Dinner with a Real Israeli Lion

When you go on a federation mission to Israel – or anywhere, for that matter – you are always in for a set of experiences you will never forget. The only problem is that you are moving so fast, it’s hard to keep them all straight sometimes! There is one experience I had on the Heart 2 Heart Mission two weeks ago that really has "staying power," in that I can remember many, many details of my visit with Hedy Resnick.

Hedy hosted about 10 women from the mission at her home in Savion, outside Tel Aviv, for dinner after a long day spent in Jerusalem. Hedy is an Israeli Lion of Judah, and was one of several Israeli Lions who hosted groups from Heart 2 Heart. Home hospitality is often a feature of missions to Israel; I’ve had wonderful meals and met wonderful Israelis this way, so I was looking forward to this evening.

As we approached the ranch home through a lovely garden, we were greeted at the door by Hedy – a small, elegant woman in a lavender sweater and long black skirt. She had a shock of thick white hair and bright, twinkling eyes. As she spoke to each one of us, we could detect a European accent, but it was heard to place, exactly. We were introduced to Hedy’s granddaughter Keren and another Israeli Lion named Selena. We sat down to dinner at the long dining room table, set with china, silver and a beautiful tablecloth, with Hedy serving from the head of the table.

We all introduced ourselves, sharing our experiences of the mission with Hedy and her guests. Hedy wanted to tell us about the work of the Israeli Lions of Judah. The Jewish Agency for Israel works with this group of between 90 and 100 women to identify projects that benefit women and girls in need. The Israeli Lions investigate the various programs and then allocate their pooled money to the ones they select. Once a project is selected, they continue to visit and monitor its progress. Normally, this would have been more than enough for an interesting discussion, but Hedy was clearly a very interesting person in her own right. At 82 years-young, she had prepared the entire delicious meal of salmon, mujaderrah (a Sephardic rice and lentils dish that happens to be a favorite of mine), eggplant and cole slaw. Her granddaughter revealed that Hedy was working on a cookbook – and then really let the cat out of the bag when she revealed that Hedy has already authored two other books.

At that point we couldn’t let Hedy talk to us about anything other than the stories she tells in her books, one about her late first husband, and the other a memoir of her life. Both books started as letters that were parts of care packages to her grandchildren when they served in the IDF. It really took quite a bit of urging on our part to get Hedy to share her history, but it was so worth it. We sat spellbound as Hedy shared her story of a sheltered, comfortable childhood in Slovakia and the encroachment of anti-Semitic restrictions on that life when the Nazis moved into her small town. When Hedy was 14, her father sent her and her brother over the mountains of Slovakia into Hungary to live with the oldest daughter, a newlywed. What ensued from there was an unbelievable journey for Hedy’s entire family, back to Slovakia, imprisonment in a Nazi prison, escape from there to France, back to Slovakia after the war ended, then Toronto and finally Israel.

Hedy speaks seven languages as a result of her world travels; she was so eloquent in English that I can’t even imagine what she would be like in her native language – although I’m not sure she could identify which that would be. We all wanted a copy of Hedy’s memoir, but found out that she only had a few copies printed for family and friends. We are in the process of investigating a new printing – if you are interested, please contact our Women’s Philanthropy Development Officer, Jocelyn Gilman at jgilman@ujcnj.org and we will put you on the list – we need at least 50 people to make it worthwhile to the printer.

I have to admit that I was pretty tired the night we went to Hedy’s and almost wished that we could have stayed in Jerusalem rather than running back to Tel Aviv – but once I met Hedy, I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything. Her elegance, eloquence, humor and grace will be with me for a long time. Here’s Hedy and me:

Wishing you the opportunity for the same kind of great experiences,

Leslie

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