The world needs the teachings of Pnina Gewirtz Schacter

How many of us can say that we believe in the importance of God as much as we believe in the goodness of people?

My mother, Pnina G. Schacter, was a principled woman of deep integrity. He lived an intentional life, equally guided by his faith in God and his faith in the goodness of human beings. He looked for opportunities to bring God’s presence into the lives of the people he encountered.

We live in exceptionally polarized times. In seemingly every facet of life, one faction faces off against another. I especially notice this conflict between factions of pious religious people, who think that God’s rules are more important than anything in the world, and secular people, who think that people matter much more than an abstract concept of the Godhead. In marking my mother’s yahrzeit, I want to share her story, the story of a woman who was both a devout religious and a devout humanist. In his life, neither party was compromised.

My mother’s faith in God manifested itself most notably through her deep love for the Jewish people. For six weeks in the summer of 1962, my parents traveled to Romania as official guests of then-Chief Rabbi Moshe Rosen and his wife Amalia. My mother was eager to travel with my father and meet Jews in what was then a communist country where being openly Jewish was problematic. My mother did not trust the Romanian authorities, not even the chief rabbi, as he was an employee of the communist government and answered them. During his trip, he urged my father to spend time away from the government-appointed chief rabbi and try to establish direct contact with Romanian Jews. Those opportunities were rare, as his visit was closely monitored by the Communist authorities.

In serving this goal, my mother innocently asked Rabbi Rosen if she and my father could spend a day at the beach and enjoy a day off, away from the many prying eyes and talking commitments that took up much of the time. of my father. Rabbi Rosen agreed. Later in her life, my mother described that day as beautiful and sunny, as she and my father walked hand in hand along the shores of the Black Sea. At the urging of my mother, she and my father spoke in Yiddish, aloud, so that any passerby could hear them. My mother explained her reasoning to my father. If a passerby was Jewish, that person would recognize the language. If the person needed help, they would feel comfortable approaching my parents safely.

GOD EXISTS, and if so, how does he interact with the universe? (credit: (Davide Cantelli / Unsplash)

MY MOTHER’s efforts paid off. As they walked and talked, a woman named Gabi Lichtenberg approached them and asked for their help. She begged my parents to intervene with the Romanian authorities so that she and her daughter could emigrate to Israel. True to their desire to help Romanian Jews, my parents intervened on Gabi’s behalf with the government. His act of intervention was a success. Gabi emigrated to Israel and was able to spend the rest of her life in Jerusalem. For the next 50 years, my mother stayed in close contact with Gabi. Gabi repeatedly credited my mother with saving the Jewish souls of her entire family. She blessed my mother for using her determination, will and creativity, thus setting the stage for Gabi’s Jewish soul to be rescued and nurtured.

My mother also showed her love for the Jews in our local community. During my childhood and adolescence, my parents invited teenagers from our synagogue to our home every Friday night for dessert, my father’s Torah words, and my mother’s buckets of love and warmth. My mother spent time with each of her young guests. He learned about their lives and asked about their concerns and fears. Then I would follow up with them, week after week, month and month.

My mother believed that if she created a warm and loving environment in our home, these young people would feel closer to Judaism. She hoped that they would want to learn more Torah and that they would eventually invite God into their lives in a deep and meaningful way. My mother’s intentional interactions with these young men and women did indeed pay off. Many of them later created their own observant and God-infused Jewish homes, and as adults felt indelibly connected to the Torah and mitzvot.

My mother was a devout Jew, but also a committed humanist. He believed in the goodness of all people. My mother respected all people and did not make distinctions based on ethnicity, religion, gender, or class. She believed that people were good at their core.

In February 2008 my mother called me to ask if she should lend $ 5,000 to her doorman Pedro. When I asked why, my mother explained that Pedro had approached my mother and explained that he had finally had the opportunity to buy his first apartment. A recently established government program was giving first-time homeowners the opportunity to purchase apartments at significantly reduced prices, if applicants could provide a down payment of $ 10,000 and proof of employment. Pedro explained that he had saved $ 5,000, but needed an additional $ 5,000 to apply to the program.

MY MOTHER asked me what to do. My father, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time, no longer had the ability to be my mother’s partner in these decisions. Then she turned to me. When I probed my mother, she explained that while she understood that $ 5,000 was a lot of money, money was relative. She explained that the $ 5,000 was much more difficult for Pedro to save than it was for her to lose. He wanted to help Pedro prepare for a successful life, and he knew that owning a property was part of that success.

I was so touched by my mother’s desire to help this man. Yes, he was her weekend porter (he worked as a bank teller during the week), and he had always treated her with kindness, but he was a relatively stranger.

I asked Pedro to come up to my parents’ apartment so that we could discuss his request. With a cup of coffee and dried fruits and nuts (my mother’s favorite snacks), my mother explained to Pedro that she would lend him $ 5000. We wrote a simple document that had no legal weight and in the document Pedro agreed to pay him back. my mother 50 bucks every week. We decided that when you made your weekly payment, you would simply sign the document and note the date of each payment.

Pedro paid my mother every penny of that loan. Pedro bought his first home and credited my mother not only for her apartment but for instilling in her a deep sense of faith in the goodness of people. He was so moved that my mother trusted him and believed in him, that he in turn began to see the goodness in others. He continued to treat others with even more kindness and dignity, reflecting the respect and kindness my mother showed him.

One of the most moving and impressive stories my mother told us was her decision in 1947 to sit in the segregated carriage with black passengers when she took the railroad south. She was visiting her brother Rabbi Leonard B. Gewirtz, who was then a pulpit rabbi in Wilmington, Delaware.

My mother traveled alone, as a single white woman. He explained that as he approached the platform and saw the signs that segregated black and white travelers, he felt a strong need to announce with his body that all people were created in the image of God and that all people are equal in the eyes. of God. And so he sat in the “black only” car.

His silent act of civil disobedience was deeply inspiring. Throughout my adult life, when faced with a moral dilemma, I recall this scene and borrow my mother’s strength to do the right thing. His ability to act from his convictions, to do what he believed to be right and fair, was a fundamental value that he transmitted to his family.

Very often, individuals choose to focus almost exclusively on one of two belief systems. Either they are devoted followers of God’s law and are less concerned about people who are outside their inner religious world, or they are people who are deeply committed to the welfare of all people, but who care less about the presence of God. In their lifes. My mother held both beliefs close to her, and neither was compromised. He loved God and he loved all people.

Our world needs my mother’s message.

The writer is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan on the faculty of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a modern Orthodox rabbinical school.

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