By Sally Gelb
On a recent visit to Israel, my husband Bumi and our three children, Eli, Miryam, and Ezra, had the good fortune to attend a reunion in Jerusalem of Hartfordites living in Israel. Around 80 people came from near and far. The April night was unseasonably cold and rainy, but the warmth inside the hall was exhilarating. Instant joy! Happy faces of people, many of who had not seen each other in 10, 20, even 40 years! The dates of their aliyah spanned decades. Four hours of connecting and re-connecting went by too fast but “goodbyes” were accompanied by warm expressions of hope that they would soon reunite and continue to rekindle old friendships.
Dvorah Weinrib Kidorf and Chaya Spatz Passow were organizers of this special event. Their natural leadership skills were apparent — and helpful — when they were in my Young Israel of Hartford fifth and sixth grade youth group. Brief but very meaningful speeches were made by Chaya, Miriam Batt Halpern (daughter of Rabbi Charles and Minnie Batt), and Rabbi Kalman Rosenbaum, a native of Hartford and former principal of the Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford. They spoke of the warm and wonderful Batt era and what it meant to them. It had deeply impacted so many of our lives. Rabbi Chaim Tabasky, married to Hartfordite Cynthia Eisler Tabasky, shared special memories of his visits to the Eisler family in Hartford when he was courting their daughter.
Now, generations of Batt, Eisler, Kidorf, Fuld-Passow families and of so many more families as well – numbering in the hundreds – are making their imprint on the vibrant landscape of the Land of Israel. In recent years more of our Hartfordites have made aliyah and more are doing so this August. The pull of our homeland is surely magnetic.
For our family, our Hartford connection began the very day of our arrival. Not yet unpacked, we were greeted by Chaya with the request that we go to the local craft shop to pick up large poster paper, markers, and stickers appropriate for Yom Ha’atzmaut [Israel Independence Day]. She and some of her Israeli family had signed up with Standing Together, a group that helps IDF soldiers, to make a traditional barbeque at one of the smaller army bases. Two of Chaya’s daughters-in-law prepared lots of great salads and cakes. Her sons did the barbequing and she bought all the rest of the food. We all chatted with the soldiers, some played ball, and the kids presented the soldiers with their homemade posters. We thanked these very young soldiers for all that they are doing for the people of Israel. Indeed, for Klal Yisroel [all the Jewish people].
Only after I returned to West Hartford did I learn that while we were there my good friend Renie Neikrie of Avon, formerly of West Hartford, had been busy volunteering at an Israeli army base with an organization called Sar-El, which is part of Volunteers for Israel. At the same time she was in the southern part of Israel not far from Gaza, we were on a scheduled private visit to the beleaguered yet growing town of Sderot, also located very near Gaza. While she was volunteering at the IDF base, Renie bumped into Gavi Small, the daughter of Deborah and Rabbi David Small, spiritual leader of West Hartford’s Emanuel Synagogue, where Renie is a member. Gavi is currently serving in the IDF and is stationed at that same base.
Meanwhile, we were delighted to spend quality time with Nechama Shira, our lovely granddaughter, who was having a most inspiring year studying in seminary in Jerusalem. In addition, an important part of our 25-day visit was visiting family, as well as dear friends in the new community of Netzer Hazani (formerly of Gush Katif) in Jerusalem, to show our hakarat hatov – our heartfelt appreciation.
The Hartford connection continued. A most beautiful and inspiring Shabbat was spent with Miriam Batt Halpern and her husband Larry in Karnei Shomron, located in the hills of Shomron and one of the loveliest and most charming communities I have ever seen. We were captivated by the warmth and sheer goodness of all the people we met. Miriam shared hundreds of her father’s letters (our family treasures the several we received from Rabbi Batt). During his 43 years of serving the Hartford community, which included two decades as president of the Yeshiva of Hartford, more than 25 years as the voluntary and beloved rabbi of the Young Israel of Hartford, Rabbi Batt was involved on a high level with Torah institutions on the national and international scene, he perhaps left his greatest impact on hundreds of Jewish youth in Hartford. Decades later, they still speak of the remarkable influence he had on their lives. What remains deeply in the hearts of so many of us were his gentle and sincere caring words. In his treasured letters, he spoke to us about what seemed like the little things but often gave hope and encouragement when it was very much needed. He simply loved people. A busy man, his later years were plagued by severe illness, but the letters kept coming. I slept very little during those two nights in Miriam’s home. Hours spent reading those letters and listening for his sweet caring voice to guide me today.
The children of Miriam and Larry and of Ayelet and Rabbi Aharon Batt a”h, and the children’s children – all living quality, productive, meaningful lives in the Land of Israel! The Batt legacy continues.
Our last Shabbat was spent in Alon Shvut, one of my favorite communities in Gush Etzion, with our dear friends Rika and Zalman Deutsch and Rika’s indomitable mother, Muriel Goldman. The Finkelstein/Goldman family had arrived in Hartford in the 1880s and left its strong imprint on the greater Hartford Jewish community. How proud they would be of their outstanding generations living in the land of Israel. Delicious food, wonderful company, scintilating words of Torah and zemirot filled the Shabbat atmosphere. We davened in the smaller synagogue, more than 800 of us – kulanu k’echod, all of us as one.
Upon our return to Jerusalem, whom did we meet in the Old City but Rabbi Mordechai Weiss, principal of the Bess & Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford, and his animated group of graduating eighth graders, completing their exciting Israeli trip with one last visit to the Kotel.
Our last day fell on Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day. The Old City, the Kotel plaza, the streets of Jerusalem were all filled with thousands of men, women, and lots of children strolling, marching, celebrating. A day of awe and thanksgiving for this, our eternal land. For me, an added prayer of thanksgiving for having been able to celebrate my 80th birthday in our land with our people.
Sally Gelb lives in West Hartford where she is a member of the Young Israel of West Hartford.