By Howard Blas
NEW HAVEN – After living in New Haven for more than 40 years, David Dalnekoff and his parents, Stanley and Donna Dalnekoff, boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight at Newark Airport on Dec. 29, and headed off to their new home in Jerusalem.
It wasn’t surprising. The Dalnekoff family – which also includes two adult children – have always had deep ties to Israel. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Stanley moved to Israel in 1963, where he worked as an accountant. Some time later, he moved to the United States to take care of his parents, then returned to Israel with his wife Donna, who had recently received a PhD from Yale University in comparative literature and had taken a position at Tel Aviv University teaching English literature and comparative literature. The Dalnekoffs returned to the States after three years with the intention of returning to Israel – but the Yom Kippur War broke out and David was born.
The couple then opened a travel agency in New Haven, which they operated for many years. After retiring from the travel business, Stanley started Heritage Video. He hopes to continue his video work in Israel. Likewise, Donna has been asked by her travel agency to service her clients from Israel.
In addition, the Dalnkekoffs were very involved in community life in New Haven. Stanley remains the only person to have served as president of the Westville Synagogue three times, and he served for many years as chairman of the board of the Elizabeth Ives School for Special Children.
The Dalnekoffs always wanted to return to Israel, but it wasn’t possible until now. Quips Stanley, “Aliyah is easy – I have done it many times!”
David, who is developmentally disabled and works at the Hopkins School in food services, and over the summer, delivers mail and packages at Camp Ramah in Massachusetts, has been to Israel four or five times. He says he has been considering aliyah since 1996. In the days before his departure, he thought ahead to his new life in Israel, wondering whether it will be safe to ride his bike in Jerusalem; whether he will have to adjust his diet to suit Israeli food; whether he will find a job; and perhaps most of all, where he will find a shul, noting that “It will be hard to choose a shul since there are lots to choose from!”
David, who attends minyan at the Westville Synagogue morning, afternoon and evening, frequently leading services, was also worried about his shul, the Westville Synagogue, which has been so central to his life.
“Who will they have for minyan when we go on aliyah?” Stanley wondered. “David and I are 20% of the daily minyan!”
“David has been one of the most reliable minyan attendees since I have come to the community four years ago,” said Rabbi Fred Hyman, the shul’s spiritual leader. “We always can count on David. One of my greatest memories of David is when he led shacharis on Shabbat morning of his 40th birthday party. He was very proud.”
That morning, Rabbi Hyman delivered a d’var Torah in which he noted, “We can all learn an important lesson about life from David and Parshat Noach. Noah’s name in Hebrew means ‘rest’ or ‘chill;” David is always smiling and chill – we can all learn from David!”
“When I think of David I think of the determination and steadfastness that he brings to all he does,” says another minyan ‘regular,’ Dr. Dov Langenauer. “He has been a positive example to all of us on how to cope despite inherent difficulties. It has been a pleasure and an inspiration having him in the community.”
Yvonne White, David’s supervisor at Camp Ramah, praised David for his dogged determination. “David was determined to make every bit of his summer experiences meaningful. This year, he arrived at camp with the goal of learning Hebrew. He took advantage of the Camp Ulpan and received individual lessons twice weekly. David dedicated time each morning and evening to reviewing Hebrew lessons, and even learned to use an iPad in order to listen to recordings of his lessons. It was thrilling to watch his confidence with the language grow.”
In their final weeks in New Haven, the Dalknekoffs were feted at several community events. But the extent to which they – especially David – will be missed, was best summed up when Stanley went to Hopkins School to inform David’s boss of their plans to move to Israel. David’s boss became teary eyed and asked Stanley, “Why can’t you go to Israel and leave David here?”
Howard Blas is a freelance writer living in New York City, formerly of New Haven.
CAP: David Dalnekoff (center) and his parents, Stanley and Donna Dalnekoff.