Claire Ginsburg Goldstein
the teddy bear Rabbi

What’s in a name? Parashat Shmot (Ex1:5)/ waiting upon redemption(Ex. 6:6)

given permission to repost

A tribute to my mother, a woman of true valor. My mother Marvell D. Ginsburg z”l, died on the 5th of Shevat, 7 years ago. Today is her yahrtzeit.

Ivan, growing up, deprived of his Judaism,, didn’t know that Jews mark the death of a Jewish loved one with this yearly ritual of remembering. He was struck by this powerful act. Each day he learns another gem of why being Jewish is so special and special to us, because of the teachings and inspirations of my mother. I share teachings that I find online that actually originated from my love, devotion, and compassion of living Jewishly due to my mother. It takes a Jewish woman to bring it home, as Lori Palatnik teaches us all in Momentum. And my mother has…So today, I dedicate my Jewish learning, of Torah, tehillim and Gemarrah, in her memory and share 7 gifts of Judaism and Jewish living that she bequeathed and launched within me. These gifts are shared and continued to be shared with my family and those who I cherish around me.

1. My mother fought for my Hebrew name when I entered first grade. What is in a name? In Parashat Shmot, we learn that the Jews with Hebrew names went down to Egypt into servitude. In a few sentences, they longer are described or identified with their names. My mother did not want me to lose my name. The back story is that my name was Krayndel Chai. I needed a Hebrew name to enter first grade for this new Zionist Orthodox day school called Akiba. My Zadie had already paid my tuition in full. Krayndel, little crown, was the name that she gave me to bridge her Bubie Krayndel into the present and future through me. I was the channel. The teacher refused to allow me to stay in class with my Yiddish name. She sent me to the principal’s office. I missed day one of my Hebrew education. What can a very sad 5 almost 6 year old do? I cried, but to no avail. Not one tear was going to move this Rebbetzin that they called my teacher. The school assumed that my mother would call me Atarah, crown. But my mother had other plans for me. She took the translation of Krayndel into Hebrew and came up with Keter. But she was not going to leave it there. My mother added a yood and hey to give it a bounce and rhythm, not realizing at that moment, that she was handing me Gd’s wings, Gd’s love, Yood and hey. Thus I became Ketirah, but I spelled it as “Kat”irah (to honor my father who called me Little cat/kitten-Ketzl Betzl). In those days, 5 year olds did not read, when they entered first grade. I had to memorize my new name since it wouldn’t help me if my mother had written it down for me. When I returned to class on the second day, this “teacher” turned to me and asked me, in her most hostile voice, “So what is your new name today, Miss smartypants?” I felt myself crumbling under this attack but I pulled myself together, as best as I could for any five year old. “Ketirah”. I replied, rather softly, then mustering all of my courage, repeated my new name. I thought that she might hit me because she stomped her foot. Her face reddened and she shouted, “That is not a name. Your mother is not allowed to make up a name. Out of here, and don’t come back until you have a real name.” So now I was out two days of school, publically humiliated, for no fault of my own, being yanked out of class and taken to sit in the principal’s office for day two. As I was marched to the principal’s office, I asked myself, “This is Judaism? Are you kidding me? Why am I being punished like this?” of course thinking like a five year old. For the next hour or so, came the heated phone conversation between the principal, who I had thought that I would like and respect, and my mother, the fighter, on the other end of the phone. My mother was not going to back down. She was in for the good fight. My name was Ketirah and that was that. The principal was not going to back down either. What convinced him that he had to back down? Money and the school’s reputation. Since my tuition had been paid in full by my Zadie, and my mother was prepared to contact the newspapers about our hostile treatment at that school since day one, he would lose on two fronts. He reluctantly agreed to keep me in school. He took me back to class, “humbled” by the experience. I had lost the first two days of class, wondering how would I ever make it up, but I had won my right to keep my name. Did the teacher ever forgive me for having the “wrong” name? Never. She sought revenge in whatever corner she could find it, to be used against me and my siblings, who followed me into that school to learn.

2. What’s in the Torah? just stories, right? Wrong. My mother fully believed that the Torah held so much more than just stories. She loved the learning of what the Rabbis had to teach, as she excavated and delved deeply into her studies. She opened our home to Shabbat afternoon Torah study groups. Because of her love of Torah, I became fascinated and intrigued and wanted to learn more. I entered the schoolwide Hidon/ Bible contest in 8th grade and “won”.

3. My mother, at the age of eight, had taken herself and two girlfriends, to her neighborhood Heder to study Judaism, due to Bubie Klara’s love of Judaism. She was the only girl to graduate in her class at the end of 8th grade. Growing up with that story, was my catalyst to keep on learning. I attended 2 Hebrew high schools, Spertus College of Judaica, JTS, Drisha, and 3 Rabbinical schools because of her love of Jewish learning. To date, I take classes at Shomrei Torah of Fair Lawn, I listen to the OU women’s initiative for weekly parasha classes and Nach summaries, study Gemarrah daily with Hadran and others, collect Dvar Torahs, especially those written by women, listen for inspiration at, Meaningful Minute, and Torah anytime, blog about my experiences and how Torah continues to speak to me, and keep on excavating…there has been no limit or true finish line.

4. My mother was Jewish due to her Bubie Klara’s efforts. My mother’s job, since the age of five, was to wipe down each of the 105 Pesach dishes and get ready for the family-wide held Seder on the west side of St Paul, MN. Her Bubie’s house was always open to family, friends, and strangers alike. Because of hearing this story repeatedly, I had told Sam, our oldest child, that he and his friends were always welcome to our home for the second Seder. One year, we had ten young people who had never been to a seder and weren’t sure what Jews were, (except for the ones who owned huge houses in Teaneck, as told to me by them). They were pleasantly surprised that the ceremony of the Seder taught them so much and that their religions shared common ground with Judaism.

5. My mother taught Jewish Early childhood education. Coming from a broken home, my mother felt that she could find a way to shore up Jewish homes, beginning with Jewish education for little ones. She became well known in Chicago and in America at large for her innovative Jewish lab nursery schools, curriculum and training directors of her schools at the Board of Jewish education. I watched in awe as my mother used her talents in such a constructive and productive way. I believed and still do that one must use their Gd given talents for good, to light up their corner of the world. I have spent years, decades in fact, in Jewish education, teaching all ages, and training 100s of bnai mitzvahs, the value of knowing and living Jewishly due to my mother’s living examples. When she went to join and become active in Hadassah, I joined JWRP and Momentum, including Aish .com trips to Israel.

6. My mother’s chicken soup on Shabbat night- What better Jewish education can there be to watch and help a mother prepare chicken soup for Friday night Shabbat dinner? At first my mother taught me how to light Shabbat candles at the age of 3. She even took a movie of me lighting them! Then came the chicken soup lessons in the kitchen. It was the delicate operation of mixing the matzah ball dough, adding root vegetables, and adding the dill and parsley that stayed with me. I also watched the Battle of the Matzah Ball queens take place when my Bubbie Yetta and my Grandma Gertrude would prepare the Kneydlach/matzah balls for the different seders that we held in our open home. All of my children know how to prepare Bubbie’s chicken soup. I also learned how to bake challah for Shabbat and taught them all as well.

7. Walking to shul on Shabbat and singing in the chorus- How did my love of Judaism and Israel coalesce into one? My mother took on a Traditional Conservative Judaism that spoke to me as well. It made so much sense to me at the time, growing up in the Zionist Orthodox school. I felt an openness to exploration and inquisitiveness in how my mother understood Judaism in opposition to the closed, punishing, Orthodoxy that I had experienced growing up in that modern-day school. But in all fairness, I had a few amazing Orthodox teachers, like Mrs. Ruth Aaronson from Baka, Jerusalem, and Mrs. Casper z”l, (her well trained, son the doctor, lives in Teaneck, what a small world) there, that allowed me to add an additional breath of light and life due to an Orthodox Judaism, that did come to open me up towards future growth, after all and vs. But it was singing together, my mother and me, in the traditional shul’s, Rodeph Shalom, chorus that nailed it all home to me. Each week, we sang, “Oseh shalom”. One Shabbat morning, the choir director gave me the solo to sing. He did not make my jump through hoops. He allowed me to sing in my voice range. I was shocked. I sang my heart out at shul, about peace in Israel. It was my soul speaking up. I was on my way home.

There is so much more to share about my mother and what she gave me in life. She became my springboard and offered me the next open link in the chain of Judaism. She enabled and emboldened me to continue on with our family dreams of raising Jewish children and living in the land of Israel. The litmus test of a “winner”? Will we have Jewish grandchildren who will come to embrace Israel? As Larry and I begin to fill out the papers to make aliyah and bring my Zadie’s and my mother’s dreams to fruition, only Gd knows that answer and time will tell… Waiting for the skies to reopen, post-Covid, so that I can go home.

بي بي سي تتجول في حارة اليهود في دمشقpart of my playlist
بي بي سي تتجول في حارة اليهود في دمشق

كان عدد السوريين اليهود في خمسينيات القرن الماضي نحو 30 ألفا توزعوا في غالبيتهم بين دمشق و حلب و القامشلي. لم يتبق اليوم منهم إلا 20 شخصا في دمشقللمزيد من ال


(Exodus 6:6) Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
Waiting upon the next chapter of our redemption
given permission to repost
Rest in peace Mom.
The Teddy bear Rabbi
Rabbi Claire, one who cares to share
Ordained June 19, 2012 on Shira’s birthday
About the Author
Rabbi Claire conceived of the concept Bears from Bergenfield upon a routine check of the Israeli staff at camp SLC August of 2001. She realized that the world needed to wake up and become aware of the suffering the Israelis were enduring as the Palestinians continued their intifada against them. After 18 years and 195,000 teddy bears amassed and redistributed, Rabbi Claire is searching for more public platforms to proliferate and advance her message, that Jewish lives matter, especially with a teddy bear. Rabbi Claire lives in Bergen County with her husband of 38 years, Larry, and their 4 children, Sam, Shira, Seth, and Sarah Rose, plus their incoming son-in-law Ivan. For further information of how to get involved with this endearing project, contact her at
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