Getting to Know Us…An Interview with Donna Grushka

Thanks to volunteer, Irv Cantor, we present this second installment of our new “Getting to Know Us” blog series which began in December with an interview with Executive Director, David London. Watch this space for further articles acquainting you with the many members, employees, volunteers and donors who make AACI the place for English-Speakers in Israel.


Interview with Donna Grushka Donna at AACI  early 2000's

The world-famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The gentle force of her words can be heard in the  recollections and thoughts of Donna Grushka, an AACI volunteer. She has a  unique history with AACI, and we appreciate her taking the time to share her  insights with our blog readers.

Donna, thank you for agreeing to respond to our questions. Let’s start with how you came to AACI.

Let me start before that. In 1976, my husband Eli, who was born in Israel, was teaching chemistry at the State University of NY at Buffalo, when he received an invitation to be a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were here for nine months and I fell in love with the country, fell in love with being here. We went back to Buffalo, right into the Great Blizzard of 1977, which was a shock after being in Israel for nine months! We returned to Israel in the Spring of 1978. Eli is still teaching at Hebrew University, and is also busy with research and consulting.

I took an intensive ulpan and worked as a research assistant at Hebrew University and elsewhere. In the spring of 1983 I was looking for a new job. I had the idea that I wanted to do something with English-speaking olim, but I didn’t know exactly what. I saw an ad for a temporary job as a counselor at AACI. At the time, I knew very little about AACI.  My husband was an Israeli – if there was something to be done involving forms or procedures, my husband was my “in house” expert. But I responded to the ad, and even though I was not a social worker and had never been a direct service provider, AACI decided to take a chance with me. Luckily, the temporary job became permanent.  I was always grateful for that decision: working at AACI was the job of a lifetime for me!

I was intensively trained, which is important to note. AACI counselors are given in-depth training in order to accumulate the knowledge needed to be effective.

What is your academic background?

I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. But I knew already when I came to Israel that I did not want to work in the politically confrontational field of labor relations in Israel.

Although you’re not a counselor now, do you see a difference between being a counselor now and what you did as a counselor in the 1980’s?

Yes, there’s a definite difference. The organization was larger then, and there were more counselors. I became the third full-time counselor in the Jerusalem office. We were booked several weeks in advance with appointments. There were many new olim coming to the Jerusalem area. In the absorption center in Mevasseret Tzion, we had 50 families from North America. And in Beit Canada in East Talpiot, we also had about 50 singles and couples and young families. We were very busy, and, of course, there was no email or internet.

Visiting the absorption centers to greet olim and to provide counseling services was a very special part of AACI in those days. Volunteers went with the counselors to provide a personal connection. New neighborhoods were opening up, like Har Nof, and parts of Beit Shemesh, and AACI sent counselors to those areas to assist new immigrants.

Today, the counseling staff is much smaller. People have new resources, and sometimes rely on online information. However, when people have questions about their personal situation, they still need the individualized, specific hands-on advice and assistance that can only be provided by a real live person in a one-on-one setting. This is one of the most valuable benefits AACI provides to our members – to make an appointment and see a counselor in our offices (Sheila Bauman in Jerusalem, Miriam Green in the South Branch in Beer Sheva, Yanina Musnikow in the Central Branch in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and the North Branch in Haifa and other locations; and Helen Har Tal for employment counseling.)

None of us had computers in those days. We didn’t even have typewriters. I remember a counselors’ meeting where we were asked what our vision was for AACI. I responded that I had a dream that each counselor would have a computer on their desk. It seemed very far-fetched at the time.

Did your relationships with new olim extend beyond the initial weeks and months?

In many cases they did. People would come back months later, saying that they had accomplished certain goals and now wanted to move on to another set of goals. Education issues with children might not emerge until months later.

How long did you have this role? 

I began as a counselor in April 1983 and continued for about ten years. In 1993, I became the Assistant Director for the Jerusalem branch of AACI. There was a full time Director at the time just for the Jerusalem branch. The National office was separate. We shared the same building in the Talbieh neighborhood, with “downstairs” meaning National, and “upstairs” meaning the Jerusalem branch.

What were your responsibilities?

As Assistant Director, my main focus was on programs. I filled in for the Director when she was not around. I managed the production of the Jerusalem Voice magazine. I dealt with some outside organizations, and worked intensively with the Seniors group, as well as coordinating many of the volunteer activities such as the front desk.

What types of programs was AACI running back then?

We had presentations on the rights of olim, for example. The art class that is given today is a twenty-year-old program. There were music programs in the evenings. The old building was smaller, so we could not run many programs during the day. The Wednesday morning program for seniors (RAPS) is also one that has been in existence for a long time.

One of my most enjoyable activities at that time was working with the seniors. We had a nice garden outside our building. We had an end of season luncheon there every June.

Also, we held large yard sales in the garden area where we could accommodate 70 or 80 sellers and regularly attracted several thousand buyers.

The travel program started in the late 80’s and grew to the significant program that it is today.

For how long were you in this management role and what did you do after leaving?

I was in that role for about four or five years, and then at the end of 1997 I said I had to get out of the “ivory tower”. With some trepidation, I left AACI. I did a bunch of other things. I spent a year working for Birthright, when it was just a dream. It was a very small, modest role, similar to a secretary. The program was just being created, there was no real infrastructure. It was fun to support the dreamers.

After a short time working for Hadassah Women in Israel, I worked with Evie Weidenbaum, who had been the Director of the AACI Jerusalem office while I was at AACI, and who had become a close friend. We set up a small company which provided support services to families with elderly parents or spouses needing care. Then in 2004, I went to work, on a temporary basis that stretched into five years, for the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation. My job was to translate their public relations materials from Hebrew into English. I loved that job. The exposure to Jewish history and tradition was so interesting.  And after those five years, I retired.

When did you come back to AACI as a volunteer? How did that occur?

I have been active at AACI as a volunteer for about ten years, doing more and more as the years passed. Currently, I am Co-Chair of the Jerusalem Branch of AACI. Belle Fine-Cohen and I have just begun our second terms as Co-Chairs. We work closely with the AACI staff and other volunteers on programs and what goes on in this building. We sit on the National Board and also focus on cooperation with other organizations.

Towards the end of the ceremonyFor almost ten years, I have also been the Co-Chair of the National Memorial Ceremony that takes place in the Fall. I think that we, as the North American community in Israel, owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow countrymen who have come here and fallen, as members of the IDF or in other positions of service, or as victims of terror. We owe it to them, to remember them, to honor their memory once a year. So I have helped organize the ceremony along with my Co-Chair, Rabbi Jay Karzen.

On a totally different note, for three years I have been in charge of the art gallery shows in our building. It’s been a fun part of my work here, because I love seeing the artwork on the walls around our offices.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

And I must mention the Children & Teen Art Exhibition which has attracted entries from kids around the country – English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and even international students.

I have worked on the amutot, the independent funds associated with AACI. Perhaps you are not aware, but AACI has three independent funds, including one that gives very small scholarships to school children in Jerusalem.

What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in these types of roles?

I think the essential skill is being able to get along with people who are very different from one another, and to be able to convince them to do things that need to be done. As a volunteer, you do not have authority to compel cooperation, so you have to use skills that convince and persuade.

What do you value most about the work you do and what AACI represents?

What I have always felt about AACI, and it is now thirty years that I am associated with the organization, is that we bridge the gaps between individuals. What do I mean by that? I mean that in this organization we have people from almost every part of the spectrum – politically, religiously, or any dimension you can think of. We are a diverse group. AACI looks to what unites us, as English-speakers in Israel. This is aside from all of the good work that we do, the support to olim, and the outreach to the community.

Does anything stand out as particularly rewarding?

This is not my project, so I cannot claim credit for it, but it reflects how special AACI can be. There was a project that Murray Safran z”l began over 20 years ago when there was the large Russian aliyah. He began a tutoring project to match up English speakers with these olim who needed to learn English, mostly for work. It was a huge project, and he did it as a volunteer. He did not have a computer – he had index cards with hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of students. It was a beautiful example of how AACI members reached out to the community.

It is rewarding when things you did many years ago have become the standard way of doing things for many other organizations. For example, AACI initiated a “Yom Aliyah”, bringing representatives from different government offices, from banks, and from the kupot cholim to talk to new olim individually, in one place at one time. Today, other organizations now consider this activity as the default for providing olim with needed information. I remember organizing the first one, when people came to the old building – some representatives even sat outside in the garden.

In the early 90’s we were all searching for ways to reach out to the Ethiopian olim. We invited Ethiopian children from the absorption center to come to a Hannuka party at AACI. We thought perhaps 20 or 30 children would come. Close to 100 excited kids came, many of whom spoke little Hebrew and obviously no English. It was a bit chaotic! But they sat on the floor next to North American olim children – and we lit candles, and sang songs.  I was very proud to be part of AACI that day.

During the Gulf War, when people were staying in their apartments, AACI volunteers living near the office, on their own volition, came in to the office and made phone calls to members who were living alone, to make sure they were okay, if they needed training on their gas masks, if they needed windows sealed with tape, if they needed medications from their kupat cholim, or had other concerns.

Let’s turn to the challenges. What challenges confront AACI as it supports its community of English-speakers in Israel?

I think the biggest challenge is always the financial one. We simply need more money to do all of the good things we want to do.

With the appearance of new organizations over the years that are addressing aliyah and klitah, we need to address our position relative to those organizations and what makes us unique. We need to communicate what we offer that cannot be found elsewhere.

We don’t have a timeline for our services. We don’t walk away when a new oleh has become “settled”. Yet many of our members, after two or three years, when they feel comfortable, let their membership lapse. When we contact them, we try to let them know that there are still many opportunities to work together, and that we understand that Aliyah Never Stops.  Our message is:  “We need you. We need your input. We need your time as a volunteer. We need your financial support.” It is interesting that we hear from members years later, when their circumstances change or they become elderly. The issues surrounding growing old in Israel can be difficult ones. We need to maintain an interested and supportive membership during that gap between growing comfortable in Israel and growing old in Israel.

Another challenge is to grow the number of young people to our organization. The J-Town Playhouse Theater is an effort in that direction. There is tremendous potential for young people to make a major contribution to AACI and support English-Speakers in Israel. And they can have a lot of fun at the same time. We need to develop ideas that will attract more young olim to AACI.

Are there parts of your work and volunteering that you would describe as fun?

I am not sure I am going to answer that question directly, but there is an important point I want to make. I think one of the nicest parts of being at AACI has been the friendships that I have made over the years. Some of these friends are former colleagues, and some are people who were “my” olim when I was a counselor. It is very rewarding – personally – when people say to me “ I remember when you were my aliyah counselor and you helped me settle in Israel”. To have helped people fulfill a dream is a wonderful feeling.

In the last year there were two events that brought together people who have worked for AACI in different eras. One was a birthday party for the former director of klitah and national executive director, Olga Rachmilevitch. A group of about 25 former employees went up to Netanya, where Olga lives, to celebrate. It was a great reunion. Second, AACI recently honored two people who have been working for the organization for 25 years, Carole Kremer and Helen Har Tal. Again, people spanning many years came together in this building to honor them. AACI has been extremely lucky that, despite modest salaries, the people who work at AACI have always been dedicated, caring, serious professionals. It has been a privilege to have known and worked with them.

What about your life outside AACI? Hobbies, interests…can you describe them?

My husband and I have been blessed with three wonderful daughters. One lives in the States and teaches as the University of Virginia. The other two live in Tel Aviv. We have three grandchildren, two of them in the States. Family is very important to us.

My husband and I are antique enthusiasts. We are especially interested in Israeli antiques and Judaica. We have collections of different things, for example old chanukiot. Not the fancy silver ones that came out of Europe, but Israeli ones from the 50’s and 60’s. We have old newspapers, and some framed newspaper stories for particular milestones, like the morning of May 14, 1948 saying the country would be established.

And we love Israeli art. We go to auctions and enjoy them. We don’t buy the big, famous names, but enjoy what we have. We also like going to concerts, theater, and the opera.  One more thing: we love watching sports on television, especially winter sports such as skiing and ice skating, as well as tennis and baseball.

Donna, thank you for taking the time to share your rich history at AACI with our readers, along with your ideas and insights. You should be an inspiration to readers to become part of the AACI family, to be members, to be volunteers, and to sponsor the remarkable work of AACI. Thanks, again.

To our readers, below are links to the services and programs mentioned by Donna during the interview:

Employment Counseling
Art Class
National Memorial Ceremony
Art Gallery Shows

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv,  Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)  Talpiot, Jerusalem


Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.



AACI Annual Memorial Ceremony October 14, 2013

Please join us on Monday, October 14, 2013, for the AACI Annual Memorial Ceremony on this, the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.

We are honored to welcome this year’s keynote speaker, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Yisrael Aumann, father of Shlomo z’l who was a tank gunner killed in 1982 in the war in Lebanon.

Here is a video clip from last year’s ceremony.

This is the first year in a long time that we are blessed to have no NEW names to add to the Memorial Wall. May this be a tradition that we can get used to in years to come.

for more information about this year’s ceremony, or to reserve space on a bus from Jerusalem to the Sha’ar Hagai Memorial site, call 02-566-1181

Click here for more details.

Click here to support the AACI Memorial Program

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

We Remember: Dan Alon Speaks about Surviving the Munich Massacre

As the world looks forward to the 30th Summer Olympics beginning in London at the end of this month, Israel looks back. Back to the autumn of 1972. That is when the 20th Olympic Games, meant to be a celebration of internationalism and ethics in sport, were turned into a tragedy. The games were held in Munich that year, the first time Germany had hosted the event since the Nazi era. As a result, the Israeli team was on edge – and rightfully so, as it turned out. In the early hours of September 5, Palestinian terrorists calling themselves the Black September movement invaded two of the apartments that housed the Israeli athletes and attempted to capture them. When the Israelis resisted, two were murdered and one escaped. The remaining nine were taken hostage and eventually killed by the terrorists.

The attackers ignored a third apartment with an additional five Israeli team members, who were awakened by the noise of gunshots and shouting. As bullets blasted through their wall from the shooting next door, they discussed trying to fight the terrorists with the Israeli marksmen’s pellet guns. However they had no idea how many enemies or what kind of weapons they would be up against. In the end, they decided to escape via the balcony. All members of this group survived.

Dan Alon, an Israeli fencer and one of the residents of this third apartment was silent about his horrific experience for over thirty-five years. Although permanently traumatized, he went on to marry and have children. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film “Munich,” about the aftermath of the massacre, prompted Dan finally to begin speaking up about his story. Alon has just released a book, Munich Memoir:  Dan Alon’s Untold Story of Survival.

Now you can meet Dan Alon in person and hear him describe what happened almost 40 years ago and what happened afterwards. He will be speaking at AACI on Tuesday July 17, at a benefit evening for AACI’s AACI Memorial Ceremony and Forest which commemorates over 300 fallen in the IDF or as victims of terror, including David Berger, an American-Israeli Olympic weightlifting athlete killed in Munich.

So often, in the wake of tragedy in Israel, we concentrate on the lost, rather than on the survivors. Yet Dan Alon and others like him have a vital message to convey – that Israel is here to stay and even terrorists cannot extinguish this country’s proud spirit.

IN REMEMBRANCE: Sign a petition for one minute of silence at the 2012 London Olympics in memory of the murdered 11 Israeli team members.



Date: July 17, 2012  Reception: 18:30   Program: 19:00

Admission to this Fundraising Event: 100 NIS / AACI members 75 NIS

Where:  AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center, Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2, Talpiot    MAP

Buses # 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop  at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
For information click here and to register for the event click here , or call (02)566-1181.

A Marathon and a Memorial

The Marathon

Tami Gross, originally from Elkins Park,  Pennsylvania, and now living in Weaverville, NC, arrived in Jerusalem last Thursday, just in time for Purim. But Tami is here for a more serious purpose than enjoying the recent lighthearted holiday. She is preparing, together with her 22-year-old oleh chadash son, Judah, currently an ulpan student, to run the Jerusalem Marathon this week. Tami’s parents, who made aliyah a month ago, will join them – at least in spirit – by walking the 4K section of the race. This will be Tami’s second year in the Jerusalem Marathon. After running a number of marathons in the US, she received an informational package from El Al when the JM was opened up to international entrants. As a lifelong strong Zionist, she knew that she had to participate in this particular race. Tami is especially motivated because she is running in memory of an outstanding oleh.  Michael Levin, z”l, made aliyah from Pennsylvania – alone – at the youthful age of 19 and enlisted in the IDF paratroopers. He lived in Jerusalem for a time with two other young soldiers. In early 2006, the army granted him a special discharge to go and visit his family back in America. When Michael heard that war had broken out on the Lebanon border, he cut short his vacation in order to return to Israel and fight for his country. Three days later, on August 1, 2006, the 22-year-old hero fell in battle.

As a close friend of Michael’s parents, Tami supports their tremendous efforts to memorialize their son by improving conditions for chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers), who serve Israel without the family support system so taken for granted by their comrades. A number of donors are contributing to the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center in recognition of her run. The pledges she has collected so far this year already match 2011’s total contributions … before she has even run the marathon (!), and are earmarked for  the purchase of a van for the Center. Our AACI interviewer had three burning questions for Tami. One was how she feels while running the Jerusalem Marathon. She responded that, in an American marathon, she gets into “the zone” and is completely focused on putting one foot in front of the other. In Jerusalem, however, it is very different: She often becomes teary-eyed while running, as she experiences the outpouring of love and support for the runners and beholds Yerushalayim’s ancient vistas. The second question was what we, as individual Americans and Canadians, and other English-speakers, in Israel, can do for our chayalim bodedim. Tami encourages families to “adopt” these soldiers, providing help with finding an apartment and moving in, a warm place to go for a home-cooked meal, or a relaxing Shabbat. (Editor’s note:  offer to do a load of laundry for your chayal and let them sleep!)

Finally, how does a Jewish mother feel at the prospect Tami is facing, of having a child in the IDF? I think she speaks for all of us when she describes her mixed emotions: “worried and proud.”

The Memorial

Michael Levin, z”l, is honored on the AACI Memorial Wall, which bears the names of over 300 Americans or Canadians and their immediate family who died either serving in the Israel Defense Forces or its predecessors, or as victims of terror. Every year a Memorial Service is held at the site in the AACI Memorial Forest on a hilltop above the Sha’ar Hagai Junction to unveil the new names and remember the the fallen. Each year we pray that next year there will be a ceremony, but no new names added to the Wall. The moving ceremony is attended by the bereaved families, scores of young people from the various groups which bring students from abroad, and representatives of the American and the Canadian embassies in Israel.

The AACI believes that the moving stories of those who died in the line of duty will resonate with young people to inspire the next generation of leadership, who will, in turn, keep alive the narratives of the Canadians and Americans who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.

AACI would like to expand this sort of experience and share it with more young people in more places with the implementation of a new program. The proposed program – developed by leading educators and implemented by a coordinator training youth facilitators to work with each organization – will be aimed at English-speaking young adults in Israel on educational or volunteer programs, as well as local youth movements. It will concentrate on the personal stories of the individual fallen who are listed on our Memorial Wall and give the background of the specific period or war in which they fell. In addition, we will develop a website as an educational tool to memorialize and accompany the program. We are seeking donors to pursue this project. Click here to learn more about the program or to make a contribution.

AACI-Dr. Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center
37 Pierre Koenig, corner of Poalei Tzedek Talpiot, Jerusalem Phone: +972-2-566-1181 Fax:    +972-2-566-1186 Email:

“Every Person has a Name” AACI Annual Memorial Ceremony – Monday, Oct. 25 at 3 pm

(editors note:  please be sure to scroll all the way down to see the text of the remarks made at this year’s ceremony by AACI’s own Reesa Stone as well as the Barbara Sofer’s keynote address. Todah rabah and kol hakavod to both of them!)

“You came here because your heart was tied to this nation and you bound up your life with that of all of Israel.” Brig. Gen. Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Chief Rabbi of the IDF, speaking at a yahrtzeit ceremony for new immigrant lone soldier Michael Levine z”l, July 18, 2010


Those of us who live in Israel are accustomed to memorial days and ceremonies. In addition to personal observance of yahrtzeits for family members and friends, there are designated days in our calendar when we stop as a nation to commemorate the deaths of our leaders, soldiers, victims of terror and those who perished in the Shoah.

As immigrants, although we chose to come on aliyah and are aware of the perils of living in Israel, it is still difficult to accept that tragedies are a part of life here, especially when faced with a personal loss. AACI provides support for bereaved families and friends at the annual AACI Memorial Ceremony by honoring the memories of those who have sacrificed their lives while in service to the State of Israel or as victims of terror.

This year, the AACI Memorial Ceremony will take place on Monday, October 25, 2010, 17 Heshvan 5771 at 3 pm at the AACI Memorial Forest.

The AACI Memorial Forest was established in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund near Sha’ar Ha’gai, the site of difficult battles waged in the War of Independence. The first trees were planted at the site following the Six-Day War in 1967 to become a living memorial, connecting those who fell for their country with the land they loved.
Established in 1983, the annual Memorial Ceremony pays tribute to the more than 300 North Americans to date who have fallen in Israel’s wars, defensive actions and terrorist attacks. Each name is inscribed on the Memorial Wall of the Americans and Canadians in Israel, beginning with two Americans who fell defending Tel Chai in 1920 and continuing through 2010.

Volunteer Judy Ann Cohen has been involved in organizing the Memorial Ceremony for about 15 years. She noted that the ceremony usually attracts about 300 people from all over the country.

“The AACI ceremony in English is important to Anglo-Saxons…it speaks to them and many feel that it has more meaning for them than many official government or army ceremonies,” she explained.


This year’s ceremony, led by Memorial Committee co-chairmen Donna Grushka and Rabbi Jay Karzen, will include greetings from the leadership of AACI and Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF), the lighting of a memorial torch, prayers for the State of Israel and the IDF soldiers, laying of wreaths by the Consul General of the US Embassy, IDF, Hadassah International President Nancy Falchuk, and representatives of North American youth programs (including Young Judaea and Aardvark), an address by keynote speaker Barbara Sofer, and the reciting of El Moleh Rachamim and kaddish. The program will conclude with the singing of Hatikvah.

At the ceremony, the memory of Steve Averbach ז”ל will be honored and his name added to the Memorial Wall. Averbach made aliyah from New Jersey as a teenager. He served three years in the army and then joined the anti-terrorism unit of the Israeli police where he served for 22 years. On May 18, 2003 Averbach was riding the #6 bus in Jerusalem when a terrorist detonated his explosives. The bomb killed seven people and seriously wounded 20 others, including Averbach, who was permanently paralyzed from the neck down. This past summer, after seven years enduring hospitals and rehabs, Averbach succumbed to his injuries and died at the age of 44. He is survived by his wife Julie, four sons, Tamir, Dvir, Sean, Adam, his parents, David and Maida, his brother Michael and his sister Eileen Sapadin. (A moving tribute to Steve Averbach z”l can be found in Haaretz’s Anglo-File on Friday, Oct. 15, 2010.)

The theme of the talk by keynote speaker Barbara Sofer will be “There’s No Need to Airbrush Our Heroes.” Sofer is the Israel Director of Public Relations and Communications for Hadassah, and a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post. She is the author of several books and a well-known speaker on behalf of Israel and Zionist causes.

Bus transportation will be available to the Memorial Ceremony from Jerusalem. For additional information, phone AACI, 02-566-1181.

An organized trip is planned for members from around the country to visit the Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve and will conclude with the AACI Memorial Ceremony. Further details can be found on the AACI website. For registration, call the AACI office: 02-566-1181.

For those who would like to visit the Memorial Forest on other days of the year, AACI is now offering to supply a volunteer who will meet you, drive you to the site and guide you, including a visit to the nearby JNF overlook describing the 1948 battles to break the blockade of Jerusalem and Mahal Memorial. If you are interested, please call the AACI Jerusalem office (tel: 02-5617151) or Judy Cohen (02-6514392).

Yihi Zichron Baruch –may the memories of the North Americans who gave their lives for the State of Israel serve as a blessing to all of us. We look forward to a year when no new names will need to be added on the Memorial Wall.


with thanks to Reesa Stone:


To the Averbach family and their friends, to the families of the fallen, members of AACI, members of Young Judea and the Aardvark youth programs, honored guests, friends,

Jewish life has the unique characteristic in that it is centered on the community. We are not simply individuals living our lives as well as possible, but we live our lives within a community, responsible for each other. As our sages tell us כל היהודים ערבים זה לזה all Jews are responsible one for the other. In ancient times, the Kohen Gadol would pray in the Temple on Yom Kippur and ask for forgiveness for the entire nation. Today, as individuals, we continue this tradition to pray for the entire community. On Yom Kippur in the Al Chait prayers we recite, “We have sinned, Forgive us, Let us atone.”

There is always a feeling of community. We are never isolated. We do not celebrate our simchas alone, we need a minyan at weddings, brit milahs or for any full prayer service. We are not expected to stand alone in our troubles. When we pray for an individual’s health, we ask that the patient be healed among all the sick of Israel. Nor do we mourn alone. To recite the kaddish – the mourner’s prayer – one must be surrounded by a minyan. When we comfort a mourner we say “may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” We share a common bond. One person’s happiness is everyone’s happiness. A single tragedy is a tragedy for the whole community.

The Jewish people share both history and destiny. Nowhere is this shared destiny more evident than here in Israel. When the State of Israel was founded almost 63 years ago, it was to gather together all of Am Yisrael, not just for those living here.

The English speaking community of Israel as represented by AACI is also unique. Of all the communities that have gathered in Israel, the English speaking community is one of the few who came out of pure choice; for love of the Land and love of the people.

All of us have chosen to make Israel our home, to throw in our lot with our brothers and sisters from around the world; to share in the destiny of our people. With that choice, comes obligation, to Israel in general, and to our own English speaking community in particular. We celebrate our shared simchas, and we are also here to help and support in the darkest moments.

So many of our people, in their prime, have given their lives to ensure the freedom and liberty of Israel. So many of our sons and daughters, whose names are etched on this memorial, have fallen in defense of our country, our Land and our people.

To our sorrow, this year we have added a new name to our list of fallen heroes; that of Steve Averbach. Steve spent his life in service of his people, protecting them to the best of his ability. His loss, and the loss of all those inscribed here, is deeply and keenly felt by our entire community.

May their memories be for a blessing.


our thanks to award winning author, Barbara Sofer:

No part of our statehood was won without sacrifice. Remember our names forever, goes the song. We are here today to do that, to stop and pause in our busy lives, to remember, to weep and to rise to our feet in applause and appreciation. Mostly, we are aware of the sacrifice of all the Isaacs who walked the road, yahad with all of us to the dreaded altar. Lovers, spouses, siblings, friends, parents, grandparents, children, I stand humbly before you to honor our dead.
I remember a time when I was a camp counselor in Connecticut when a plane flew so low overhead that I became terrified that it was an enemy attack. Irrational, I know. No one had fought on Connecticut soil since the British blasted the coast in 1812, and yet I can remember the sound of the plane today and the fear. I was 15. The lake was full of little kids. It was for me a moment like Holden Caulfield’s in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a realization that there was no way to protect them. As an Israeli, I’ve often had that feeling. Everyone we love – afraid. A spouse, a sister, a child is vulnerable. Here in Israel, as the late Steve Averbach used to say, “we’re all moving targets.”

When I was honored to be asked to speak at the memorial ceremony for the more than 300 whose names are listed on the Memorial Wall – North Americans, AACI associate members and their families who have fallen in service to the State of Israel or as terror victims – I couldn’t have imagined that Steve, who died on June 3, would be among those we stand here today to salute. In the seven years since Steve was mortally injured in a bombing, he overcame many health crises. Afterward he would be back, flashing his irresistible Cheshire cat smile, as he inspired a student group or raised funds to assist other victims of terror.

Steve, you ably represent both the soldiers and the civilians who are named on this wall. You served first as a soldier and then on the anti-terror police force. As a civilian, you taught people like me to shoot and defend ourselves. You were injured, gun in hand. For the seven years afterward, facing life as a quadriplegic, you displayed a soldier’s valor.

But Steve, if you were sitting here right now, you’d be on your guard about having me describe you with hyperboles. Stop the balderdash, you might say. Except you’d use another word that starts with B. “Don’t turn me into some kind of saint,” you would say.

Steve, I don’t want to airbrush you. American psychologist Carol Gilligan has warned us that the moment we idealize people, we distance ourselves from them, erase their existence as flesh-and-blood human beings whom we loved for who they were. We must continue to love them for their goodness, but also their faults, their high-mindedness but also their peccadilloes.

So for the record, you were more comfortable with a stein of beer in Mike’s Place than you were in a Talmud class. Your nickname was Steve Guns. Your mother made you apologize to a neighborhood builder because you vandalized his concrete foundation. You were angry that he’d uprooted trees. You told me that you if you hadn’t moved to Israel and channeled your restless energy into the IDF, you would have wound up in jail back in New Jersey.

I met you first on May 18, 2003, in the intensive care unit of Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem I had never seen anyone like you. Rambo was the only word that came to mind. The No. 6 bus driver stopped suddenly for a religious man running after them from the bushes. You noticed the man’s unshaven cheeks and the bulges in his jacket. You drew and cocked your gun, but the terrorist’s finger was already on the bomb trigger. Seven persons were killed immediately, 20 including you were injured.

You’d caused the terrorist, whose mission was to murder tens of men, women and children as the bus filled, to explode prematurely. Many passengers owe you their lives. The concussive wave of the blast savaged your lungs. A single ball bearing lodged between C4 and C5 in your back, the critical vertebrae that control upper and lower body mobility.

SEVERAL DAYS after you were hospitalized, Rebecca Lipkin, the producer of ABC’sNightline, phoned me with a request to find an Israeli and a Palestinian to talk about the road map. Two women physicians, one from Nablus, one from Efrat, agreed to talk. Both happened to be taking care of you. Yes, they could film you, you agreed, but you wanted to talk. Before millions of viewers, you protected the good name of Israel from an intensive care unit.

At first you wanted to die. Pull the plug, you ordered your parents. But five hard years later, when I asked you at your son Sean’s bar mitzva, you said you were “happy to be here. Totally.” You had become closer to your sons – Tamir, Dvir, Sean, Adam – although you regretted the limitations on what you could do for them, and of course, the burden you had placed on Julie.

You didn’t regret your decision to live in Israel.

For most of us, born in North America, living here, bringing up our children here, exposing them to the dangers of defending this country and confronting the terrorism was a heavy decision. Although we accept ideologically the equal responsibility of all Jews to defend this land, there’s no way to erase the knowledge that it was a choice.

In Building a Life, Alex Singer, whose name is inscribed on this memorial wall, addresses the weight of knowing he volunteered for military service while the sabra soldiers were drafted. “I spend the time thinking whether I made the right choice,” wrote home Alex. And to his Grandma Jean, Alex described the sensual hills with their curves and crevices. “Whenever we enter the hills, we move like marines, snort, pant and sweat, when we should be lying under an olive tree, drawing and sleeping. Oh well.”

Steve, you knew Alex Singer. You always attended his memorial ceremony. It was you who noticed that Alex was buried right next to his buddy Benjamin Levy. When Alex was killed preventing terrorists from penetrating the northern border on September 15, 1987, Paula Rutstein, an American immigrant in Karmiel, was pregnant with her first sabra. She and her husband Hanoch named him Alex. Alex Rutstein is 22, about to go into the army after yeshiva study. I asked Paula why she named her son for Alex Singer. “Because he was a fellow American. Because he came here and served, and he didn’t have to.”

Nor did the famed Mickey Marcus. He had left the military and had a promising law career in the US. He was asked to recruit potential military leadership from among retired generals. When he couldn’t find any, he volunteered himself. I thought of you, Steve, as I read our fellow American Tzippora Porath’s monograph on him. Marcus was boisterous, a kibbitzer, a welterweight champion boxer, a hard drinker. Walter Winchell used to think he was Irish.

Col. David (Mickey) Marcus helped build the Burma Road and was involved in the jeep convoy that broke the siege to Jerusalem. A young woman in the Palmah was his jeep driver. “You know you could get killed in a war like this. What made you come here?”

The American thrust out his wrist and said: See these veins? The blood of Abraham flows through them. That’s what brought me here.” That’s what brought him and a thousand other volunteers to the fight for independence. Brought him and subsequent generations of real men and women, with faults enough, and idiosyncrasies enough. But with the blood of Abraham and Sarah.

On July 11, 1948, Marcus was fatally shot by an Israeli sentry, a new immigrant who had trouble recognizing the Hebrew password.

What was the password?

Haderech shelanu. The road is ours.

Indeed, the road is now ours to shape. With humility, we can only offer you our gratefulness and our pledge to remember you always. May their memories be for a blessing.