Return to Israel easy move for Palm Beach family

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 12:31 a.m.
PALM BEACH - In 1995, Audrey and Jeffry Kashuk made an easy decision. Their options were these:
Choice one: Stay in their comfortable Palm Beach home, live the prosperous life of a surgeon's family and raise their daughters in peace.
Choice two: Move to a tiny apartment in Jerusalem, give up many of their belongings, learn a new language and live with a constant awareness that they or their daughters could be killed at any moment.
Jerusalem won, hands down. For one simple reason: It felt like home. Not, you understand, that the Kashuks don't love Palm Beach. Their oldest, Riva Chaya, was born at Good Samaritan in 1993; Rachel Ora, their second, was born at St. Mary's in 1994. And then there's the Kashuks' third child - the Palm Beach Orthodox Synagogue, which they conceived, helped build and left behind.
The synagogue they started with 10 people now includes more than 200 families, and it's the only synagogue on Palm Beach that offers daily services.
In December, seven years after they made Jerusalem their home and two years after the Palm Beach Orthodox Synagogue moved into its own building at 120 N. County Road, the Kashuks came back to visit. They brought Riva and Rachel, of course, and their third daughter, Nechama Dina, born in Israel in 2001.
They also brought the story of their lives in Israel, from the simple stuff - like landing in Jerusalem and filling out citizenship forms; getting used to the climate and the food - to the harder parts. Learning to be watchful for unattended packages and suspicious people. Living with a constant, nagging fear of the unexpected.
That Israel exists, they say, is a miracle. The Kashuks feel it's their duty to be there. To make sure it continues to exist as a homeland for Jews.
"The decision (to move to Israel) was relatively easy," said Audrey. "It's one of those things that comes from the inside. This was really a leap of faith."
The Kashuks had only what they brought on the plane with them. They didn't have jobs, or an apartment, or an idea where they wanted to settle. So they initially took a sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem. The faucets leaked. The heat worked only from 4 to 9 every night.
The hardships were a blessing, said Audrey. Without the conveniences they were used to, they learned to appreciate what they did have. Without material things tying them down, they discovered a new feeling of freedom.
As a trauma surgeon, Jeffry had no trouble finding work. But the daily routine in Israel was nothing like what it had been in Palm Beach.
For one thing: When their belongings made it across the ocean three months later, they found they didn't want these things. "All of a sudden everything became connected to our stuff. . . . We looked at it and said, 'Why do we need all this stuff?' " said Audrey. "We couldn't get rid of a lot of stuff quickly enough. We gave a lot to needy people."
Jeffry spoke Hebrew fluently before the move, but Audrey was still learning. "I'm still learning," she said. "If you ask my children, I haven't learned yet. I am a grammatical disaster. I function, but not well."
Still, there has been a shift, clearly, over the past seven years. Audrey is a visitor in Palm Beach, but her home is Jerusalem. Her language, imperfect though it may be, is Hebrew.
Before they moved, Jeffry and Audrey took for granted that Jeffry would join the Israeli army. It wasn't required, but it seemed like the right thing to do. But once they got there, the decision got harder as the dangers became more real.
Harder, but not impossible. "It was a Private Benjamin experience," said Jeffry. He slept in a tent, learned to shoot an M16 and went through a middle-aged person's version of boot camp. Looking back now, he's glad he did.
"The war is a civilian war, being fought on the streets," he said. "The casualties are going into the public hospitals."
As senior attending surgeon at Rabin Trauma Center, he's on the front lines of that war. "It's difficult," Audrey says. "We've seen a lot of death and injury and crippling of families and lives." A bomb blast jolted them out of bed one morning four months after they arrived. They've taught their daughters to stay away from suspicious people and packages. Almost everyone they know has been affected by a suicide bomber.
One example stands out in Jeffry's memory. It was a patient he treated in September. A 19-year-old Jewish boy, Jonathan Jesner, killed by a bomber. Jesner had planned to go to medical school, and the Kashuks had been friends with his family. Jesner was pronounced brain-dead soon after he arrived at the hospital. His family gave permission for his organs to be donated. The girl who received one of Jesner's kidneys was 7-year-old Yasmin Abu Ramila - a Palestinian.
"For me it was a particularly personal event," said Kashuk, whose father owes his life to a heart transplant. The day began as Jesner came into the hospital in critical condition. Kashuk was involved in his care, and ultimately in the decision to perform the transplant. Twenty-eight hours after the day started, Kashuk attended Jesner's funeral.
"Organ transplant is based on need, not religion," he said. "There's no other way that that could be done."
That the system is blind to religion, the Kashuks said, is a testament to the Israelis' humanity.
The Kashuks haven't ruled out the possibility of retiring to Palm Beach when Riva, Rachel and Nechama Dina are grown. But for now, their life is firmly rooted to a place that, they say, defies logic just in its existence.
"I don't know of any more wonderful place to raise our children than Israel," Audrey said. "There's so much opportunity there."
With the biggest opportunity being, maybe, a chance to contribute in Israel as they did in Palm Beach.
"The answer to the conflict in Israel is right here in the Palm Beach Synagogue," said Jeffry. "It's the ability of Jews to return to their faith and be unified. In a small way this little synagogue is a bright flame on the menorah of the Jewish people. That's where our hope is. It's all bound up together. This was our beginning. It is the continuation of everything we believe."

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