Jake Reckford caught the travel bug in high school and did want to go to Israel … eventually. While Birthright seemed a fun, smart way to do it, he had college to finish and then a job to do. When the job went away, however, and his 24th birthday loomed, the planets aligned and he signed up. What started as a fun trip, however, became an inspiring pilgrimage into his family’s history.
Jake had heard the story many times, and although Jake’s grandfather had translated some historical texts from the Hebrew 30 years ago, some details were missing. Jake knew his great uncle Ephraim Ornstein had been a college student studying civil engineering in 1930s’ Vienna when Hitler rose to power. Still in his 20’s, Uncle Ephraim joined a group of ardent Zionists who helped families move to Israel. In 1939, he finished his studies and emigrated himself, settling at Ein Gev.
In advance of his trip, Jake contacted the kibbutz and found historian Yoel Ben-Yosef, whose family had corresponded with Jake’s grandmother since 1939. Jake learned that when Uncle Ephraim arrived at Ein Gev, he met many of the Jews he had helped to relocate. His engineering expertise proved invaluable and, together, they built Ein Gev.
Jake’s trip was a moving experience like that of so many others. He felt an emotional connection to a Jewish state. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of holiness at the Western Wall. Still, nothing could compare to standing at his great uncle’s gravesite. Other graves had stones and flowers on them. Uncle Ephraim’s was bare: Jake was the first family member to visit.
“It was a humbling and cathartic experience.”
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Taglit-Birthright Israel offers the gift of a free, 10-day educational trip to Israel for Jewish adults between the ages of 18 to 26. Since its inception in 2000, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent nearly 300,000 Jewish young adults to Israel. (www.birthrightisrael.com.) The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has 20 seats for a June 11-21 Birthright trip for 22- to 26-year-olds. For info, contact Nicole Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-892-7415.
Liz Rabiner Lippoff is a Portland freelance writer. Contact her at LizRL@rabiner.com www.LizInk.biz.