Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Super Great-Grandmother of Jewish Gaza Passes Away

Super Great-Grandmother of Jewish Gaza Passes Away
In Memory of Sylvia Mandelbaum

By Shifra Shomron
Nitzan Caravilla

Once she gifted me with an elegant wallet. It was black leather with golden clasps. I thought it very handsome, but I was a mere teenager and didn't feel comfortable accepting it from an elderly lady. But she insisted I take it. And being Sylvia Mandelbaum, she won her point. She nearly always did… She was a determined person. Spunky too. She fell in love with Gush Katif when on a tour there at an advanced age ("my age is nobody's business but my own") and moved there. In the early days, while her villa was being constructed, she lived in a caravan adjacent to my family. And she determinedly brought back floor tiles for her house in order to move the building process along quicker.

Her Neve-Dekalim villa-neighborhood house was lovely. She had long, colorful, glass-stained windows, the house was spacious, and the furniture nicely arranged. Her garden was a dream. A well-kept lawn, large sweet-smelling rose vines, tall mimosas and several fruit-bearing tangerine trees. In the villa neighborhood the children all affectionately knew her as 'grandma' – a fact which filled her with pride. She would regularly host spaghetti dinners in her garden for them so their parents could rest from cooking. Sylvia laughed telling me that the mothers would show their thanks by sending her portions of the meals they made. Sylvia was amused saying that she certainly enjoyed the Israeli cooking, but what she enjoyed more was having the young children around her…

She had a fascinating history. Since I know I won't possibly do it justice, I'm quite reluctant to even try. She started by designing shoes. She told me that she was very good at it. But she didn't remain at that job. She married, she had children, she moved to California (for the climate), she was a real estate agent, later she made Aliyah and she also wrote many articles over the years and authored books. She also introduced Gishur (divorce by mediation) in Israel which is quite a feather in her cap. I'm convinced I don't know all of it. Despite my willingness to listen, she wasn't one to dwell much on the past – she was interested in the present. She listened to the news and kept herself up to date. And when the Disengagement Plan first breathed air she was very worried as to the future of the nation, and as to her own future. She had reason to be.

When I first started writing articles she insisted on reading them. She told me I was lucky; that I had discovered very early in life where my talent lay. And to my great embarrassment, she insisted on my autographing for her every article I wrote.

Mrs. Sylvia Mandelbaum has passed away today.

It is three years to the expulsion of Neve Dekalim.

She was buried in Jerusalem at 3:30 this afternoon in Har HaMenuchot, at the entrance to Jerusalem.

And what remains to me are memories of an ardent Zionist and independent thinker. She was certainly an activist and a doer in her lifetime. And I continue to fondly use the wallet.

Shifra Shomron is the author of the historic novel, Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim, (Mazo Publishers, 2007).
"Travel beyond time and beyond location – into my Gush Katif"
Visit Shifra's website:


A Simple Jew said...

Beautiful posting, Shifra.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute. Your could have written more. I would have thirstily read every word.
May your memories of Savta Sylvia and those of the other children who will cherish the years your lives overlapped be a comfort to you.

Anonymous said...

An eloquent tribute to a remarkable person. Sylvia was blessed to be loved and missed by so many.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and inspiring tribute! I wish I would have gotten to meet such a lovely and blessing of a lady!

Thank you Shifra for this post! It is remembering people like Mrs Mandelbaum that inspires others to do good and wonderful things....

May she always be remebered - and she will - in the acts of chessed people do in her memory....

G-d bless you Mrs. Sylvia Mandelbaum!

Hadassa DeYoung said...

I met Sylvia only a few times, but as everyone did in Gush Katif, we all knew her. I'll never forget her three-wheeled bicycle with large basket and "Rolls Royce" license plate. And how she forced the big Sephardic green-grocer to speak to her in ENGLISH! I can't imagine that anyone else did, but Sylvia, z"l, was Sylvia.
Among the many sins of the Expulsion Government they will have to pay for making the last three years of Sylvia's life a great hardship instead of a contented life surrounded by loved-ones. Arab terror never phased her, not even the mortars. It was the expulsion that broke her heart and must have taken years off of her life.
Thank you Shifra for writing in her memory.

Shifra said...

Thank you for your kind comments.

Hadassa: your comment invoked other memories in me. I recall that when a bullet had made a small indentation into the exterior of Sylvia's (cement) house, she was almost excited. The chances of a bullet reaching her villa neighborhood were slim, and it was incredible that once covering this distance the bullet had enough power to make an indentation into her wall. Sylvia viewed it as a novelty and showed the bullet in the indentation to all her visitors... When it fell out she was disappointed and had it put back in.

It has been brought to my attention that Sylvia OBM was 92 and a half at her passing. She was born the seventh day of Chanukah.

Hadassa DeYoung said...

I was also thinking about that bullet. The kids collected mortar shrapnel "to remember the Arabs by". Sylvia had her personal miracle bullet. Actually two. One bullet didn't have the power to reach her house (or possibly it was a neighbor's house) and rested on the sidewalk leading to the house.
We'll never stop longing to return to our Land of Miracles.

Anonymous said...

First I want to thank Shifra Shomron for taking the time to write such a beautiful article in memory of Savta Sylvia. Sylvia Mandelbaum was my husband's grandmother. She was always a very central figure in my husband's life. In fact, it was Savta who brought Danny and his family to Israel when he was just four years old. When I met Danny, I got a wonderful new Savta.
I wanted to fill in some of Savta's history. Shifra mentioned some of the jobs Savta had in the US before making Aliya. She certainly excelled in everything she did and perhaps especially in the volunteer work she did for her own Jewish community and the State of Israel. Her communal activities began when she organized a Jewish National Fund Campaign. Following that she organized two chapters of the religious women's zionist organization to which she dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy. One day the principal of the local Hebrew school approached her concerning the lack of a Jewish day school in the community. So Savta organized the school that her own daughters studied in. The school is still in existence today. Savta's work took a new turn when she moved to Israel and took an interest in the agunah problem. For twenty years she devoted herself to helping agunot in the country, touching countless lives.
Savta moved to Neve Dekalim with the same vision and determination inwhich she did everything. It is a great tragedy that she could not live out her life where she was happiest. I want to share with you something that Savta wrote in her memoirs following her world cruise on the QE2. "At this point in time, having experienced a World Cruise, I can candidly say, Neve Dekalim for me is the most beautiful place in the world, for its clean sea air, its greenery, its manicured gardens and best of all, its most beautiful children."

Anonymous said...

thanks Shifra for this article, and thanks also to those commenters who added additional details. I met Sylvia for the first time only after the expulsion from Gush Katif, and it was obvious that she was a wonderful person, but that following the expulsion she was only a shadow of what she once had been. thanks for the additional information about Sylvia. we will miss her.

Anonymous said...

Just this morning I found an orange kippa that Savta Sylvia had crocheted for my son, Ariel, when he was three years old. That was twenty-seven years ago.
I am related to Sylvia - by divorce: she was my husband's ex-mother-in-law. Our Savta, she stayed in our home, visiting her grandsons, and when she held counseling sessions for Mitzvah, the organization that she founded to help agunot , she stayed at our home in the Old City. And helping women through grueling divorce procedures she did! One of her books, written together with Dr. Morris Mandel, was entitled Divorce Your Lawyer.
She slept over and made the chopped herring and other delicacies in the wee hours of the morning for her grandsons' bar mitzvahs that were held in our home. How could a sixty-plus-year-old woman have been comfortable in a bunk bed? But not once did she complain or demand a higher degree of comfort when she shared her beloved grandson's room. She was an inspired and inspiring giant of a lady - and a lady she always was, even in those last three awful years after she was compelled to leave her beloved Neve Dekalim.
I remember sitting with her and my mother back in Jerusalem shortly after the expulsion, and Sylvia showed us many letters she had received over the course of the years, commending her for her volunteer work. One was from the White House - I forget which President signed it, but the most outstanding one was from the Queen of England. I sorely miss the woman who was a mother to me in the years before my mother made aliyah. And after my mother passed away, again it was Sylvia whom I would visit in the Home where she spent her last days.
I have many "Savta Sylvia" stories in my book, Within the Walls of Jerusalem .
Yehi zichra baruch.