Elderly Artist, environmentalist, young families fly with Nefesh B’Nefesh

By Sergey Kadinsky
Issue of June 25, 2010/ 13 Tammuz, 5770
His life’s work is a portrayal of the alleys, people, and events of Jerusalem. On Tuesday, genre painter Itshak Holtz, 85, and his wife Gertrude, 82, took a one-way flight, making aliyah and taking up residence in the city of their dreams. With only a day to go before their flight, Gertrude Holtz was contacting banks, requesting address changes to reflect the move. In their apartment near the southern edge of Washington Heights, suitcases, boxes and portraits lined a narrow hallway. “It was once all Jewish, with a synagogue on every block. Some are churches today,” said Holtz. The nearest synagogue, the Washington Heights Congregation on West 179th Street, is almost a mile from their home. “We are at an age where we do not have to look for work,” said Holtz. “Our son and rabbi live there and they found us a nice apartment.” A world away from New York, Itshak Holtz’s portraits almost exclusively portray the residents and street scenes of the Meah Shearim and Geulah neighborhoods. “I grew up in Jerusalem, and it grew on me,” said Holtz. “I feel very strongly about the subject and landscape of Yerushalayim.” Born in Poland, Holtz made his first aliyah in 1935. After graduating from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, he married Gertrude, and they moved to New York in 1950, where he also studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. Following a year of study in Israel, their son Arie made aliyah, becoming a mechanical engineer. Much later, their rabbi, George Finkelstein, also made the move, becoming director of the sizable Heichal Shlomo synagogue in Jerusalem. “Whenever we come to Israel, we get together. The Finkelsteins are like a brother and sister to us,” said Holtz. “They found us the apartment.” The nonprofit Nefesh B’Nefesh provided the Holtzes with a free flight and assistance with the paperwork and bureaucracy that accompanies a move to Israel. Yale graduate Ben Bokser is among the younger people making aliyah this summer. Having already learned Hebrew in yeshiva, Bokser, 24, took classes in Arabic, another language widely spoken in Israel. “I had a year between college classes, and took classes at Givat Haviva,” said Bokser. The kibbutz, located outside Hadera, was founded in 1949 with the goal of promoting a shared society with the local Arab population. Bokser’s grandfather and namesake was Ben Zion Bokser, a noted Conservative rabbi in Forest Hills, Queens. Although he is unsure of his eventual career in Israel, he hopes that it will be related to environmental education. He will settle in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu outside Beit Shean. West Hempstead residents Rabbi David Schwartz and his wife Miriam also felt the pull of Israel, choosing to fly this summer for the sake of their three children. “If we don’t go now, the kids will be too old to acclimate properly to the new culture,” said Miriam Schwartz. “We want to give them the best opportunity to adjust.” Miriam was excited about aliyah from day one of her marriage, while her husband felt a stronger duty to strengthen the local Jewish community, as a teacher at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. In anticipation of a new career in Israel, Rabbi Schwartz took up computer programming. North Woodmere residents Stuart and Carol Katz already have a home in Hashmonaim. Once there, he should have no trouble identifying the local landmarks, having worked in the business of travel and tourism to Israel for over 20 years. Of their four children, the oldest already resides in Israel, one is studying there for a year, and the youngest, Dafna, 12, spent the past 4 summers at an Israeli summer camp. “Being smart is planning and thinking it through,” said Nefesh B’Nefesh spokesman Charley Levine. “We insist that people view Israel first so that it is a dream based on reality, with no false illusions.” Levine said that this summer is expected to be the organization’s busiest, with 3,000 prospective olim nationwide flying on three charters and a number of group flights. Approximately two-thirds are coming from the New York metropolitan region. “It’s mostly young working families, but we also have 450 singles in a group of their own,” said Levine. As the hours neared to his flight, Holtz continued to make arrangements for his paintings. “There’s so much to be done,” said Holtz. “The relaxing will come in Yerushalayim.”