Part of my continuing series about Women Mitzvah heroes
THE ROMEMA FAMILIES
When my many visits with Trudi Birger, z“l, come to mind, the first sentence always has an exclamation mark at the end, something like, “Ah, what a woman!” As a young woman, she was saved from death more than once in the Nazi extermination camps. For the rest of her life, until she passed away in 2002 at the age of 75, she was determined that no child should suffer as she did.
After the war, she and her husband Zev came to Israel. Her drive and determination led to two projects that would, in fact, make life better for so many people — Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI) and personal involvement, care, and support for 50 families in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood. These families were locked into poverty, and Trudi believed that education was the key to changing the course of the family’s history. For years, while paying utility bills, purchasing crucial items like heaters for the chilly winters, and a multitude of other necessities, she constantly encouraged the children, urged them — forcefully, yet gently, in her unique manner to succeed. For her part, Trudi provided whatever was needed to facilitate their progress in school, from basic supplies to scholarships, and, of course, her personal, caring touch which provided the necessary encouragement to the children.
Over the years, the way things would work with Trudi, the Romema families, and my Ziv Tzedakah Fund was simple: She would contact us periodically and tell us what the needs of the moment were. To whatever extent we could provide the necessary dollars, we would do so. Zev carried on her work with 32 of the families as well as with DVI, until he passed away in 2011.
We were always pleased that when a request came in, informing us of a need, because of your fine donations, we were immediately able to respond. This was one of those many high moments in the history of Ziv. Once again the fund was able to carry out its original mandate, responding quickly and with a substantial sum of Tzedakah money.
Some additional notes concerning the life of this extraordinary woman:
1. I encourage you to read Trudi’s autobiography, A Daughter’s Gift of Love-A Holocaust Memoir (co-authored with Jeffrey M. Green), the story of her years in the death camps. And while I believe that the word “gripping” has been overused, this story is truly gripping.
2. Zev was the Director of the Jerusalem International Book Fair for 26 years. Recently, a children’s book award, the Trudi Birger Prize, was established in Trudi’s memory. It is to be given to “the author (or author and illustrator) of a book that inspires the reader to selfless devotion to the community.”
3. Trudi was laid to rest in a portion of Jerusalem’s Har HaMenuchot cemetery reserved for distinguished individuals in the Life of Israel, including Schvester Selma, pioneer chief nurse of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, Viscount Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner during the British Mandate, Gershon Agron, Mayor of Jerusalem and founder of The Palestine Post (after Israel’s Independence: The Jerusalem Post), and Naftali Herz Imber, composer of Hatikvah.
Ah, what an extraordinary woman Trudi Birger was. May her memory be a blessing for all who knew her and for those who will study her life and be inspired to perform similar acts of Tikkun Olam.