Building a life in Israel
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,