Sharon Rosen Leib
Femimenscht: Jewish feminist/globalist with heart
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Their idealism let them to Israel: After Oct. 7 would they make the same choice?

US Jews owe our support to those idealists who came with dreams of raising families and building a better democratic nation
American oleh Dan Schoenfeld with his Israeli-born granddaughter. (Courtesy Dan Schoenfeld)
American oleh Dan Schoenfeld with his Israeli born granddaughter (courtesy of Dan Schoenfeld)

In the 1980s, quick-buck capitalism soared in the United States – bonds were junky, greed was good, cocaine flowed, and cynicism reigned.  For most high-achieving young Stanford and University of California Berkeley graduates, success equaled earning a six-figure salary, buying a McMansion and driving a fancy car.  Starry-eyed, Zionist kibbutznik idealism? That went out with the long-haired hippies and bell bottoms of the 1970s.

But not for everyone.

I have two dear American-born friends, Dan Schoenfeld and Scott Lenga, who bucked that 1980s version of success. Dan, 61, (Stanford Class of 1985) and his late wife Beth (who died of cancer far too young at 47); and Scott, 63, (UC Berkeley Class of 1982) and his wife Carrie, 61, followed their hearts.  In their mid 20s and early 30s respectively, they took their prestigious American university degrees and left for Israel.

The Schoenfelds made Aliyah in 1986, soon after college, and the Lengas in 1994, after leaving lucrative law jobs in San Francisco. Both families reside in Ra’anana (a Tel Aviv suburb).

How do they feel now, after the Oct. 7 massacre?

When they moved to Israel, immigration from the United States was at a low point. For most 20 to 30-year-old American Jews, “making Aliyah” took a back seat to “making it” in America.  Additionally, many (including me) couldn’t envision leaving friends and family in the United States behind to help build a brave new Jewish world.

The Schoenfelds and Lengas used their intellectual firepower to help build Israel’s budding high-tech startup economy; Dan and Beth as marketing, communications, and graphic design specialists; and Scott and Carrie as attorneys in the technology and publishing sectors.

Both couples did their parts to boost Israel’s population.  The Schoenfelds birthed four children, now in their 20s and 30s. Dan also has two young grandchildren.  The Lengas have three daughters in their 20s.

After Hamas started the Oct. 7 war, I knew the young adult Lengas and Schoenfelds and their spouses would be swept up in the Israeli Defense Force’s emergency call up of reserve soldiers to fight for Israel’s future.  Jewish Americans their age – including my three daughters – continue to live their relatively carefree lives while their Israeli counterparts make sacrifices beyond their comprehension.

How were the Lengas and Schoenfelds holding up with their country and their adult children at war?

American olim Beth and Dan Schoenfeld with their four Israeli-born children.
(Courtesy of Dan Schoenfeld)

I reached out to Dan, who I’ve known since we started Palos Verdes High School in a Los Angeles suburb 47 years ago; and Scott since we started law school at UCLA 38 years ago, to check in.  Their young adult children are deployed all over Israel serving in their professional military roles. And they are safe. For the most part, their parents are sleeping at night. But they, and everyone in their social circles, know young adults who have been killed or injured and have mourned with the grief-stricken families.

Did they have second thoughts about the youthful Zionist idealism that led them to leave the comforts of the United States and move to Israel after Hamas’s shocking attack and the ongoing cycle of violence that has left over 32,000 people dead (approximately 1,400 Israelis and 31,000 Palestinians [according to Palestinian sources])? Not to mention Israel’s severe political dysfunction exacerbating these tragedies.

American olim Scott and Carrie Lenga with their three Israeli-born daughters and son-in-law.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Lenga; credit Yaniv Shmidt)

When I asked Scott what motivated him to make Aliyah he said, “I had an obsession, a juke ba’rosh (literal translation: cockroach in the head).” After reading Scott’s 2022 book “The Watchmakers: A Story of Brotherhood, Survival and Hope Amid the Holocaust,” recounting his father Harry Lenga’s extraordinary journey through Holocaust hell to America, I knew his decision was more than a random obsession. Scott inherited his father’s values of family, faith and Jewish survival.

Scott described the current situation in Israel with his characteristic deep insight, “The present and foreseeable future seem like an endless fog of war, the return of the pogrom as a living threat . . . and a profound lack of faith in our government.”

And yet he has no regrets.  He said, “Carrie and I both appreciated the values and the people enough to make Israel our home.  Looking back, we often note it was the best decision of our lives – even now; especially now.”

Dan, an ardent Zionist since he participated in Young Judaea (the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States) programs in his teens, said he and Beth made Aliyah as 24-year-olds because they “wanted to play a role on the main stage of Jewish contemporary history, rather than watching the Israeli drama play out from afar.” He holds fast to the principles he embraced in his youth.  “I still feel that living in Israel, and all that goes with that, gives my life deeper meaning.  And, despite all our problems, Israel is a good place to raise a family.”  The current family photos Dan and Scott shared here demonstrate Israeli family values and strong sense of kinship more than my one thousand words.

Hearing young Americans vilify all Jewish Israelis as Zionist “oppressors” makes me bristle in anger.

My old friends’ dreams of raising families and building better futures in a democratic Jewish nation do not equal oppression.  The crosscurrents of Middle Eastern geopolitics, internal Israeli power struggles and surging global antisemitism have hijacked their visions of an enlightened, safe Israel – for now.  “Every day we bet on a quick turnaround for tomorrow,” Scott said.

What can we American Jews do to help move the needle toward peaceful resolution? Scott advised, “Stay informed and let your supportive voices be heard.”

To do so, we must acknowledge the suffering and deaths of Gazan civilians with empathy and compassion.  But the Israelis didn’t start this war, and they aren’t rejoicing over this loss of Palestinian lives.

As our Israeli friends and family grapple with the agonies of war, they are being maligned as heartless villains on the world stage.  We American Jews, watching from afar, owe them our full-throated advocacy, constant concern and appreciation.  Their young adult children are fighting for our dreams of a brighter Jewish future too.

About the Author
Sharon Rosen Leib is an award-winning freelance journalist/contributing writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, NPR, The Forward and Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. She served as a Deputy Attorney General in California's Department of Justice before leaving a life of criminal law to raise her three daughters. A native Los Angeleno, she currently resides in Solana Beach, California.
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