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Seeking Kin: Israeli schoolmates keeping alive their reunion high

Fond memories of his childhood drew Arie Glazer, in the peach-colored shirt, back to Israel to attend his elementary school reunion. (Sari Haimson)

Fond memories of his childhood drew Arie Glazer, in the peach-colored shirt, back to Israel to attend his elementary school reunion. (Sari Haimson)

The “Seeking Kin” column aims to help reunite long-lost friends and relatives.

BALTIMORE (JTA) – Arie Glazer smiled and his large eyes lit up as his iPad displayed photographs and comments on the Facebook page of Shenkar Elementary School’s Class of 1977.

The Baltimore businessman was just back from a visit to his native Israel to attend the class reunion of Shenkar, now in its 69th year of operation on Ahad Ha’Am Street in Holon, a town just south of Tel Aviv.

Glazer very nearly could have flown home without a plane, such was his high from the Oct. 9 gathering.

“I cherish my childhood friends and my life in Israel,” he said over breakfast at a suburban bagel shop. “Going back to that point – look, I’m a very attached, heimische person. Family and friends are very important to me.”

Many of his classmates joined Glazer in expressing joy at reconnecting with people they had seen rarely, if at all, in the intervening decades.

“The big question was, will the momentum keep going?” Omna Berick-Aharony said by telephone last week from her Caesarea home. “At the moment, it still is.”

“Weeks later, the reunion is still alive,” echoed Elisheva Yakobovich of Tel Aviv. “People communicate and meet.”

Merely a cursory visit to the Facebook page corroborates their words. The remarks, zingers and inside jokes nearly blow out an eavesdropping American journalist’s computer speaker with the incessant bing! bing! bing! of posts deep into the night, Israel time.

At the Yama Restaurant, the large facility at the Herzliyah Pituach beach that hosted the reunion, the plentiful corridors and patios encouraged old friends to join each other informally for drinks, appetizers and good talk. Students from the grade’s four classes enjoyed a slide show of the Shenkar years and a song-and-dance shtick evoking teachers and the era’s music before moving off to revel in the past with each other, settling down to schmooze on comfy couches and chairs.

Five hours after the reunion began, the last partygoers left at 1:30 the next morning — but lingered another half-hour outside.

Three of the classes had held separate mini-reunions over the years, and those get-togethers spurred the initiative to hold the first grade-wide gathering. The reunion’s unusual timing related to two important numbers, Glazer explained: 50, the current age of the classmates; and 36, the years since their graduation and thus, as a multiple of 18, a meaningful number in Jewish tradition.

Of the 141 classmates, 97 attended — Glazer was the only one of 15 living abroad to come. Michal Aizik had relocated to Israel from Canada just a month earlier. A married couple, Avi Ziat and Liora Avital, first met as Shenkar classmates. One alumnus who had intended to be on hand could not make it — the person works in a sensitive security position and was dispatched abroad at the last minute.

Four teachers attended, too. Sadly, two other teachers who were invited, Tzipora Kaminsky and Sarah Gesges, fell ill and died several days later.

Despite the organizers’ best efforts – they searched for classmates primarily on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet, as well as by networking – eight people could not be found. They are Chaim Aharon, Shlomo Ben-Shlomo, Dror Amiram, Eliza Chanan, Michael Davidshvili, Yahaloma Mutzafi,Yosef Naama and Gavriel Yonovitz.

Glazer’s parents, who owned a furniture store in Holon, moved the family to Baltimore one month after Arie’s graduation from Shenkar. For the first few years in America, Glazer corresponded with many classmates; he still has the letters and photographs.

On business trips to Israel, Glazer met with some of his old chums. Flying in for the October event meant he also could attend the 50th anniversary party for his aunt and uncle and a memorial for another aunt.

“I went from the cemetery to parties,” he said.

The reunion’s momentum has led to plans for a subgroup in which classmates could refer clients and business contacts to one another, said Orly Tenenboim Fried, one of the reunion organizers.

Berick-Aharony acknowledged that she wasn’t enthusiastic when organizers first contacted her about the reunion, but her mood changed with the multiplying Facebook posts – new remarks and photographs seemed to materialize by the minute. From being “a bit detached,” she said, “I kind of got into it.”

Momentarily donning her professional hat as a psychotherapist, Berick-Aharony said the great value of such reunions lies in participants’ “finishing unfinished business” with peers from whom they were forcibly separated by graduating at a key, formative age.

“Those are very important years in constructing your personality, and you have to give up all these people who are part of this experience,” she said. “A reunion, in a way, reassures you that it really happened. You can look back on your life’s narrative, proofread it and compare your story with other people’s stories.”

(Please email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you know the whereabouts of the missing Shenkar students. If you would like “Seeking Kin” to write about your search for long-lost relatives and friends, please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief email. “Seeking Kin” is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people.)

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