By Larry Gordon

Ariana and Adam Muskat explained to their children that Israel is the home of the Jewish people. As Adam says, “This is our homeland and where we belong.”

The Muskats left for Israel this past Tuesday on the first Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight to Israel in almost two years (courtesy of COVID). Thank G-d, things are back in place. This was the first of a series of flights that will be leaving through September, ferrying hundreds of families and individuals making aliyah.

The Muskat children are ages 11, 8, and 4, and Adam says they have been involved in the process all along. They are a little nervous but very excited to make the move.

The family lived in West Hempstead. They have rented their home and are planning on moving into a home in Modi’in that is conveniently located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Adam, 37, is a real-estate asset manager and will continue working in the field, which will necessitate traveling back to New York about once per quarter. Ariana is a nurse practitioner who hopes to set up a telemedicine practice once she is settled in her new home in Israel.

Erika Weintraub, 18 years old, was living with her parents and siblings in Woodmere; she also made aliyah on Tuesday and will be joining the IDF as a lone soldier. She will be staying with cousins for a few weeks before joining the Garin Tzabar, an IDF program for young olim and lone soldiers, introducing them to their three-year commitment to serving in the IDF.

Erika attended Central–YU High School for Girls and spent the last year at a women’s division program of Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. She returned to New York in June, and this week she is returning to Israel as a new citizen and member of the IDF.

Her dream is to serve in an advanced search-and-rescue unit that includes scuba diving training and helicopter rescue evacuations. Short of that, at the beginning anyway, she hopes to be able to serve as a medic in a military unit. Once she gets settled in Israel, she will relocate to a kibbutz near Teverya.

Erika has a twin sister and an older sister in college in New York with a plan to make aliyah after graduating.

{IMG Nissim Pinto

{Caption Nissim Pinto

Nissim Pinto, 20, lives in Long Beach, New York, attended HALB elementary school, and was on the Tuesday-afternoon flight to Ben Gurion Airport. He is joining the Garin Tzabar program and will be housed in Ofakim near Gaza. His goal in the military is to serve as a combat medic, which is a competitive position in the IDF, so those seeking that kind of appointment must serve at their very best.

This is just a glimpse at a few of the hundreds making aliyah this week and through the rest of the summer. It’s an exciting time for those arriving, taking a giant step in the direction of making Israel home, and doing their part of dedicating their lives to a bigger, better, and more secure Jewish state.

Food For Thought

The cars in this community, as well as in other areas of the country, have been lining up on our main streets, waiting for boxes of free food to be loaded into their trunks. This system is an outgrowth of some necessary and emergency measures instituted as this country dealt with the pandemic and the resulting isolation, store closures, and inability to go to work.

But on the matter of food to feed a family and the constantly rising costs, that has been an issue for hundreds of families here in the Five Towns and surrounding communities, predating the pandemic.

The JCC food pantry in Cedarhurst is a hub of activity. I visited last week and spoke with employees and volunteers, and there is so much going on there.

“As far as the image of the Five Towns to the outside Jewish world,” says Executive Director Aaron Rosenfeld, “I think the lesson is that opulence can easily live side by side with need.” He adds that it is not about being poor, unemployed, or living with poverty. The fact is, Aaron says, Orthodox Jewish life is expensive after you calculate the larger family sizes and high tuitions.

“You can make $100,000 annually and still need help to make ends meet,” he says. That is where the JCC comes into the picture with what they refer to as their S.H.O.P., or Sustenance Hope Opportunities Place, another name for the food pantry.

Today the JCC of the Five Towns services 400 families on an ongoing basis and has over 800 families in their database whom they have helped at some point.

Rivkah Halpern is the onsite social worker who has day-to-day contact with clients at the Cedarhurst facility. We talked about what is commonly referred to as “food insecurity,” which can be translated in a variety of ways. From the outside it might be an unreasonable fear of not having enough food at any given time to feed oneself or a family. Sometimes there is a tinge of dysfunction that is combined with the need to know that there is an organization that will help with food assistance.

I met with Rivkah and with Allen Ganz, an old friend, and a volunteer at the food office, who pointed out they are always reaching out to the community for donations to keep the pantry well-stocked. That is especially vital as we head into the yom tov season.

Perhaps most importantly, service at the JCC is handled discreetly, with beneficiaries served anonymously. Rivkah Halpern points out that you do not need to apply to shop at the pantry but should call to make an appointment so that the flow of people is conducted in an orderly fashion.

The JCC also features an emergency cash fund; bills up to about $1,500 will be paid for crucial home services. Some reading this will react with surprise that this need exists in a community with a reputation for being mostly affluent. But the key word is “mostly.”

Someone has to be there to help the not-insignificant number of people who fall into the other category, whether it’s a permanent or temporary situation in which they find themselves. And that is why the JCC, their staff, and their volunteers are there. They are a comforting and important presence and a vital feature of what makes a good community like this a great one. 

Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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