Former St. Louisans now in Israel prepare to celebrate Shavuot amidst violent conflict

Edward+and+Avril+Adelman+immigrated+in+2018+from+St.+Louis+to+Israel+and+now+live+in+Tel+Mond%2C+a+town+of+13%2C000+east+of+Netanya.

Edward and Avril Adelman immigrated in 2018 from St. Louis to Israel and now live in Tel Mond, a town of 13,000 east of Netanya.

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

For about 75 former St. Louisans now living in Israel, a WhatsApp group allows the immigrants to learn when someone from their former Jewish community has died or gotten married.

During the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, it’s provided a way for them to make sure everyone is safe, said Mike Greenwald, 56, who grew up in University City and made aliyah in 2007.

“The Israelis persevere; nothing gets us down,” said Greenwald, who lives in Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem. “War is a part of life here, unfortunately.”

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Regardless of how Greenwald and others react to fighting, the last week in Israel and Gaza has been especially violent as the terrorist group Hamas has fired more than 2,000 rockets into Israel and the Israel Defense Forces has responded with air strikes.

Still, Greenwald and other Israelis were preparing Sunday to celebrate Shavuot.

Hours before sundown and the start of the holiday — when Jews traditionally eat dairy foods and stay up all night studying — Greenwald and a fellow former St. Louisan, Edward Adelman, spoke with the Jewish Light about what their lives in Israel were like before and during the latest conflict, and about what they expected to happen on the holiday and afterwards.

Before Greenwald got married, he would make an annual visit to Hebron, a city located in the West Bank that Jews consider the second-holiest city, behind Jerusalem.

Once Greenwald married and started having children — he now has four — “it just dawned on me that this is a place to bring up my children. There is so much more meaning of life here. This is God’s land, where he wants the Jewish people to be together,” said Greenwald, who spends his morning studying Torah and works from 3 p.m. to midnight, running his two nursing homes in the United States.

Mike Greenwald (left) and his family at a celebration in 2020 in israel.

Adelman, who like Greenwald belonged to the Orthodox congregation Young Israel of St. Louis, retired from the Clayton law practice Goffstein, Raskas, Pomerantz, Kraus & Sherman in 2018, moved to Israel and now lives in Tel Mond, a town of 13,000 east of Netanya.

“It’s great living among the Jewish people,” said Adelman, 67, whose daughter and three grandchildren also live in Israel. “There is more cohesiveness….Israel is a community; everyone is there for each other.”

Neither Adelman and Greenwald have seen rockets land near where they live but have heard sirens and felt the tension.

“People don’t go places like they used to; traffic is very light; school is closed. Things are different, but overall, the Israeli public isn’t going to let this interfere with their lives,” said Adelman, who served as president of H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy.

Adelman blamed Hamas for the recent escalation, which started with fights between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem. He said it worsened when Hamas started firing rockets from Gaza into Israel and the IDF responded with air strikes.

“The Israeli public has no faith that the Palestinians will ever negotiate with them in good faith. There has been one peace proposal after another for the last 70-plus years, and they have never, ever shown a willingness to compromise,” said Adelman.

Greenwald sees the IDF’s air strikes as an effort to “destroy the Hamas infrastructure the best that they can. You have to understand, Gaza is so tight, is so overpopulated — there are 2 million people there — and how can you destroy Hamas within 2 million people?” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, the two men still planned to celebrate Shavuot. Greenwald said he would attend the all-night learning sessions, while his children study for their end of the school year exams.

Adelman lives about a block away from his synagogue. Even though COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted throughout Israel, the congregation canceled some Shavuot programming and is limiting its capacity this year to avoid mass casualties should a rocket hit the building.

But he and his family planned to gather at the synagogue.

“It will be quieter this year,” Adelman said.

Given the close proximity to the synagogue, his family has also listed its home as a place where people can gather should they need to take shelter from rocket fire.

Greenwald said he and children will continue to venture out from their home.

“My kids still go out,” he said. “Nothing is going to stop us. We just want peace and harmony. Everyone wants that, so we will get through it.”