Explore All the Stories from Amazing Women
Jewish history, provides the “macro – story / history of the Jewish people, the stories in this book are the “micro” stories of Jewish women that make up the continued narrative of the Jewish people – and the link of generations.
The stories of women help shape and define the context within which we live our lives.
Studies have shown the powerful effects of family stories being told and shared and the tremendous benefits they provide in developing a strong sense of identity.
Emilia Miriam S. Karram
From a Shattered World to a Beautiful One
If you ever think you can't change your destiny, Emilia Miriam's story is for you. It begins in Odessa before she was born, when her grandfather was shot dead during a pogrom. Her widowed grandmother, terrified and alone, packed up her four children and embarked for Mexico, the only country permitting them entry. There, Miriam's mother Bertha married a man who left her shortly after Miriam was born. Bertha then went to New York in search of work to support her baby daughter, leaving Miriam to be raised by her grandmother. Together, grandmother and granddaughter moved every year, taken in by each of Miriam's three uncles. Making a difficult situation worse was the fact that Bertha couldn't gain re-entry into Mexico, which meant that Miriam didn't see her mother from early childhood until she moved to New York after high school.
Many people would be embittered if not broken by such a difficult upbringing. Our mothers' challenges typically become our own; who can imagine the impact of witnessing a pogrom or being deserted by a husband? Painful as these family experiences undoubtedly were, they appear to have strengthened Miriam's character rather than diminish it. With only a high school education, Miriam established herself in New York as a window display artist. She worked for herself, beautifying windows one by one throughout New York City. On one December day, she spotted a jewelry store window in need of a makeover. The owner, a man named Alfred Karram, agreed to use her services, and business boomed as a result. The two started dating and eventually married. Their creative passions proved synergistic; together they raised four artistically expressive children and built a successful interior design business.
Miriam’s professional pinnacle came in 2013 when she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Design Center of America, but she was firm in her belief that raising her four children was truly her greatest accomplishment. Maybe it was the totality of her life itself that was her greatest achievement. A woman of tremendous faith and boundless love for her family, Miriam cried every Friday night when she lit Shabbos candles. We can only imagine her conversations with G-d as she stood before those candles, knowing they were in the same candlesticks she saw her grandmother use in Mexico. But if she was asking to be blessed to pass onto the next generation that same faith and love, Emilia Miriam’S. Karram’s prayers were definitely answered.
Sibyl Silver: Rescuing Stolen Torahs
Sibyl Silver is a woman with a mission. She is fighting foreign government institutions, bureaucracies and even the passage of decades of inaction to help locate, recover and return hundreds of Torah scrolls stolen by the Nazis and given to Eastern European governments.
Since 2011, she has traveled throughout the United States, Israel, and Europe in search of supporters to help her bring these Torahs back to the Jewish people. Some of these holy scrolls date back to the 1800’s; often they are the only remnants of communities lost in the Holocaust. Sibyl first learned of these Torahs in 2010 when she was visiting her grand-daughter Alexandra in Prague. That was the moment when Sibyl committed herself to doing what no other person or organization had been able to achieve in over 75 years: Finding, authenticating and negotiating the return of the stolen Holocaust Torahs.
To create greater awareness of this global injustice, Sibyl created The Jewish Heritage Foundation and later, The Jewish Heritage Foundation in Russia. She and her fellow rescuers have made several dozen trips throughout the United States and abroad to try to rescue these Torahs. To date, she has secured the release of thirteen of them.
But that’s not good enough for her. Over 1,000 Torahs are still being held captive in Eastern Europe, waiting to be rightfully returned to the Jewish people. Until that happens, Sibyl Silver continues on her mission, tenacious and unstoppable.
Being a mother to a child with health challenges makes for a demanding life, requiring vigilance and compassion far beyond what is needed from a mother of typical children. Yet Chaya Shuman rises to the challenge of having two of her five children with significant health issues. Her daughter Miri has diabetes. And her youngest daughter Goldie has Familial Disautonomia, a Jewish genetic disease that affects the body’s autonomic nervous system. An activity as simple as eating isn’t simple for Goldie, and consequently, for her mother.
Yet, Chaya doesn't complain about her children’s extraordinary challenges or how they impact her. Instead, she focuses on the joy both Miri and Goldie bring her, cherishing opportunities such as being able to plan for Goldie’s Bas Mitzvah. Chaya takes plenty of pride in her three sons, too; Isaac is in yeshiva and Peretz and Mendel have both served in the Israeli army. Those who know her don’t know how she does it, but she also manages to be a devoted wife to her husband Avraham Meir, and she takes care of her shul community in Buffalo as well.
To Chaya Shuman, joys and challenges are all part of life, all Divinely ordained. With grace and equanimity, she accepts everything, gently passing that same acceptance on to all of her children.
Chaya Aliotz Shuman
You may not know the name Chaya Aliotz Shuman but you know her story. It is the story of the Jewish spirit, delicate yet unbreakable, even in the face of unspeakable pain and loss. It is the story of unbridled anti-Semitism, an unending scourge on the world stage, the source of anguish for the Jewish people since the dawn of recorded time.
The year of her birth was 1891. The place was a Russian shtetl in an area known as Yustengrad. Jewish life there was a predictable, grim reality. Somehow though, even as a young girl, Chaya had the imagination and the courage to effect change; although it was illegal to create a library in the shtetl, Chaya did just that. The library soon became a community center, too. Regardless of how poor or downtrodden the Jewish people were, Chaya reasoned, they needed to connect with one another, to learn together, to envision brighter tomorrows. Nobody knew that better than Chaya herself, a blossoming poet. But no words can capture the agony she and her family experienced when her four brothers and her father were murdered in two separate pogroms. How can anyone ever make sense of such hatred and brutality?
Yet, throughout her life, Chaya tried to express her feelings through words. She continued to write poetry. She shared the story of how she got out of Russia with her mother, her husband Peretz and their baby daughter Fayga, how they spent three years in Romania before emigrating to Buffalo, New York, the city that became a homeland to so many from her village.
One extraordinary feature of Chaya’s life is that she kept her faith and her traditions; neither the American dream nor her painful Jewish past weakened her spiritual connection. Just as she kept kosher as a young girl in Russia, she continued to do so as an adult in America.
On the last day of Passover 2019, Lori Gilbert-Kaye went to Chabad of Poway, a synagogue in southern California she helped found. She had gone there to say Yizkor, the memorial prayer, for her recently deceased mother.
Little did she know that it would be her last day on earth. A gunman opened fire in the shul, mortally wounding her. If you had known Lori, you would know she died as as she lived--with an almost otherworldly sense of selflessness.
Friends and relatives describe her as having a heart of gold; it was simply in her soul to do for others. She had what it took to act as a surrogate mother for the children of a friend undergoing chemotherapy, yet still relished in the simple joy of sending not one but a handful of cards to remember her friends’ birthdays. When her sister Randi became the West Coast Regional Director of Chai Lifeline, Lori became involved in the organization as well. It was like nothing was too much to ask for the woman who could keep pace with the Energizer bunny.
Lori delighted in reclaiming the traditions of her beloved grandmother and in sharing the beauty of Judaism with others. Her Shabbat meals, especially her challah, were legendary. Jewish holidays were celebrated with joy and delicious kosher food--and never enough friends and family. I think maybe a couple of ending lines here describing what the pic. of her at the Kosel conveys.
Rebecca Fossaner Jacobs
There is much more to Rebecca Fossaner Jacobs’ life than her signature Jewish delicacies, favorites like homemade blintzes, chicken soup, chremslach, and a honey cake so dense it was almost dripping. But those dishes and sharing time with her family were her expression of love; a love she unconditionally showered on each and every family member throughout her long life. Love was just what she did.
Jewish women everywhere would want to know the secret of how she evolved into an adored matriarch, but it seems from her life story that this was simply her destiny. Maybe the adaptability ran in the Fossaner genes. Her parents left Eastern Europe at the turn of the century and immigrated Lipton Saskatchewan where they farmed. Rebecca was the youngest of six, and the first to be born in Canada. Although the family doted on her; life was difficult; cold north winters, an unheated farmhouse, and a short and challenging farming season that required everyone in the family to help on the farm. Lipton had a one-room schoolhouse and Rebecca was able to attend school until grade 8. Later, Rebecca married Abraham Jacobs, and the couple moved to Manitoba, first to Portage la Prairie, where they had their three children, then to Winnipeg. Rebecca happily picked up and moved. She never complained about the challenges that life presented or having to go to work to help support her family, or anything. No matter where she was or what she was doing, she somehow managed to radiate deep contentment and pleasantness.
Rebecca was stoic in everything that she did. Once while cleaning a fish, the middle finger of her right hand became infected. At the hospital she was diagnosed with a serious blood poisoning and she spent six weeks there with hot compresses as her only comfort. A few years later, the infection returned causing one eye to swell. The doctor had to drain the infection and did so without an anesthetic, but she never complained. When her husband contracted Parkinson’s, Rebecca looked after him for as long as she could. She took what life had to offer and was grateful for the good things that came her way.
Rebecca was always thinking of her children and grandchildren. She once accompanied one of her granddaughters to a school function in Winnipeg where Bubbie Rebecca had no qualms about asking if her granddaughter could draw the winning ticket for the raffle. The best part of the story was not only that the school administrators allowed Bubbie to have her way, but that her granddaughter actually ended up picking her own winning ticket.
Bubbie Rebecca loved watching game shows on TV. Her favorites were Price is Right and Front Page Challenge. This Canadian game show featured a panel and a hidden guest whom the panel had to try to identify. Viewers had the opportunity to write in suggestions for guests and if the guest was chosen to be on the show, they received $25.00. Bubbie Rebecca sent in numerous suggestions but never with her name. She used the names of her children and grandchildren, so that they would be the recipient of the prize.
Sleepovers were always fun with Bubbie Rebecca. She taught her grandchildren how to play cards and roll pennies. She was even able to replicate a critical stuffed toy, required in order to be able to fall asleep, with a towel from her linen closet when the original was left at home.
At one point in time, Bubbie had nine people living in her small two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Two of her children and their families had moved in during their own life and house transitions. Bubbie cooked and cleaned for everyone. The house may have been crowded with people but it was also crowded with love.
There was just something about this woman, Bubbie Rebecca. She created her own good fortune even though life did not always deal her a great hand. For her, good fortune was simple; health and family. Her family loved being around her, especially because she always had time for them. Nowhere was this more obvious than at her Shabbos dinners. Regardless of her long hours at work in the factory or the size of her modest home, she always made sure to cook a delectable Shabbos dinner for her family; chicken soup with “eggies” when she could find them, “bake and shake” chicken, and homemade apple pie.
Rebecca Jacobs was the Bubbie everyone dreams of--generous with food that comforts body and soul and effusive with gentle, irreplaceable love for family. The recipe is easy to describe yet difficult to execute; in no small part, it’s what sustains us as a people.
I always thought Woman of Valor was an epithet best bestowed upon you by other people, like philanthropist or intellectual. I’m not calling myself a Woman of Valor, but I see this piece as an opportunity to write my “obituary” while I’m still alive to read it, or better yet, change the ending to a forever happy one.
What do I mean by this happy ending? Ever since I was a child, I was troubled, no, obsessed, by what seemed to be life’s arbitrariness. Why was I born in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s and not Warsaw in the 1930’s? Why was I able to walk and other kids were strapped into wheelchairs? And why was I the only one asking these questions? I longed to learn if there was a deeper truth that could transcend one’s life circumstances, largely because I was terrified the luck of my own life circumstances would run out. In the meantime, I made sure to hold my own in the performance department, just in case I never found out.
Everything changed in 1987, when I went with my husband Zev (then know as Billy--alright, I was known as Linda) on a Chabad Shabbaton with Rabbi Sholom Lipskar. By the end, we knew we wanted to become observant, despite the fact that we were both over thirty and I didn’t know an aleph from a beis. What I did know was that I liked seeing grandparents sitting with their grandchildren talking about G-d and the meaning of life. But what sealed the deal was learning that the Western Wall in Jerusalem was part of the Holy Temple, which was not just a huge synagogue; it actually housed G-d’s presence. Wait, I asked, when the Temple stood, everyone knew G-d existed? Yes, I was told, and the whole world will know about G-d when the Temple is rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach, the Messiah, who will usher in a world of eternal peace and happiness. Hold on, the Messiah is Jewish? Why didn’t I know this? I was comforted to learn that Jews have prayed for Moshaich for two thousand years, that it’s the reason Jews say, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Then came the hard part. If I really want to make this perfect world a reality, I should do what G-d wants n ow- -as in, follow the Torah. I also saw what looked like a wholesome life, an authentically Jewish life, and a meaningful life, but mostly it felt like G-d was answering my prayers. Without thinking too much, we took a leap of faith and never looked back.
Returning to Jewish observance was hard work but now, so many years later, I see it as a tremendous merit. Of course, I’m grateful for the family we were blessed to have; some people are here in this world only because we made the choice we did. But I’m equally grateful that when all those family members think of me, they know I chose this lifestyle because I wanted to bring Moshiach, the ultimate happy ending, in my lifetime. And that I’m still trying to do that.