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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Some Giraffe – Some Neck!

 When the death of British travel journalist, Alan Whicker was announced on  Friday last week, I reflected not only upon his love of eccentric personalities, but how he had missed a thousand golden opportunities here in Israel.

During almost 60 years of interviewing an  infinite stream of engaging oddities worldwide, it seems Whicker never visited the Jewish state and therefore did not encounter personalities like US-born Edyth Geiger, whose headstone unveiling I had attended at the cemetery in Tzfat, barely days before he died.

One of the ‘four holy cities’ of Israel, Tzfat is famed for its ultra high location in the Galilee’s Meron Mountains and as an important centre of Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism.

More prosaically, during the past 30 - 40 years it has become known as the best place in the region to acquire free English language books, thanks largely to the efforts of Mrs Geiger, who established a lending library in her tiny flat on Jerusalem Street after settling in the town.

Mrs Geiger accomplished much, including service in the Women’s Corps of the U.S. Army during World War II. Later, widowed young, she reared her four children single-handed and was proud of imbuing them with her love of literature, joking that she would read to them at bedtime even when she had twenty dinner guests waiting to be fed!

Then she achieved what many Jewish educators may say was quite improbable. First, she  encouraged scores of native-Hebrew speaking kids to develop a love of the English language by giving them a chance to borrow many books which their parents would otherwise have had to buy. Second,  she somehow persuaded ultra-Orthodox and secular  readers to stand cheek by jowl at the library, as they searched behind pillars and in dark corners for golden nuggets of wisdom hidden among her cache of more than 30,000 volumes. 

There’s yet more: Mrs Geiger also established a children’s stamp club, thus giving many a glimpse of worlds and people they would otherwise have never known.

Further, the video clip above includes  a moment when Edyth talks about her other huge passion – toy giraffes. She loved the real animals for their grace and beauty and so ended her life aged 94 with a collection of at least 2,000 toys and ornaments, one even adorning her gravestone during the unveiling ceremony.

Thanks to our mutual friend, Marsha Kolman, also a U.S. émigrée and past director of the women's division at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation where I understand their paths crossed,  I had the chance to meet Edyth – and her giraffes – during a Nefesh B’Nefesh Chanucah outing to Tzfat in December 2010.

The pictures below were taken that day by Marsha and my husband, Brian Fink.

 

 

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