web analytics
May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Safta’s Diaries: The Real Thing


The picture on the front cover of Safta’s Diaries (translated and edited by Shera Aranoff Tuchman, published by Ktav) is of a beautiful, strong woman. The photographer caught her in a quiet moment: she is sitting on a tall horse; the reins are in her right hand, the pommel of the saddle under her left hand; she appears ready to lead the charge against any challenge that might come.

Her long-sleeved, high-necked dress would have been appropriate in the observant Jewish community in her native Poland; the wide belt and the twin panels of material above it lend the dress an American verve. The photograph was taken in 1922 in Evarts, Kentucky.

Nine years later, during the battle over unionization between miners and mine-owners in Kentucky, it will be entirely in character for this clear-sighted, principled woman and her equally principled husband to help hungry families. The owners wanted to starve the miners into submission, but this couple could not let the families suffer.

They took three thousand dollars they had saved to buy an automobile and bought a different car – a train car full of hundreds of bags of flour to give away. The poster announcing the availability of the flour defied the prevalent racism and anti-Semitism and announced that Jewish values were the impetus for this donation. The poster read:

LOOK!

In accordance with the Jewish custom

to remember the needy during the

Passover Season

Mr. and Mrs. Harry Appleman will give away

on Friday, April 17, at the Evarts depot

A Car Load of Flour

The Flour will be given away as long as

it will last. A 24 pound bag to a family.

All needy from Evarts and surroundings are

welcome regardless of

Color and Creed

Mr. and Mrs. Appleman had read at their Passover Seder earlier in the month, “All who are hungry come and eat.” It took courage and generosity to fulfill this commitment, both character traits of this remarkable couple.

Their Hebrew names were Hillel and Bina. He had come from Russia, she from Poland, and had married in 1920. They moved later from Kentucky to Boro Park in Brooklyn so that their children could have a Torah education and be part of the community. Here Bina Appleman kept diaries in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and English; her granddaughter Shera Aranoff Tuchman has now translated, edited and published them.

Dr. Tuchman has edited lightly. The subtitle of Safta’s Diaries tells what the reader will find: Intimate Diaries of a Religious Zionist Woman. These are the records without self-censorship of what happened in Bina Appleman’s family and community and to the Jewish people.

It is interesting to read about the flow of life: engagements, marriages, births, educational initiatives, business ventures, friendships. From one page to the next we see synagogues and schools take shape and flourish. We realize how little people knew during World War II; in our age of instant communication, it is hard to believe that people in America did not know the extent of the destruction. Mrs. Appleman sent packages of food and other necessities to her family in Poland in the early 1940’s until a package was returned as undeliverable. We share the anxiety in 1947 and 1948 as the state of Israel struggles to be born; the elation at the reality of a Jewish country; the fear in May 1967 that the world is turning against the Jews until Hashem gives the miracle of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.

An awareness of God permeates Bina Appleman’s life. She prays every day and wants to explore the full meaning of her davening. Like Rabbi Akiva, she goes in her mid-40s to study Hebrew with young women half her age; she earned a diploma, first at the Herzliya Hebrew High School, then a second one at the Herzliya Hebrew Teachers’ Institute. She cannot tolerate chatter in the synagogue and follows the Vilna Gaon’s advice to pray at home where she can concentrate.

She is an intellectual who peppers her diary with quotations from the Written and Oral Torah. Her family gives her a ring with an inscription in Hebrew letters of an Aramaic phrase from the Midrash: “There is no place without Him.” She studies Ethics of the Fathers and other sources on her own. She listens to Rabbi Teitz’s Gemara lectures on the radio, the Daf Hashavua program on Saturday night.

When she attended her granddaughter Shera’s graduation from Barnard and met Rabbi and Mrs. Teitz, who were there for their daughter Abbie’s graduation, she must have mentioned she was a student. Rabbi Teitz sent her a copy of the tractate printed especially for Daf Hashavua with numbered lines so that listeners could easily find the place.

She relished parts of homemaking – painting a porch, sewing and hanging curtains, baking and cooking for the Sabbath and holidays – and didn’t care for other parts. But she did not want to hire a maid, because she considered that a waste of money.

The Applemans used their money to advance Torah learning and Jewish life. Their joy was to build schools in Israel, to provide interest-free loans there, to give in every way to Israel. Their first thought when they sold a tract of land for six million dollars was the tzedakah they would give. They consistently helped members of both of their families.

She laughed when a neighbor told her she should buy new towels. This happened in the days when laundry was hung out to dry on clotheslines in backyards. She recorded that her towels may have been old, but at least they didn’t carry the name of the Hotel Sterling, a first-class kosher hotel in Miami Beach.

Two sources of delight shine through all the details: her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; and her club of women who spoke Hebrew. The women met on Shabbat afternoons to hear serious lectures in Hebrew and to enjoy the hospitality of the hostess for that month. The other members must have shared her enthusiasm because reports of the meetings always end with the women lingering for conversation.

I am impressed that the family granted permission to publish these diaries. Mrs. Appleman tells everything – quarrels and worries, as well as admirable traits in each of her children. Her second daughter, for example, studies a chapter of the Bible each day and often gives her mother a few hundred dollars to distribute for tzedakah; when this daughter speaks on behalf of Israel, people are inspired.

We all owe her and her siblings, and Shera and her siblings, who researched all the references, thanks for this genuine account of over thirty years of Torah-Zionist life. Some books are written to establish a person’s place in history. This book is itself history.

Dr. Rivkah Blau teaches at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is the author of “Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah: Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, the Quintessential Rabbi.”

About the Author: Dr. Rivkah Blau is the author of “Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah,” a biography of Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz; the Hebrew translation is entitled “V’Samachta B’Chayekha."


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Safta’s Diaries: The Real Thing”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Seder at the White House. The one without the kippa is President Obama.
Obama Reaching Out to (Liberal) Jews in Sermon at Synagogue
Latest Indepth Stories
Shalev and Rabbi Levinger

During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai

MK Moshe-Feiglin

20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse

Sprecher-052215

Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise

Lion-052215

Many Black protesters compared Baltimore’s unrest to the Palestinian penchant of terrorism & rioting

She credited success to “mini” decisions-Small choices building on each other leading to big changes

Shavuot 1915, 200000 Jews were expelled; amongst the largest single expulsions since Roman times

Realizing there was no US military threat, Iran resumed, expanded & accelerated its nuclear program

“Enlightened Jews” who refuse to show chareidim the tolerance they insist we give to Arabs sicken me

Somewhat surprisingly, the Vatican’s unwelcome gesture was diametrically at odds with what President Obama signaled in an interview with the news outlet Al Arabiya.

The recent solid victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party produced something very different.

The reaction is so strong that nine times out of ten, parents engage in some form of coping mechanism before arriving at a level of acceptance of a special-needs diagnosis.

“…his neshamah reached out to us to have the zechus of Torah learning to take with him on his final journey.”

The gap isn’t between Israeli and American Jews-it’s between American Jews and the rest of the world

Saudis, Bahrain & UAE recalled ambassadors from Qatar protesting its support of Hamas & terror orgs.

More Articles from Dr. Rivkah Blau
Rav Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon

His phenomenal memory encompassed the Written Torah, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, and all the major commentaries.

book-diversity-divine

For each weekly reading, Rabbi Grysman begins with a synopsis of the Torah portion, followed by a focus on a major issue.

Of course it is disingenuous to tell a person from a non-rabbinic, non-rosh yeshiva home to make an effort.

When I give this book, the parents look at the gold Caldecott Medal on the front cover and smile, but look up quizzically – a book for a newborn?

Determination is now being studied by educators and psychologists who want to understand why some people born with every gift do not achieve a meaningful adulthood, while others born into a challenging existence rise above their beginnings to enjoy accomplished lives.

I had heard singing from across the street several times at the end of Shabbos but hadn’t realized the singing was a prelude to Havdalah.

“Radical,” from the Latin word for “root,” means going to the foundation. The foundation is what we have to think about when celebrating a simcha. Instead of peripheral concerns – photographing the proceedings, for example – we should attend to the meaning of the event.

You can tell Rabbi Yossy Goldman’s book From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading by its covers. The front cover is a photograph of a rabbi in a shul that is full of light.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/saftas-diaries-the-real-thing/2011/02/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: