My father’s family arrived in Israel/Palestine in about 1860 from somewhere in Russia. As I understand the history, the family move was motivated by strong Zionist feelings rather than by imminent pogroms. My father, born in 1916, was the third generation born in what was then the Ottoman Empire; he was born a Turk in pre-World War I Palestine.

My paternal grandmother, Rachel Leah, was the middle child of seven or eight children, and just one of two girls. The story goes that she watched and listened as her brothers studied Talmud with her father. Of course, such studies were not permitted for her. She became envious and curious, and began sneaking down in the middle of the night to read the Talmud. Eventually she was caught and family lore reports that she was severely punished, although what that punishment was is lost in history. And, of all things, Rachel Leah was offered Ladino lessons as a consolation!

Every Wednesday morning when I leave my house in Coolidge Corner and walk to Temple Sinai to study Talmud in my Me’ah class, I think of my grandmother. Each Wednesday morning, I think of Rachel Leah and let her know that this class is for her, and that I am studying for the two of us. I am told that I have Rachel Leah’s irreverent reverence, and she and I both savor our studies with our wonderful teacher, Reuven Cohn.

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