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Shira Leibowitz Schmidt: Multifaceted Scholar


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“There is a war going on and I can’t sit here in California, even if I have to miss graduation,” said Cheryl Osher to her engineering professor at Stanford University.

It was June 1967, the Six Day War had broken out, and Cheryl, now Shira, arrived in Israel on the fourth day of the war planning to help out in whatever way she could. Eventually she volunteered doing agricultural work on a religious kibbutz from where she sent her professor a postcard proving she really had gone to Israel. As a result she was granted her B.Sc. degree at Stanford in absentia.

Shira was a latecomer to Orthodoxy, having grown up in Lawrence, Long Island, where her family and most of the other members of the Orthodox Beth Sholem Congregation were not shomer Shabbos.

After the war Shira Osher decided stay in Israel. She continued her studies at the Technion where she met the brilliant Torah scholar and scientist, Elhanan Leibowitz, who was to become her husband in 1968.

The couple settled in Beer Sheva and soon Shira was a mother to six children. The first was a boy who is now a lawyer in Silver Springs; then came twins, a girl, now a lawyer in New York, and a boy, now an educator in Tel Aviv. Five years later another boy followed who is now an anesthesiologist in Beer Sheva. The two youngest are a girl, a medical student and a boy, a scholar of Tanach.

Among the greatest influences in Shira’s life was her husband’s aunt, the late Nehama Leibowitz, a first-class Bible scholar and teacher. Nehama helped Shira navigate her way amid questions and issues about women’s role in halacha. Shira wrote an essay about her encounters with Nehama entitled, “Thank you, Nehama Leibowitz!” published in Bread and Fire. While in Beer Sheva, Shira, the mother of six, scientist and Bible scholar, co-authored a fascinating study entitled, Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition with Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann.

Shira became a widow in 1990, after twenty-two years of marriage. Several years later she married Dr. Baruch Schmidt, a surgeon in Laniado Hospital, Sanz Medical Center, and moved to Kiryat Sanz, Netanya. The kirya and hospital were built by the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, who lost his wife and 11 children in the Shoah. This unique Chassidic group awakened Shira’s intellectual curiosity, and she began studying and eventually writing extensively about it, and documenting and recording the experiences of the Holocaust survivors in whose midst she lived. Simultaneously she specialized in translating Holocaust memoirs from Hebrew to English, among them that of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Out of the Depths: The Story of a Child of Buchenwald Who Returned Home at Last.

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, multifaceted researcher, scholar, scientist, translator and devoted grandmother, will be on a lecture tour during the month of Kislev (November) on the East Coast of the United States. She will speak about life in the Chassidic enclave of Kiryat Sanz, her experience in translating several masterpieces, the uniqueness of rabbinic Holocaust memoirs, and the shiurim of Nehama Leibowitz. With titles like East Meets West: Rav Ovadia Yosef and the Klausenberger-Sanz Rebbe, The Boy in the Sack: From Buchenwald to Chief Rabbi, The Case of Coca-Cola and the Rabbi’s Daughter: How Cola Became Kosher, Is He a Rabbi or a Novelist? Meet Rav Haim Sabato, I would not want to miss any of her lectures. For more information on lecture dates and cities e-mail shiras@netvision.net.il.

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