Hartford Moves to Israel

People from the Hartford area were among the small number of North American Jews who moved to Israel in its early years and played a role in the new country’s development. In the late 1960s, spurred by the emotions generated by the Six Day War as well as a court case which made it possible to hold dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, the numbers of Americans making aliyah jumped up. In the decades since then, people from Hartford have continued to move to Israel and join directly in its opportunities and challenges.

Among the early emigrants was pioneering social worker Rebecca Affachiner. She came to Hartford as head of the city’s United Jewish Charities in the early 1920s and helped organize the parade and public meeting marking the visit of Chaim Weizmann and Albert Einstein to Hartford. A trip to the Holy Land in 1926 inspired her to settle in Jerusalem. After serving as Hadassah’s first national field secretary, she made aliyah in 1934 at the age of 50. Settling in Jerusalem, she founded the Palestine Society for Crippled Children, which would become Israel’s leading pediatric rehabilitation hospital, ALYN.

In May 1948, she was at her home in Jerusalem, which was under enemy fire. She was determined to fly the flag of the new Jewish state as soon as independence was declared, so she cut up a bedsheet and sewed it into a flag with a six-pointed star and stripes. When David Ben-Gurion made the proclamation on May 14, she went on out her porch and raised the flag, the first resident of the city to do so. “It was my personal way of welcoming Israel into existence,” she said.

Portrait of Rebecca Affachiner by Abraham Jacob Bogdanove, 1913. Image Source: Israel Museum collection
Ezra Gorodesky presents Affachiner’s flag to Ben Gurion University President Rivka Carmi, 2018.

Dora Neiditz Raab made aliyah in 1926. She was a founder of Ilan Israel Foundation for Handicapped Children. She is seen here in 1962, with polio patients in wheelchairs donated by Hartford people.

Dora Neiditz Raab with polio patients from the Ilan Israel Foundation for Handicapped Children, 1962.

After the end of World War II, Irving Pregozen joined the Habonim (Labor Zionist youth movement) training camp in New Jersey – part of the first gar’in that would form Kibbutz Gesher HaZiv in the northwestern part of Israel in 1948. He worked for his passage on a ship that picked up more than a thousand refugees in Marseilles and brought them to Haifa. Pregozen stayed on the kibbutz for two years and then worked for the Israeli navy on radar equipment before returning to Hartford in 1955.

Another prominent emigrant was Rabbi I. Solomon Rosenberg of Hartford’s Garden St Shul, who made aliyah in 1951 and changed his name to Shlomo-Yisrael Ben-Meir. He was a leader in the Mizrachi movement of religious Zionists and served in the Knesset throughout the 1950s and 1960s for the Mizrachi party.

Rabbi Shlomo-Yisrael Ben-Meir, formerly I. Solomon Rosenberg of Hartford’s Garden Street Shul, in his office in the Knesset, 1964.

Richard Lakin, an elementary school principal in Glastonbury who had been active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, moved to Israel with his family in 1984. Settling in Jerusalem, he taught English to Israeli Jewish and Palestinian children and performed in English-language musicals. He was active in the peace movement and believed that education could help promote Arab-Jewish coexistence. In 2015, he was shot and stabbed by Palestinian assailants while riding a public bus in Jerusalem, and the 76-year-old died of those injuries two weeks later. “He died as a result of the same incitement and hatred he fought against his entire life,” his son Michah Lakin said.

Richard Lakin. Photo Source: Facebook

Aytan Kadden of West Hartford first went to Israel at the age of 15, as part of a summer program run by the religious Zionist movement B’nei Akiva. He returned several times, and moved to Israel to study at Yeshivat Har Etzion around 1997, marrying fellow student Chanie. Aytan became a rabbi and taught at a school in Kfar Adumim, a mixed religious-secular community in the West Bank, and at the Keshet High School in Jerusalem. He reflected in 2004, “I feel this is the epicenter of Jewish existence. Here is where the past, present, and future are shaped.”

Aytan Kadden and family pictured in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.

Talya Markus made aliyah after graduating from West Hartford’s Hall High School in 2010.

“I initially served in the Israel Defense Forces and later pursued my medical education at the Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem. Currently, I am an intern at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya. My husband and I love hiking and camping in Nahariya and throughout Israel and have a wonderful network of both American and Israeli friends.

A vivid memory from the early days of the pandemic was when medical students, including myself, volunteered to conduct drive-in testing at Magen David Adom. After that, I spent time working in the Hadassah and Shaare Tzedek Hospital COVID wards and was relieved when these wards were gradually shut down. I felt that the Israeli spirit really shone through even during these hard times, as videos of staff in full protective gear dancing at the testing sites and playing guitar in the wards went viral!”

Tayla Markus is second from left in this group of medical students volunteering at a COVID testing site at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem in 2020.