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Story: Memories from Haifa School - Leo Back , Israel, 30/10/2008

Reflecting back on my formative years, spent at the "Leo-Beck" public school, a gush of bitter-sweet memories and mixed feelings usually flood my, now seasoned adult heart.

Being requested to put those reflections in writing for the school booklet's class reunion, of the 50 years old, brought about also my own reunion with those dormant feelings.

In the early 1960s, being a child of divorced parents, was a rare phenomenon.

My stratification on the class social ladder, was contaminated by the prejudice of my school's classmates, and was entirely beyond my fragile control.

I recall fearlessly battling the up-front name-calling and the insults thrown around behind my back , while struggling to hold back my tears from bursting and smudging my childish, innocent face.

I put all my energy into re- branding myself and my efforts into convincing others,

that there is much more to me then being defined by my parent's broken marital status.

At the forefront of these attempt to be re-created, I remember an unexpected assistance from one teacher, whose name escapes me, but who was instrumental in endearing my image.

I was registered in school as Lilia Zelzer. The Polish originated name disclosed the fact that I was a non "Sabra" who immigrated from Poland to Israel at the age of 3, thus forever deprived of being the "Salt of the Land " - "Melach Ha'aretz.

The school, in its attempt to speed up acclimation, had Hebrewtized foreign immigrants' names and initially re-named me as "Lilith" instead.

It was my a 4th grade teacher who took one look at me on the first day of school and decided that " with such an angelic face , Lilith does not do you justice, so we will drop the 'th' and you will be called Lili from now on."

I had forsaken, the "grain or crystal" traits, associated with the "salt of Earth" notion, as well as the questionable demonic qualities associated with "Lilith" of the Jewish mythology, for the qualitative traits of a very lovely fragrant flower.

And so I stuck to Lili and all it promised,. In retrospect , I think I traded fabulously well.

Only many years later into my adulthood, and especially after reading Primo Levy's depiction of Lilith in one of his stories, did I fully understand the legend of the tempestuous Lillith, so infamously known as the rebellious wife of Ashmedai of the Jewish Aaggadah tradition.

I will be always grateful to that teacher's good senses. She saved me by changing my name and the course of what may had been a very shady destiny.

During my elementary schooling, I resided at Madregot Koresh, only 5 minutes walking distance above the school's location on Alrozerov St., and very close by to the

beautiful famous Baha'i Gardens, situated at Haifa's middle town

I lived there with only my amazing, but struggling, sole provider mother. - Ruth.

I was destined to be a "Latch Key kid".

Nonetheless, that state of affairs, also provided me with endless benefits and opportunities. After the daily formal school hours and until 6:00pm each day,

I was left , pretty much, to my vices, to do as I please. Much of the pleasure and excitement of the informal learning, on a daily basis and on many other occasions such as on Friday and Saturday evenings and Holidays, were to be found then, in abundance, at the school's out-door big play yard.

That yard was literary the neighborhood , informal Community Center , providing plenty of after-school programs and special enrichment classes with the best preparation for life.

The memories of competitive sports, chalked "class" hopping , rope jumping or aimlessly running around he yard, with the neighborhood kids, still resonates sweetly, when I reminisce about this long faded past.

I so fondly recall the Friday's nights co-ed mingling and folk dancing of the "Hora" or "Ben Lokech Bat", (a boy picks up a girl), as well as the "Scouts" gatherings at the yard's meeting point.

And how can one forget being chased by boys who, with the change of their squeaky voices, also tried to pull off the latex straps of the girls' first bras, from under the shirts, which barely conceal their puberty budding breasts .

I so clearly remember girls cliques and secret sharing social clubs that formed while the boys wrestled rowdily and climbed trees.

No doubt, that in addition to an excellent, inspiring in-door formal education, much of my early life curiosity and exploration search were challenged and met on this magical school play yard.

This yard, by default , also became the place where I acquired most of my social interactive skills, problem solving techniques, as well as negotiation and mediation capabilities.

My experimental exercises with independence also was translated to the belief that all desired can be achieved.

Being an only child, it was on that play yard I acquired a spirit for loving diffrent people, being compassionate, and the wisdom of sharing and contributing to more then oneself.

School, no doubt, impacted my spiritual development and love of Israel - The Moledet - MotherLand.

I so deeply remember the formal festive assemblies glorifying the special Jewish Holidays, the state of israel and the somber commemoration days, taking place, also at the school exterior yard.

Both religious and secular, patriotic, ideological and universal content was transmitted to us young souls, accompanied by a children's choir singing or followed by a sing along of the entire school.

One of the most powerful of such events which endowed me with love for bible studies, which I continue to be engage with till today, was the in-school Bat-Mitzvah ceremony.

Our class was the first one in the history of the school to perform a collective Bat Mitzvah ceremony for all the girls who turned 12 that school year.

It was the most uplifting empowering commemorative event, acknowledging the transitional process of us young girls into early womanhood in front of a formal witnessing public. It made us brim with pride.

Iron women school principle Egozi's encouragement and in defiance against my step father's suggestion, to send me to a vocational school, the formal and informal education I emulated, had sufficiently equipped me to proceed and graduate also from Leo- Beck High school.

Leo-Back school is known till today for its vibrant pluralistic education center embracing also a progressive Jewish philosophy, ideology, programs and synagogue

Named after Rabbi Leo-Beck (1983-1956) a German rabbi, scholar and theologian who served as leader of Reform Judaism movement, the school weave together education and community work, based on humanistic learning, democracy and Jewish values.

Following my studies at Leo-Beck, I proceeded to obtain three BA's from Haifa University and an MA from the University of Minnesota.

In the time between my school years and the present, I have tread on larger grounds. I have since traveled the globe, visited most continents, lived in a few and worked at challenging jobs for exciting causes.

However, what I am most proud of is being a mother to two amazing, accomplished daughters, who I was able to raise and inspire on the knowledge, insights and spirit so blissfully acquired on the best school's play yard in Haifa-- my beloved home town.

1 Comment

Ofra Pleban
Ofra Pleban
May 30, 2021

Beautifully written and very touching.

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