 years and has presented us with interest on our original investment. We now have three grandsons and a granddaughter.
Q: What organizations were you affiliated with in Detroit?
JS: We went to the Young Israel of Oak Park, and our kids all went to Akiva (now Farber). For my own schooling, I went to the afternoon school of Beth Yehudah and my sisters went to United Hebrew Schools. My little brother was in the first graduating class at Hillel Day School. So, we covered the gamut of the different organizations.
Q: Is there anything that you miss about living in Detroit?
JS: I miss Zeman’s seven-layer cake. I miss the Great Lakes. Having lived in Michigan my whole life, once you have seen Lake Superior or Lake Michigan, you can’t put the kid back on the farm. And I miss sane drivers.
Q: Do you have a message for people who are reading this interview?
JS: What are you waiting for?
I would be lying to say that living in Israel is easier than living in the United States. It is not, but when you look at the bus coming at you in the opposite direction and it says Chag Sameach [Happy Holiday] on it in Hebrew, it is all worth it.
And there are always inspirational things that happen day-to-day. I was with a Druze customer in Kiryat Shmona last week, and I saw something that struck me as incredibly odd. I said to him, “Why do you have a mezuzah on the door of your business when you don’t have an obligation to hang one?”
He said, “Yes, but I do it out of respect for my Jewish customers.” I have Muslim customers who text me “Chag Sameach” on Israel Independence Day.