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In Praise of Lolita Marcos

Lolita Marcos ... recalls her life as one of satisfaction

Saluting an ESRA volunteer

The celebration of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of ESRA this year has tweaked the memories of many ESRA volunteers, inspired years ago by the idea of an organization that would assist in the adjustment period for new English-speaking immigrants coming to Israel. One such volunteer, Lolita Marcos, was present at the very first meeting on April 5, 1979, more of a think tank really. Its success resulted in the formation of an active steering committee which initially served the needs of the Herzliya and Kfar Shmariyahu communities – and today is one of the most important volunteer organizations serving all of Israel with aplomb.

Lolita volunteered her services at that initial meeting, and now 40 years later has been involved in ESRA one way or another for all of those years. She reminisces about her life and the drive that motivates this impressive lady still today. Volunteering has been her driving force. Her eyes light up as she describes her upbringing in a world that has long changed.

"It was a dream living in the Belgian Congo. I wish every child could have had the experience that we had – the freedom, the open spaces, the exquisite beauty of nature. The Jewish community was like one big family. Mainly Sephardic, we had a shul and a community hall in which to share events and celebrations and everyone shared in the catering. The whole community was invited to each other's weddings, barmitzvahs, every occasion was shared. Our home language was French."

Lolita was the oldest child of the family of two girls and a boy. Just before the Congo became independent, her father sold his business agency and the family relocated to Somerset West in the Western Cape. When Lolita matriculated, she elected to go to Cape Town to study and the family all moved with her, as her father, who was very protective, wouldn't consider her going into a residence. After a three-year stint at College she qualified as a Nursery School teacher. She has family all over the world, Belgium, America, England, Brazil and Spain. With the influence of an aunt, she got a job at a French school in Spain and spent the next 18 months teaching at a registered Nursery School in Marbella. However, she had visited Israel before starting work in Spain and decided that Spain would only be a stepping stone to eventually settling in Israel. And so it was – but it is said that man makes plans and the good Lord laughs. While still at ulpan in Tel Aviv, Lolita was diagnosed with a brain tumor that required urgent surgery and she was returned with haste to her family in South Africa, where she was immediately admitted to hospital for major surgery.

It was a year later, when fully recovered, that she returned to Israel.She attended an ulpan at the absorption center in Ramat Aviv. One day while shopping for an appliance she went to Murray Greenfield, who ran a business that supplied electrical appliances and necessary accessories and specifically offered assistance to new olim. He was so impressed with her that he offered her a job in the office.She was fluent in English, Spanish and French, and a student of Hebrew – he chose well. She grabbed the opportunity offered her and never looked back. In time she moved on and worked for a while at a canning factory in the export department. Her parents had by this time come on aliyah and they had relocated to Herzliya. When the American School, which was in Kfar Shmariyahu at the time, advertised for a telephonist she applied. Lolita got the job and learnt everything about administration in her office job, where she served happily for 24 years. Her retirement from full time work and only part time volunteering then opened the door for full time volunteering.

It was during her work at the American School that Lolita first met Merle Guttmann. Merle, together with some other volunteers, had organized a public meeting to address a problem that she had observed amongst new olim. Coming on aliyah with high hopes for the future, newcomers were faced by formidable challenges, particularly of adjusting to a different culture and language. Many left Israel disillusioned, finding the changes too difficult. This successful initial meeting resulted in Lolita immediately offering her time and support to what of course grew into ESRA, the highly successful volunteer organization we all still support and enjoy the benefits of today.Lolita, young and enthusiastic, was an ideal volunteer and remained so for 40 years – and still counting.

She recalled some of the ventures she was responsible for at ESRA. Early on, she organized outings to introduce the English speakers to the country of Israel. She did so with the encouragement and invaluable help of the Tel Aviv information center and the monthly trips were most successful. The buses were always full. Lolita, herself a newcomer to Herzliya, knew few people in the area, but while organizing these trips she became a familiar figure, and as a result was greeted warmly by all and sundry when she ventured onto the streets – which was a welcome reward for her hard work.Lolita introduced and organized a funfair or fete inspired by the "kermesse" she remembered from the Congo. This funfair offered a variety of games and activities with prizes to be won for each event. A lot of work for the organizers, especially for Lolita who handmade all the prizes, but a fun day and a pleasure for all the families in Herzliya, and it generated much needed funds for ESRA.

ESRA had become the social hub for English speaking olim. Lolita served on the steering committee to begin with, but in a short while the organization grew immensely. There was one year that she reluctantly took over as chairperson of ESRA when Merle took a year's break. She was delighted to hand back the reins – but throughout her association with ESRA she undertook any task that they needed her for. After retiring from work she volunteered at the ESRAmagazine office, then on HaNadiv Street in Herzliya, a short walk from her home. She also distributed magazines, which she still does today – delivering by hand in the area where she lives.

Lolita can look back with pride on her life as one that was powered by volunteering. She gave of her time offering her help at the Netanya French library, even supplying them with boxes of books that her family sent her from a deceased relative in Belgium. For a spell, while still driving her car, she volunteered at the 'Give a Child a Heart' organization in Holon, where doctors give their time free of charge, performing complicated heart surgery for children in need from communities of the world. Her active involvement in these organizations only terminated when her motor car, which served her faithfully for many years, eventually gave in and died.

Today Lolita still regularly visits a few residents at the Beth Protea retirement home near to where she lives. She has been befriending residents there since her Dad died in 2000. Many have become valued friends and are most appreciative of the time she devotes to them. She also volunteers at the Herzliya library, alphabetically sorting and returning books in English, French and Spanish to the shelves.

Lolita looks at it all as her pleasure not duty, and happily recalls her life as one of satisfaction for all she has done and still does.

Flashback to 1983 and the Funfair in Herzliya which Lolita Marcos conceived and organized


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Saturday, 20 April 2024

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