It is with great honor that I write this obituary for Esther Streit-Wortzel, my
favorite author, whose wonderful stories accompanied me through childhood and
I’ve loved reading books my entire life. I remember that
when I was young, after I made aliya with my family from Ethiopia, my parents
were extremely excited that I preferred reading over watching TV – although they
themselves had no formal education.
There was not a huge selection of
books in the Moriah School library in Kiryat Yam where I was enrolled. Each
grade had one shelf of books dedicated to its students. By the fourth grade,
when I was nine years old, I had read every single book on the first four
shelves. When boredom got the better of me, I gathered up my courage and pulled
down a book from the shelf that belonged to the older students.
book I opened was called Alefim. It tells the story of adolescents who grew up
in an agricultural boarding school in early Israeli history. I read it from
cover to cover, almost without taking a breath.
Letters to Tzofia tells of the experiences of an adolescent girl who moves to a
big city in Israel and feels out of place; it brought tears in my eyes. Uri,
which details Hagana activity, was required reading for seventh graders, but I
finished reading it well before then, during my summer vacation. Shahar
describes in beautiful simplicity the painful grief families experience when
their sons fail to come home from war.
All of Streit-Wortzel’s books –
and not just the ones I mentioned above – take readers on adventures with boys
and girls through the various periods of the development of the State of Israel,
with all the anguish, struggles and settlement building.
who passed away this past Shabbat (December 7), was born in Petah Tikva in 1932.
At the age of 17, she graduated from the Ahad Ha’am High School that her father,
Shalom Streit, had founded. She studied literature and psychology at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem; in 1952, after completing her studies, she began
teaching at the high school in her hometown.
After teaching there for
several years, Streit-Wortzel decided to assist in the establishment of the
Kanot Agricultural School near Gedera, where she taught literature for two
years. These experiences were to become the basis for her extraordinary novel,
First Graders, for which she received the Ze’ev Prize for Children’s
My acclimation to life in Israel after I made aliya in 1984
was softer, in part, due to Streit-Wortzel’s wonderful books. I was able to feel
a link with the Israeli people through her exceptionally sensitive books. Her
wise use of Hebrew words served as a bridge, allowing me to go back in time and
connect with the many characters who make up Israeli history.
memory be for a blessing.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
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