Some people can look back at their lives and know that they played a role in something extraordinary. A few may become renown. Some may write books. Others quietly return to their prior lives.
Judy Levy Weintraub is a member of the latter group. Now in her ninth decades, she is a devoted congregant of Palm Beach Synagogue in Palm Beach, FL. She assists older and disabled members to move about or find their place in the prayer books.
She teaches Hebrew in the synagogue’s Sunday School program.
She is a modest individual.
But as a young woman, she made a bold decision that would change her life forever and have an impact of the newly created State of Israel.
Judy was born into a prominent Romaniot Greek Jewish family living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her grandparents, Morris Israel Levy and Louisa Coffina Levy immigrated from Iaonnina, Greece to New York, about 1904 with their daughter Stoma (Stella), 3 and infant son, Samika (Samuel). The Levys started a food import business which they named “Torino Imports”. They were among the founders of Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue on the Lower East Side (still in existence). Her grandmother was the president of the Chevra Kadisha and, due to her position, had one of the first residential phones in Williamsburg.
Judy’s mother, Stella graduated from City College and became an accountant. She married Morton Meyer, an attorney who died when Judy was 4 years old. She was raised by her mother, grandparents and large extended family in their multistory townhouse located at 157 Keat Street.
She was an independent girl. At an early age, she informed her family that she wanted to be a nurse. When she grew up, she trained at New York’s Bellevue Hospital.
World War Two brought devastating news to the Janina Jewish community. Eighty-one percent of the Greek Jews had been murdered together with millions of other Jews.
So when she was approached by Hadassah Hospital in1947 to work in British Mandate Palestine, she needed little persuasion.
“I am going to Israel!” she announced.
Her mother objected, fearful that she would lose her only child.
But Judy was determined.
She and a team of nurses together with a boatload of supplies, landed in Haifa in January, 1948.
Then, in May, 1948, the Israel War of Independence began.
The nurses continued to work at Hadassah in Jerusalem as well as other hospitals assisting in childbirths, providing maternal care and other nursing services.
They also worked in the combat zones.
Once, as she was sterilizing instruments, her desert tent was struck by a rocket. The alcohol ignited and she was badly burned. She lost all of her hair, her eyelashes, eyebrows. Her face and eyes were bandaged for weeks. She did not know if she would regain her vision.
She and her colleagues participated in Israel’s airlift rescue of threatened Yemenite Jews. The Yemenites had never been on a plane. Some tried to light fires to cook their food. They brought their animals, plural wives and many children. Their sole language was Arabic.
Living in Israel in its early years provided many challenges. The residents faced food, fuel and housing rationing.
“I remember that the children had open shoes because they didn’t have enough leather for the tops!” Judy recalled.
She returned to America in 1972. She had not seen her family in many years.
She married her late husband, Harry Weinstein, a Holocaust survivor and moved to Florida in the1980s. She continued to work as a nurse.
But her love of Israel, the land, the people, the language remain constant and she returned and continues to return as often as her health and circumstances permit.
In her senior years, she comforted by her memories of having helped deliver the fledgling nation, now strong and thriving, a beacon in a conflicted part of the world and a star in the eyes of Diaspora Jews.