Clifton—Sima Halberstam Preiser barely survived the Holocaust as a young girl in Poland. While she miraculously made it through her internment in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, almost no one else in her family did. When the teen arrived on the Lower East Side of New York in 1946, she immediately joined Beitar—the youth group of Menachem Begin’s Irgun.
In 1949, the young Sima Halberstam made aliya with her Beitar group, led by future Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens. The group founded a new yishuv on the Jerusalem/Jordan border named Mevo Beitar. Halberstam met her husband in Israel. While they had to subsequently move to the United States for both health and family reasons, they did move back to the Jewish state upon their retirement.
Haya Preiser Augenstein of Passaic shared her mother’s story during the Israeli flag-raising event at Clifton City Hall this past Sunday. In celebration of Israel’s Independence Day and the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, the Clifton Jewish community arranged a public ceremony, which was attended by about 150 people.
Augenstein also shared the values that her mother, who passed away a year and a half ago, lived by: fighting for what she believed in, always helping others, living life with joy and making sure we have a Jewish state in our homeland. Last week, on Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem, a great grandson was born to Sima’s grandchildren in Israel.
Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) of the 9th Congressional District, which includes Clifton, spoke at the event. After referencing the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, he said, “Acts of hate have no place in our society whatsoever. There is no justification for that. There are far too many lives that have been lost and too many sacrifices have been made to go backwards. Israel does not go backwards, and the fight for peace does not go backwards.”
Pascrell later told The Jewish Link, “Being here is good for my soul.”
Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi, in his remarks, emphasized the great diversity that exists in Clifton, where 81 languages are spoken in homes. He noted that there are 20 different flag-raising ceremonies every year at Clifton City Hall.
Anzaldi told The Jewish Link, “It’s great to be able to celebrate the State of Israel.”
Mark Levenson, chair of the State Association of Jewish Federations, told the crowd about the first-ever White House Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration that he attended last week. Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Orrin Hatch gave impassioned speeches on behalf of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Solomon Rybak, of Congregation Adas Israel in Passaic, gave important historical perspectives in his address: “This is the 50th anniversary of all religions having access to their holy sites,” said Rabbi Rybak. This marks the 69th anniversary for the third Jewish Commonwealth as well as the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.” The rabbi also mentioned Israel’s ranking as a tech superpower. He emphasized Israel’s status as a strong ally of the United States and the bipartisan support Israel enjoys in Congress.
Steve Goldberg of Clifton welcomed the participants. Irving Cohen, an Israeli navy veteran, recited the Kel Maleh Rachamim and Kaddish in memory of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Force who gave their lives defending the Jewish homeland. Israel War of Independence veteran Joe Hershovitz raised the Israeli flag. Sami Steigmann, who was in a Romanian concentration camp as an infant and grew up to serve for four years in the Israeli air force, shared his life story. Cantor Ted Prosnitz of Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” “Hatikvah” and “Jerusalem of Gold.”
The organizing and sponsorship of the event was courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic and Jewish Family Service of Greater Clifton-Passaic. The event organizers were Goldberg and Levenson.