Build­ing a life in Is­rael

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - VETERANS - • RIVKAH LAM­BERT ADLER

The long shadow of the Holo­caust, cou­pled with the Rus­sian launch of the Sput­nik 1 satel­lite in 1957, have ev­ery­thing to do with why Ira Braver­man first be­came a civil en­gi­neer and then made aliyah. Braver­man re­counted a piv­otal mo­ment in his life. He was just seven years old, sit­ting in the liv­ing room with his fa­ther and his late brother, David. Their fa­ther Louis Braver­man, who was a dec­o­rated New York City Po­lice of­fi­cer, sealed his sons’ des­tiny with this speech.

“I re­mem­ber my fa­ther telling us, ‘A Jew must al­ways be ready to leave his coun­try, as we never know when an­ti­semitism will force us out, of­ten with just the shirt on our back. One day, you will have to go to Is­rael and will have to earn a liv­ing there and the only thing you can take with you is your mind. So you boys will be con­struc­tion en­gi­neers, as Is­rael al­ways needs build­ings.’”

And so it was. Both Ira and David even­tu­ally be­came civil en­gi­neers.

In ad­di­tion to his work on the New York City Po­lice force, Louis helped raise money to sup­port the strug­gle for Is­rael’s in­de­pen­dence through the New York of­fices of the Ir­gun. He sent 16-year-old Ira to Camp Be­tar, the Zion­ist youth move­ment camp founded by Ze’ev Jabotin­sky.

Camp Be­tar, “trained young peo­ple to come to Is­rael and join the army. It was my first ex­po­sure to He­brew, to Is­raeli songs, my first ex­po­sure of the need to come to Is­rael. I learned how to shoot a gun, how to do night hikes.” The na­tion­al­is­tic teach­ings of Jabotin­sky and Camp Be­tar con­vinced the young Braver­man of the need to come to Is­rael, fight for the land and build it.

A few years later, as a ju­nior in col­lege, Braver­man re­called he “spent the sum­mer at He­brew Univer­sity tak­ing cour­ses in Is­raeli pol­i­tics and arche­ol­ogy.”

After grad­u­at­ing with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing, one win­ter while work­ing on a freez­ing cold road project in New York City con­vinced him to head to warmer weather in Los An­ge­les.

Los An­ge­les of­fered him much more than a tem­per­ate cli­mate. “As a young en­gi­neer, I got six job of­fers in two days,” he re­counted. He also met and mar­ried his wife, Robin Solomon Braver­man, who was born and raised in LA.

AS MUCH as any­thing else, it was an in­ci­dent that oc­curred on Yom Kip­pur of 1973 that al­tered the course of his life.

“The City of Los An­ge­les gave the Cal­i­for­nia Nazi Party a per­mit to march down Broad­way on Yom Kip­pur, 1973. So in the mid­dle of the ser­vice on Yom Kip­pur, my brother and I drove down­town and there they were – about 30 Nazis in stormtroop­er uni­forms, hold­ing up signs. ‘Kikes – the ovens are wait­ing for you’ and ‘Hitler was right!’”

“Stand­ing op­po­site them were 12 young Jews from Rabbi Meir Ka­hane’s Jewish De­fense League. We stood in front of them and said to the Nazis, ‘You are not march­ing.’”

“They started to march and a fight broke out, and the Jews pounded the Nazis into the pave­ment. It went on for about 10 min­utes. The po­lice moved in and ar­rested the Jews, but the pa­rade was stopped,” he said.

“My brother and I were not ar­rested be­cause we were new­bies. As we drove back to the shul [syn­a­gogue], we turned on the ra­dio and learned that the Egyp­tians had bro­ken through the Suez Canal. The re­porter said that Is­rael was in deep trou­ble, since there was noth­ing be­tween the Si­nai and Tel Aviv.”

Braver­man had an epiphany that his­toric Yom Kip­pur. “I re­al­ized that, just as Is­rael was fight­ing for its life, so too were the Jews in Los An­ge­les,” he said. He joined the Jewish De­fense League and also started study­ing To­rah with Rabbi Meir Ka­hane. This was the begin­ning of his jour­ney to be­com­ing an ob­ser­vant Jew.

By 1984, Braver­man and his wife were fully ob­ser­vant. In­flu­enced by Ka­hana, the Braver­man fam­ily made aliyah. “[Ka­hane] said that re­li­gious Jews be­long in Eretz Yis­rael. He told us to go home.”

WITH THEIR TWO young daugh­ters, the Braver­mans landed in an ab­sorp­tion cen­ter in the Jerusalem sub­urb of Mevaseret Zion, where they stud­ied He­brew in a gov­ern­ment ul­pan.

De­spite their ide­o­log­i­cal fer­vor, “After two years, we went back to LA,” he said plainly. Is­rael in 1984 was es­pe­cially hard on his wife. “There were no phones. Noth­ing avail­able in the mar­ket. It was like liv­ing in the Mid­dle Ages.”

Eight years later, in 1992, when their old­est daugh­ter was 11 and Is­rael had out­grown some of its ini­tial grow­ing pains, the fam­ily made aliyah again and have been here ever since.

The sec­ond time around, the Braver­man fam­ily moved to Ramot and Ira got a job im­me­di­ately with the Min­istry of Con­struc­tion and Hous­ing. Just two years be­fore, over a mil­lion Rus­sian Jews had come to Is­rael. The pre­fab­ri­cated wooden hous­ing that was avail­able for them was un­fa­mil­iar to most Is­raeli en­gi­neers. Com­ing from Amer­ica, Ira was an ex­pert in wood con­struc­tion.

Many in­ter­na­tional build­ing specs were in English and many prod­ucts came from Amer­ica. Be­ing a na­tive English speaker made him even more mar­ketable. Braver­man walked di­rectly into a huge gap in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try in Is­rael and filled it.

Even­tu­ally, he be­gan get­ting calls to do build­ing in­spec­tions and started a pri­vate con­sult­ing busi­ness. He also con­trib­uted his ex­per­tise to large na­tional in­fra­struc­ture build­ing pro­jects such as Ben-Gu­rion Air­port, High­way 6 and the Port of Ash­dod.

With­out ques­tion, the project he is most proud of was the build­ing of the US Em­bassy in Jerusalem.

“They started build­ing the Con­sulate in the front [of the old Diplo­mat Ho­tel site] in 2006, but ev­ery­one knew that it was go­ing to even­tu­ally be an Em­bassy. In 2009, the project was halted.

“One of the staff mem­bers asked me to come for one day to help with some pa­per­work. I sat in a meet­ing and gave a few sug­ges­tions. That af­ter­noon, the Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives re­quested that I be hired im­me­di­ately to help com­plete the project. The project man­ager left a few weeks later and I was given the project to fin­ish.”

Braver­man was the seventh and fi­nal project man­ager. He ex­plained that it was an un­usu­ally com­plex project to fin­ish, be­cause so much had been done wrong. It took a year, but he got the job done and handed the keys over to the US gov­ern­ment.

For Braver­man, be­ing an en­gi­neer is a direct ex­pres­sion of his Zion­ism.

“Two thou­sand years ago, the Ro­mans came and threw the Jews out of Is­rael. When they came, they dev­as­tated the land and de­stroyed ev­ery­thing and left the land to lie fal­low. The great­est joy I have is to re­build the land. This is our re­venge against the Ro­mans. And I’m part of it.”

Braver­man is es­pe­cially proud that all four of his chil­dren and their many grand­chil­dren live in Is­rael.

“When I first came to Is­rael in 1971, I looked to the north and saw only bar­ren hills. Now, al­most 50 years later, I take my grand­son by the hand to the same place and say, ‘When I came to Is­rael, there was noth­ing here and now – look! Here stands a city.’ I am proud to have been part of the re-build­ing of the Land of Is­rael. It is a dream come true,” he con­cluded. ■


LOS AN­GE­LES TO GIVAT ZE’EV, 1992 IN FRONT of the US Em­bassy in Jerusalem. IRA BRAVER­MAN, 68,

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