Fair Lawn emigrant volunteers in Israel

Fair Lawn emigrant volunteers in Israel

In the summer of 2005, Beverly Marcus left Fair Lawn for a new life in Jerusalem. But it took a visit from her former rabbi to help her find her calling in that new life.

Soon after making aliyah, Marcus tagged along on a mission led by Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Cong. Shomrei Torah. The itinerary included a visit to Yad Sarah House, the multistory Jerusalem headquarters of Israel’s largest volunteer-staffed organization. Founded by Jerusalem’s previous mayor, Uri Lupolianski, Yad Sarah’s 104 branches provide an array of free health- and home-care support services.

The visit came to mind when she was casting about for something to do part time. With 23 years of experience as a Judaic studies and art teacher at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, Marcus had first tried her hand at teaching English to high school pupils and tutoring blind and visually-impaired students through a program sponsored by Hebrew University. Neither worked out in the long run. So she approached Yad Sarah.

Beverly Marcus, standing, works with a client at Yad Sarah.

The inquiry was warmly welcomed, because the organization’s Day Rehabilitation Center was seeking a qualified teacher for its Monday art class. Though Marcus had little experience in special education, she has an adult special-needs son who lives in a Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities group home in Teaneck. She accepted the position, where she is assisted by two volunteers and a young woman doing her year-long national service.

“For a year or more, the group didn’t have an ‘art person’ leading it, and I think that was why they were so excited to have me,” said Marcus.

The 14 women in the class, ranging in age from late 40s to mid-70s, have varying degrees of functional ability. Only two of the students can walk unassisted.

“When I first started, I couldn’t sleep the night before because I’d be so nervous, wondering what I’d do and how it would go,” she related. “And then I wouldn’t sleep the night after a class, either, because I was so excited. It really gives me a high and the women really appreciate what I do for them.”

Marcus said her commute is about the same length of time as it was in New Jersey, but instead of sitting behind the wheel for 45 minutes, she’s sitting on a public bus and doing The New York Times Sunday Crossword, which appears every Monday in the Jerusalem Post.

The weekly commitment has gotten her out to stores to shop for supplies and onto the Internet to get ideas for projects. The class has designed signs and holiday cards, decorated planters and plates, and used découpage to transform glass jars into vases to hold flowers they made. Several members of the group have full use of only one hand, so they work in pairs to use tools such as scissors.

Their teacher’s challenges are more linguistic than artistic. “They think it’s cute that I’m American,” said Marcus, who arrived with a fairly good grounding in Hebrew. “When I struggle for a word in Hebrew, they help me out.”

Marcus, who grew up in North Bergen and lived in Fair Lawn for 33 years, also left a married daughter behind in Monsey, N.Y. “Both my kids are settled in their lives,” she said, explaining why she felt it was time to fulfill her dream of aliyah almost four years ago.

“I have a sister in Jerusalem who was waiting for me with open arms, and I had an old close friend from college who lives in my neighborhood. And I’ve made new friends.” However, she conceded, “it’s not like where you grew up and raised your kids.”

Nevertheless, she has no regrets about her move and has settled into a routine that she finds satisfying. Aside from her work at Yad Sarah, Marcus goes to a gym a few mornings a week, does Israeli dancing one night a week, and attends classes at Matan, the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies.

She also participates in a Hebrew book club that started during her five-month ulpan (intensive language school). “One of our teachers led us in reading books in Hebrew, and a group of us enjoyed it so much we put together a book club with eight or nine of us,” Marcus said. “We’re all very proud of being able to sit on the bus and read Hebrew novels.”

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