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November 24, 2014 | 2nd Kislev 5775

Time Goes By

October 7, 2001
Marc Rosenstein

In 1962 I participated in the first Eisendrath-Israel exchange, spending a semester at the Leo Baeck School in Haifa. I was placed with the Zoury family. Senia Zoury was a PE and agriculture teacher in a Haifa public school; Rachel was a PE teacher at Leo Baeck. One daughter, Hagit, was a university student in Jerusalem; the other, Nina, was in 11th grade at Leo Baeck. It was a wonderful half-year for me. Over the years, I have maintained contact with the Zourys. The other day, we went to visit Senia and Rachel in Haifa. Their story is the story of century (literally - he is in his late 90s, she a few years younger), and each time I visit them I get a stronger sense of them as a window on the triumphs and disappointments of this century of Zionism.

They both immigrated as young, idealistic PE teachers, dedicated to the mission of helping create a “New Jew” who would be strong, self-confident, comfortable with his/her body, rooted in the soil of Eretz Yisrael - not a pale, timid, “luftmensch.” And they themselves modeled this ideal for generations of Haifa children.

Senia and Rachel were active in the labor movement throughout their careers - and both were constantly involved in volunteer activities for the community until age began to slow them down over the past few months (!); they took for granted a vision of Zionism as a movement not just for national liberation but for tikkun olam, for building a society in Israel that would be characterized by justice and compassion. And while they have never relinquished their belief that all Jews should make aliyah, they always treated this goal as an ideal - and never lost respect for or interest in the Jewish communities continuing to exist throughout the Diaspora - many of which they visited in their extensive post-retirement travels.

In the 50s, they built the pleasant single family house on the outskirts of Haifa where they lived when I stayed with them, and on into the 90s. The house was always surrounded by Senia’s fruit trees and vegetable and flower plants in various stages of propagation, and a lawn where Rachel gave exercise classes. Over the years the surrounding area became built up into apartment blocks, a whole new neighborhood - and their island of green remained, its value steadily growing. Then, they traded the property to a developer for a lovely apartment in the building to be built on the site (as well as nest eggs for all their grandchildren). To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: there is a time for socialism and a time for capitalism. Some of Senia’s trees have been preserved in the transition; they can look down on them from their balcony.

Senia and Rachel were always secular Zionists, and always outspoken anticlericalists (i.e., couldn’t stand the rabbinical establishment in concept or in practice). But like so many “secular” Israelis, they were not alienated from the tradition itself, and over the years became involved in the Reform congregation in Haifa.

Hagit went on for a PhD., and pursued a career in folklore research and teaching; Nina went straight from the army to a kibbutz, where she has been a landscape gardener ever since.

Patriotic, Zionistic, Ashkenazic-establishment Israelis, with a sense of noblesse oblige and no hatred for the Other - be it the non-ashkenazic half of Jewish Israel, or the Arabs of the state, Rachel and Senia are the Zionist movement personified: a complex and not completely rational blend of yiddishkeit, secular humanism, utopianism, realism, arrogance, and selflessness.

They were reminiscing during our visit, fondly remembering simpler times. I don’t remember those times, but how I long for them!

 

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