Making aliya in their 80s, and just getting started

Despite the extra challenges of immigrating at an advanced age, new Israelis insist it’s never too late

A group of retirees gathers after arriving in Israel in August, part of an aliya trip organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh. (Photo credit: Nefesh B'Nefesh via JTA)
A group of retirees gathers after arriving in Israel in August, part of an aliya trip organized by Nefesh B'Nefesh. (Photo credit: Nefesh B'Nefesh via JTA)

MODI’IN (JTA) — Yakov and Moshet Pedagog’s living room, with its soft armchairs, air conditioning and panoramic view of central Israel’s hills, seems the perfect place for a couple in their 80s to exhale after long careers in education.

But Yakov, 85, and Moshet, 82, have no such plans.

“We’re not planning to relax,” said the American-born Yakov, who immigrated to Israel with the aliya organization Nefesh B’Nefesh in August with his wife of two years, moving to this Israeli city. As the former dean of a western Massachusetts community college, he and his wife, a physicist, hope to edit scientific papers jointly — all while learning Hebrew, staying active in the local Reform synagogue and working toward increased religious pluralism in Israel.

It would seem a tall order for Yakov, who in 1996 was living the American Jewish retiree’s dream: He and his first wife, who died seven years ago, had packed up their belongings in Massachusetts and moved to Boca Raton, Fla.

Pedagog had been active in Zionist groups such as the Zionist Organization of America since before Israel’s founding, even participating in a clandestine meeting in “a smoke-filled room” in New York City with Abba Eban, the late Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

“There was a meeting on Madison Avenue and they were looking for pilots,” he said. “They had a number of planes stashed away in an airfield in New Jersey and were looking for pilots to ferry them to Israel.”

‘When we met and got married,’ says 85-year-old Yakov Pedagog, ‘we realized how we both felt about Israel. I said, ‘If not now, when?’ ”

Pedagog did not fly any of the planes, and his career kept him in the United States even as he remained a passionate Zionist. Then he met Moshet.

Soviet-born, she had followed her son at age 47 to America — although even at that time she wanted to make aliya. “My motherly instincts won,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to lose my son.’ ”

Growing up, Moshet says, her family was “proud of our Jewish heritage, singing Jewish and Yiddish songs, dancing Jewish dances, eating Jewish food. Many Jews were changing their names to Russify them, but I insisted that I am the daughter of Avraham,” her father’s given name.

An attempt at aliya came when Moshet was a visiting scientist at the Weizmann Institute in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot in 1985. She and her first husband, since deceased, decided to stay permanently, but then he returned to America for the High Holidays to work as a cantor.

At first, “he said he would come back for aliya,” Moshet said. When he was slated to return, Moshet asked him, “ ‘When are you coming?’ And he said, ‘When are you coming [back to America]? I’m not coming.’ A second immigration was too much for him.”

More than 20 years later, Yakov, then living in Boca Raton, and Moshet, who was in Connecticut, met through the most modern of means: JDate. After a couple of trips up and down the East Coast, they decided to marry. The decision to make aliya came soon afterward.

“When we met and got married, we realized how we both felt about Israel,” Yakov said. “I said, ‘If not now, when?’ ”

They decided on Modi’in after a November test trip. Yakov, who had become acquainted with Rabbi Nir Barkin of Yozma, Modiin’s Reform synagogue, when Barkin traveled to Boca Raton, is excited to become involved in the congregation now that he and Moshet are here. He also plans to advocate for religious pluralism initiatives championed by Israel’s Reform movement, such as the right of women to wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

“The future of Israel depends upon being able ultimately to really have a society that respects all people, that is an egalitarian society, which it obviously is not now,” Yakov said.

‘You can’t come here as an older person without a support system,’ says Harold Levine, 87

Although optimism fills the Pedagogs as they build a new life here, they differ from many elderly immigrants in that all of their children and grandchildren remain in the United States.

“You can’t come here as an older person without a support system,” said Harold Levine, 87, who made aliya in 2009 and has two children here. “There are so many things you have to learn how to do.”

The Pedagogs are making do without such a support system by keeping busy. They still have to learn Hebrew, unpack their cardboard boxes and become accustomed to Israel’s banks and health care system, which Moshet says is “reminiscent of what was in Russia.” Yet the couple do not anticipate a difficult time here.

As a senior couple moving to Israel, they will receive more than $7,000 from the Israeli government divided into installments, in addition to discounts on services such as transportation.

Not all of their children and grandchildren are happy about the move. Yakov said his daughter “has accepted it,” while Moshet said that her children recognize her right to decide where she wants to live, even if it’s an ocean away.

“They think I’m a big girl, I know what I’m doing,” she said. “They know me as an outgoing person, a go-getter. It doesn’t occur to them to be happy or unhappy. Thus they accept that I’m entitled to make my decisions.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.