Monday, August 29, 2011

Miriam Freund - Life Interpreter

If an oleh (new immigrant) is truly fortunate then when he moves to Israel he finds someone here to help him interpret life and see him through the difficult times.
Interpret life- I don't mean interpreting what the newspapers report or what people say (although that can be part of it) , I mean interpreting the events around him (personal and national) and helping him make sense of them all. That Life Interpreter can enhance a person's Aliya and even rescue it in times of difficulty, which often happens.
I had a Life Interpreter for many years when I first arrived in Israel 19 years ago.
Her name was Miriam Freund.

I made Aliya straight to Efrat with a new born baby. My husband began a business, our children went off to school and I was left to start my life in some way too.
I wanted to take Ulpan, but when I called the teacher whose number I was given, he said, "No babies in my classroom." So I went Ulpanless until I heard of a local Ulpan class of sorts - it was twice a week for an hour, held in a caravan by the Russian olim, and run by a volunteer teacher Miriam Freund.
Miriam had been a math teacher and her husband a judge. They had lived in Bnei Brak, and when they retired, they moved to Efrat to help build the area where her husband's brother had given his life for the Jewish people.
Miriam's brother-in-law had been a soldier in Gush Etzion in 1948. He had fought and died here. Actually, I think he had been one of the Lamed Hei. In his memory the Freunds made the second part of their life here.
And build they did - but they didn't build houses, they built people.

Caretaker of the State
Miriam was a caretaker for the State of Israel and the State didn't even know it. She cared for some of the most vulnerable in the nation. Imagine being dropped into a crowded room with millions of people and not being able to speak or be understood. It is torture. Miriam took the Russian olim who were elderly or who had to immediately work and couldn't go to an intensive Jerusalem Ulpan. She taught them the basics of a totally foreign language and she guided them through their lives here.
Now I realize I was blessed that I couldn't go to regular Ulpan, because I got to learn with Miriam. I learned - not only how to overcome the challenges of the Hebrew language - how to overcome the challenges of life in Israel. (I guess that sounds a bit much today when there are so many olim with so many help opportunities and organizations, like Nefesh B'Nefesh, to smooth the way. But when I came and especially when the Russian olim came, there was just about nothing!)
Miriam Freund taught us verbs and nouns, how to read the Efratone headlines (some folks graduated to the entire articles), how to listen to the news, how to see life in Israel for its blessings and how to overcome its challenges.
Life in Israel was difficult for us - a Russian doctor, an engineer, a teacher, all who were reduced to cleaning houses because they were too old to retrain in Hebrew; and me, a journalist who was a new mother and Hebrewly-challenged. (Over the years the Russian olim were resettled into real apartments and other American olah mothers came to our Ulpan too.)
Throughout our early years B"H Miriam interpreted life for us here. She actually made it bearable and made it wonderful too. Every week was a new trial for our classmates and our families- school, work, bureaucracy, teacher's notes, friendships, finding a home, health, relationships. We walked into Ulpan with all our troubles and she helped us through them.

Part of Jewish History
She made us feel that we, even with our woes, were part of Jewish history. Many olim had come before us, and many would follow. Difficulties would happen and we would overcome. We did, thanks to Miriam.
She herself had been an olah. She came at a young age from Germany with her family. I think she was three. At 17, she volunteered as a message courier for the Hagannah. She met her husband Aharon and had a simple wedding. If we thought we had difficulties, things were a zillion times were difficult before the State and during its beginnings.
She raised a family of devoted children. Some became chareidi, some dati-leumi, but family was paramount, and transcended differences in lifestyle. That example alone guided me when my children also chose different paths in their Torah paths.
She told us about her children in Alon Shvut, in Pesagot, in Jerusalem, in Bet El. She told us personal family stories that made us laugh and cry. We all shared our family dramas and family happinesses.
At every class we were to hand in stories in Hebrew about our life here. We discussed them, we commiserated with one another in our troubles and we cheered each other's successes. And then we received the stories back with big red corrections all over them.
We were told to come in to class with a funny story and we went around the room making one another smile.
Miriam enthralled us with stories about modern Jewish history, and whenever our troubles seemed too much for us to bear, she told us the story about the two troubled Chassidim. Two Chassidim with many problems went to their rebbie to ask for help to bear the burdens of life. The rebbie told them to write down all their troubles and place them in their coat pockets. Then he told them to switch coats. Each found the other's burdens absolutely too heavy, but when they switched coats again, they found they were able to handle the challenges they originally faced.
She gave us another trick that I do until this day. Miriam told us to write down our troubles and put them in a drawer. Then she said to take them out three months later. She said that when we reviewed the problems at a later day, we would find that they had worked themselves out. And they did.

Personal Lesson in Terror
Miriam taught us how to overcome just about everything - even the most horrible trials of life. In 2002 Miriam's daughter and son-in-law Chani and Yossi Dickstein of Pesagot were killed in a terror attack near Hebron on their way to a friend for Shabbat. Also murdered was their nine-year-old son Shuva-el. Nine Dickstein children were left orphaned. Miriam and her husband Aharon did everything they could to help the children, and one of the Freund's sons took it upon himself to be father of the children.
At a time of terror and fear, Miriam was a model of courage and faith.
Many times over the years I asked Miriam if I could nominate her for an award for national service. She always declined, although she deserved all the honor possible.

Bravery Always
When she was stricken with cancer Miriam remained positive brave and very matter-of-fact. She had taught us to take life as it was, and she did the same. I visited her when she was feeling strong-ish and she was just as she was - always anxious to hear news of my children, my work, my volunteering efforts, my life. She was just as she was - encouraging, warm, positive and accepting.
This morning I awoke to the news that my beloved teacher had passed away.
My Life Interpreter is gone, but over the years Miriam taught me to be a Life Interpreter too. I will always be grateful and thank her for the hidden blessings she taught me to interpret and appreciate.

1 comment:

  1. Baruch Dayan Emet. I am sorry for your loss. This is a lovely and fitting tribute. The deeds of tzadikim are their true monument and memorial.