By Hillel Kuttler
A guide at Chai Park had just pointed out Gilad and Chris, two frolicking residents of the orangutan enclosure. Eyal and Kelsey Fuchs moved in for a good look.
The Fuchses were among 500 English-speaking olim who on August 27 had come to the park, just south of Akko, for the ninth annual Go North Picnic, sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh.
For Kelsey, a 26-year-old native of St. Louis who lives with her husband on the latter’s nearby Kibbutz, Yehiam, the event provided the chance to see if fellow travelers on her Nefesh B’Nefesh flight on July 4 had come, too – and to meet new people.
“It’s good to know other Olim who live in the North,” said Kelsey, a dancer and choreographer.
One Oleh whom Kelsey got to know on the flight lives in Tel Aviv, but fell in love with the Golan Heights on a recent outing and told her he’s considering moving there.
Eyal and Kelsey sat on a picnic bench beside the monkeys’ yard, as event participants and Israeli families enjoying the nice afternoon strolled by. Near the front of the grounds, children swung, slid and climbed in the colorful playground. Adults perused craft tables. At the other end of the zoo, some rode ponies and camels. Ice cream pops dripped plentifully.
Her first month and a half on the kibbutz, Kelsey said, were challenging as she tried to understand the Hebrew spoken by Eyal’s friends. But by mid-August, she started feeling “more comfortable,” she said. She’ll be starting Ulpan in October.
One hundred yards off, another mixed Hebrew-English family observed the penguins and otters. Sagi Kraus, a native Israeli, pushed the wheelchair of his father-in-law, Ron Altshul, a retired accountant from Manchester, England, who made Aliyah last year with his wife Linda. Sagi had moved back to Israel in 2013 with his England-born wife and children.
“It’s nice to have an event for English speakers, so my kids can meet kids the same age,” Sagi, attending his first Nefesh B’Nefesh event, said, gesturing toward his daughter Avigail, 12, and son Ben, 9.
The Krauses and Altshuls live in Haifa’s Krayot. Last year, Ron and Linda brought their grandchildren to the NBN picnic and, Ron said, “We really enjoyed it.”
“You get to know your people,” he said, meaning other English speakers.
Natan Greenman had come from much further away – Katzrin, in the Golan, a two-hour drive. He and his wife Miriam have brought their family to nearly every Go North picnic during their seven years in Israel. This time, Miriam was staffing a table at the front of the grounds, selling her hand-crafted baby items.
At each of the Nefesh B’Nefesh picnics, said Natan, a social worker from Chicago, he runs into people he knew in the various places in the north where he lived pre-Katzrin.
His son, Ori, 7, climbed onto a pony for his ride.
What has he enjoyed most at this picnic?
“Playing at the big park,” the boy responded.
By now, dinner of bagels, tuna fish and egg salad was being served. At a table at the far end sat the Fuchs couple. Sharon Marmour, a New Yorker who settled in Mitzpe Netofah with her Israeli husband and their six children five years ago, came to sit there, too.
Marmour’s five oldest kids already consider themselves Israelis and not immigrants, so they stayed home on this day, she explained.
But four-year-old Yehuda, playing a few feet away, had told her he likes considering himself an Oleh. That’s funny, Sharon remarked, given that he’s the only Israel-born child of the six.
Approaching with a plate of food was Sharon’s mother, Lois Zoldan. She lives in Nahariya and seems to be making friends every day, even joining an English speakers’ book club.
Kelsey Fuchs recognized her as a fellow passenger on the July 4 flight.
“It makes me feel good,” Lois said of Kelsey’s greeting. “I know people.”
Photo credits: Hillel Kuttler