When Brookline resident Joseph Greenberg went to visit his daughter and her family in Israel last January, he had no idea his two-month stay would become permanent because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the beginning, I felt stuck for a about a day or two,” Greenberg said during an interview on Zoom. “But then when I realized where I was and how much I had been enjoying it and how many friends I had made, and was looking forward to seeing them every day, I said: ‘This is what I was looking for in my life. This is what I want the rest of my life to be like. And I found it. How lucky can I be!’”
During his visit, the coronavirus pandemic bloomed, causing airlines in and out of Israel to shut down. He was supposed to come home in mid-March.
“So, there was no way for me to go home,” said Greenberg from his apartment in a suburb of Tel Aviv.
Even before becoming stuck in Israel, Greenberg, 76, had been contemplating claiming the Israeli citizenship granted to all Jews and started the paperwork. Now a dual citizen, he plans to travel back and forth between Israel and the United States, where his son and his family live in Brookline. He hopes to spend the majority of his time in Israel.
He was able to find an apartment, he said, because his son-in-law’s grandmother, who is 94, had to move into a long-term care facility. Greenberg described the city where he lives, Ramat HaSharon, as a “larger Coolidge Corner area” to the north of Tel Aviv.
“In the time that I’ve been here, I have really become involved in a variety of things,” Greenberg said. He’s joined a book club, he volunteers at the library, he’s been asked to join a men’s choir, he’s taking a Hebrew class, and – in between the lockdowns – spends as much time as he can visiting his daughter, Abbey Onn, her husband, Oded, and his three grandchildren, Aviv, 9, Maya, 7, and Yuval, 4.
During the lockdowns, there were times when he was limited to traveling just 1,000 meters from where he lived.
Greenberg spoke as Israel was coming off a two-week lockdown after COVID-19 cases spiked across Israel.
“There have been periods of no problem seeing them,” Greenberg said, “but there have been periods where a week or two would go by” when he couldn’t. His family lives about a mile away. His daughter would drive by with the windows open and they would wave and say ‘hello,’ he said.
Greenberg was born in the West End of Boston. He was 13 in 1957 when his family was among more than 7,000 pushed out of their homes with one month’s notice because of large-scale redevelopment.
He and much of his family moved to Revere.
One of the first people he met as a teen in Revere was the future Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer, Stanley Forman, and the pair have stayed friends ever since. When he was living in Brookline, they would meet at the Bagel Bin Deli or on the beach for a slice of Bianchi’s pizza.
“Childhood friend whose friendship continues,” Forman said.
Greenberg earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Salem State, and then went on to get his master’s degree in business and business education and a doctorate in adult and higher education, both from Boston University.
He started his career at Colby Junior College (now Colby-Sawyer College) in New London, New Hampshire. He went on to become a professor at MassBay Community College in Wellesley, then worked at Newbury College as an assistant to the college’s president. While there, he finished his doctorate and got a job offer from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he became a professor and directed both the master’s degree and doctoral programs in higher education administration in what he said was a dream career that spanned 38 years.
He and his late wife of 44 years, Roberta, had moved to Virginia and lived near “a wonderful synagogue.” His wife was the principal of the Hebrew school for three years, and he taught there for 13 years.
The happily married couple raised two children. Greenberg said the fifth anniversary of the death of his beshert – soulmate – is approaching. She died Nov. 2, 2015, at age 64.
Greenberg recalled how he was bowled over when he first laid eyes on “this absolutely gorgeous woman.” The couple met in 1971 in passing while he was filling out forms for a scholarship as a teaching fellow while finishing his doctorate at BU. It was love at first sight for both of them.
It took a week before he was able to introduce himself, but in the end, they were married nine months later at Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
Family friend Franny Etna of Ipswich grew up in Medford and was friends with Roberta, and it was Roberta who introduced Etna and her husband, Ralph, to Greenberg.
“He is the best friend and he makes sure to keep in touch with us, always,” Franny Etna said.
As for his move to Israel, Etna said, “Well, I think I’m very happy for him. I will miss him.”
Greenberg’s son, Jason, a lawyer, and his wife, Teresa, have two children and live at The Brook House in Brookline Village, where he had also lived for a time. There, he got to see his first grandchild grow and a second one come along.
He had some good friends there, but he had not gotten used to living there.
“Here, in nine months, I know the name of almost everybody on the street,” Greenberg said. Israel is like the old West End of Boston, he said, with all the shops on the street being mom-and-pop businesses.
“I’m 10 minutes from the Mediterranean to go swimming. It’s a wonderful place. And, I feel good here.”