Ona Yufe, Born March 11, 1932, Brooklyn, New York.
Ona’s father was born in Poland, and everyone was immigrating because of being Jewish. He wanted a better life. He immigrated in the 20’s. Ona’s mother was born in New York.
By the time the war started the family had moved to Long Branch New Jersey not far from the ocean. It was very real for the family and a few miles from the house was a submarine station. There was a rumor that a German submarine was sited off the coastline. Her babysitter’s brother was bombed in New Jersey. The family was aware of discrimination. Ona walked to public school because it was close. She did pass a catholic school and kids in the schoolyard would shout Dirty Jew. Ona’s dear friend was back and together as they walked to school they commented on her friend as well using the “N” word. She remembered telling her father about the comments from the school and her dear father reminded Ona that everyone is colored. He commented that others just happen to be pinker than others. It didn’t make a difference. Mind you, this happened almost 80 years ago.
Business was good during wartime. The father sold shoes and everyone wanted to make sure they always had shoes on their feet. “just in case”.
The family was very orthodox. Growing up Ona had dreams of being a pioneer in Israel. With Israel being a new country, she wanted to explore this new land. Numerous young Americans felt like Ona. “ It was the thing to do.” Ona took a boat across because planes were too expensive. This was in 1953. Ona met a woman on the boat who had been to Israel before and she was kind enough to introduce Ona to the Kibbutz life. Ma Aleh Hachamisha was the name of the kibbutz. Today it is now a big fancy resort. Ona studied Hebrew in the States so being in Israel was easy. She worked with the kids. There she had met her husband to be, Jack Yufe, who had served in the Israel army. His dad sent him there to “ meet a nice Jewish girl”. Jack had a twin brother, Oscar. Jack and Oscar were born in Trinidad. They were the first Jewish babies born in Trinidad. “ I met Jack at the kibbutz were I worked and studied. He was interesting and very exotic.” Jack’s father had emigrated from Romania to Trinidad because a friend of his told him that business was good in the West Indies.
Jack and Oscar were born on January 16, 1933- the same year that Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. The marriage between Jack and Oscar’s parents did not last. Jack remained with his father while Oscar went to Germany with his German Catholic mother. Oscar was baptized and took his mother’s family name, Stöhr. His very strict grandmother raised him. Oscar was quite taken by Adolf Hitler and at the age of six years old was enrolled as a member of the Hitler Youth. This was something that was mandatory for all children in 1936.
Both brothers knew of one another but knew very little about each other. In 1954 Jack and Ona traveled to West Germany to finally meet Oscar, his twin. “ There we were stepping off the platform of the train and there was Jack standing next to me and Jack at the end of the platform wearing the exact same clothes. Everything was very nice. Oscar knew a little English and Jack knew Yiddish so they were able to communicate. “ Ona explained that Oscar joined the Hitler youth because it was the thing to do and that this way they would suspect you for being the enemy. So, he did it.
A family friend had stayed in touch with Jack’s father and this is how Jack new where his brother was. Jack contacted his mom and she welcomed him coming to visit.
Imagine, Jack was in the Israeli army and his brother had served in the Nazi Youth in Germany. Even though Jack and Oscar had been separated and lived such different lives, they had many similarities. They both read the last page in a book first; they shared similar clothing styles and even liked the same food. They even walked the same way. They did not talk about politics because of their differences. They both were known for being hot tempered, demanding and impatient. Oscar died of lung cancer in 1997. Jack did not attend the funeral because he felt that his physical similarity would upset those that were grieving for his brother.
Jack died in 2015 at the age of 82, from stomach cancer. There is a book Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins (2005) by Nancy Segal, which detail the brothers along with numerous documentaries.
While Jack and Ona were in Israel, Jack’s father had settled in San Diego. Around 1955 Ona and Jack eventually came to San Diego and moved to Chula Vista. They had 2 children, Rehova and Devra. Ona was the music teacher at Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista. She brought Jewish Culture and awareness to the children that attended Sunday school and was loved by everyone. Although Ona was soft spoken she had much to say and teach.
Jack was not a gentle man and when Ona met Jack’s mother she understood why she had left Jack’s father. Jack was an abuser just like his father. “ Jack felt that women were like slaves and that they could be knocked around. He learned this from his father and growing up in Trinidad.” Ona was so innocent not knowing any better. Jack reminded Ona that it was HER fault that he had to hit her. In the late 70’s Ona found a group at the YWCA for women and there she understood that Jack was wrong for doing what he did. She divorced him and became a counselor helping others that were victims of spousal abuse. Finally there was a term for this abuse it was called domestic violence. Ona believes that after they divorced, their marriage in Israel might not have been legal. She learned later on that Jack remarried the woman that he was having an affair with.
Finally Ona was free from abuse but most importantly, she had the strength to help others. The YWCA was a savior to Ona and Ona knew that she had to give back to the community. She was one of the first women to conduct support groups for battered women. Recently Ona was swimming at the YWCA in Chula Vista when a women tapped Ona on the shoulders and said, “ I remember you, Ona, you saved my life. Had a stayed with my husband, he would have killed me.”
In the early 80’s Ona devoted her time helping those with AIDS. She started the very first AIDS project in San Diego. Numerous AIDS patients called Ona “the mother we never had because you accept us the way we are.” Ona helped find the funding for those that needed AZT and this was one of the greatest moments of Ona’s life, hearing that AIDS patients had a chance.
Ona found her calling in life having learned from experience what physical and emotional abuse was, volunteering, helping other and never asking for anything in return.
Who is Ona today?
She loves reading, is a huge Star Trek fan, and loves to swim. Ona laughs because she is not male, young and Christian and goes to the Chula Vista YMCA, and loves watching jeopardy and wheel of fortune. Ona loves watching her daughter Devra dance and impersonate Michael Jackson. Her other daughter Rehova has passed. Rehova had children and Ona is very proud of being a grandmother.
Ona is a survivor in a different way and she saved many people that were abused by counseling, loving and nurturing.
To Ona I say………Live Long and Prosper
(Ona was my music teacher at Temple Beth Shalom. She was the greatest teacher I ever had)