As the bus winds its way north through green valleys and steep mountain roads, the beauty of the Galil, Galilee, unfolds before my eyes. Onward we climb towards mystical Tzfat, the highest city in all of Eretz Yisrael and one of the four “holy cities” of the Land. Alighting at the central bus station, I am struck by the beauty of Tzfat and behold the stunningly lush landscape of its surroundings. Only a short distance away are the soothing blue waters of the Kinneret, visible from my lookout, as well as the camel-hump form of the mountain upon which Meron lies, just across the wadi (valley) from Tzfat. No wonder tourists are enraptured! How pleasant it is to mill about the quiet streets this slow-paced city that has no traffic lights. Many Israelis, including chashuve Torah personalities, vacation in Tzfat, whose climate, because of its altitude, is mild in the summer, albeit cold and snowy in the winter.
When I think of Rechavia, my mind conjures up an upscale neighborhood in the heart of Yerushalayim with tree-lined streets, green parks, and beautiful, often palatial, buildings surrounded by neat gardens. Although but a few minutes walk to shops, hotels, and restaurants on Keren Kayemet Street, Rechavia is almost purely residential, with a mixture of both secular and religious Israelis as well as chutznikim (immigrants) interspersed throughout the neighborhood. Meni and Liza Even-Israel and their four children are one of the many families living in Rechavia, and Liza graciously agrees to share her story of how they landed there.
Liza Ferszt Even-Israel was born and raised in Los Angeles until age eleven, when her parents decided to move to Israel. Intending to make their move open ended, they did not sell their house or their business immediately. A few years later that they actually made aliyah. Since they had come in 1986, before the first intifada, Liza has happy memories of life in Israel.
Meandering the quaint, winding alleyways of Nachlaot, I feel transported to an earlier era. This intriguing enclave in central Jerusalem is sandwiched between the busy thoroughfare of Rechov Yaffo, Machane Yehuda shuk, the quieter residential neighborhood of Sha’arei Chesed, and the expansive, grassy Sacher Park. Nachlaot’s various neighborhoods date back to the late 1870s, when overcrowding in the Old City caused a notable portion of its population to relocate. Many artists as well as colorful residents of all types and stripes live here create a mystique and vibe of diversity and inclusion. My curiosity is piqued. I want to know more about Nachlaot and meet its residents.
I head toward the home of Tzvi and Shaindel Deutsch and chat with Shaindel about her aliyah journey over a cup of tea. Shaindel Siskind Deutsch was born and raised in Baltimore until age 12, when she relocated to Israel with her parents and two brothers. The year was 2001, and Shaindel’s parents, Mark and Paula Siskind, had been contemplating aliyah for several years before deciding on the right time to make a go for it. The Siskind children did not make official aliyah together with their parents, so that they would be able to get their own aliyah benefits later on in life if they chose to remain in Israel.
“Wow,” I exclaimed to my friend as we walked the streets of Be’er Sheva, “this must be the greenest city I have seen in all of Israel!” We had traversed miles of beautiful fields and landscape to spend Shabbos with former Baltimoreans Rabbi Yaakov and Judy Neuman and to check out their community. Now we entertained ourselves exploring expansive areas of green grass among the lovely houses and apartment buildings that comprise this sprawling city in the Negev. I was soon to find other delights unique to Be’er Sheva.
We arrived early on Friday, and after we settled in, Judy kindly served us a light lunch and encouraged us to have some fun and walk to the largest Eco mall in the entire Middle East, only about five minutes from her home. An Eco mall, I learned is an environmentally-friendly mall, where, for example, the light is generated from solar panels, among other innovations. Be’er Sheva, we discovered, has malls and shopping centers galore, lots of culture, museums, as well as ancient archaeological sites.
I hop on the bus heading for Bayit Vegan in southwest Jerusalem, only a short ride from my home. As we pass the Yefei Nof neighborhood, with its beautiful scenery, I reflect on a thought I heard this past Shabbos: Heroic figures are not always the best barometer to measure greatness in life. It is the attainment of goodness, often achieved and known only in the depths of one’s self, that defines real greatness. Little did I know that I was about to meet one such person, who traversed seemingly ordinary chapters in her life, but with the faith and outlook that defines greatness.
Surrounded by majestic desert mountains, Neve Yaakov lies just north of Pisgat Ze’ev at the very edge of northeastern Yerushalayim. With its warm, friendly, out-of-town atmosphere and its acceptance of variety amidst its chareidi population, it’s no surprise that the growing community attracts many Baltimore families.
Back in the days when Neve Yaakov had fewer residents, Chaim and Ruthy Hersh joined its close-knit community. Raised in Baltimore, Ruthy, whose maiden name is Engles, forged a path for herself as a young adult, and years later merited to plant roots in Eretz Hakodesha. I listen as Ruthy happily shares her story with me.