Ruth Sterenbuch was all revved up about the young Jewish state when she came
home to Manhattan in 1955 from an intensive post-highschool year here.
couldn’t understand why my parents and everybody else in America didn’t get up
and go. The state was there and this was the dream of 2,000 years,” she
“At 18, I saw it very clearly. I almost feel a bit embarrassed
now about my naiveté.”
Indeed, the vicissitudes of adult life conspired
to keep Ruth from moving here permanently until much later, but she retained her
enthusiasm. Living in Rehavia since her arrival nearly 10 years ago, she has
jumped into life here with zest. “I guess I’m a person who likes a challenge,”
Ruth and her younger brother were brought up
in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Her family had roots in New York
from the beginning of the 20th century.
Ruth’s mother, a lawyer, wanted
her children to know their Jewish heritage, so she sent them to day schools and
to the Zionist, Hebrew-speaking Camp Massad. Her Hebrew comprehension was quite
good by the time she came on the year-long jaunt through Mizrahi
That came in handy when the group of 100 or so teens met prime
minister David Ben-Gurion in November 1954. B-G picked Ruth as the spokeswoman
and posed some biblical trivia questions relating to the land (who was the first
king to conquer Eilat?) that had them all stumped. “I was mortified and honored
at the same time,” she recalls. Someone took her picture with the statesman and
she had him autograph it when she returned to Sde Boker 10 years later with her
From 1956 to 1958, Ruth attended the Hebrew University and
worked in its library at the Terra Sancta Monastery in Rehavia. She recalls a
hair-raising expedition one day aboard a biweekly armed transport taking
soldier-policemen to the deserted Mount Scopus campus, an Israeli enclave
surrounded by Jordanian territory.
Most of the library’s books were still
housed there; the soldiers would spirit out a stack on every trip.
got to the border and the Israelis got into an argument with the Jordanians
about ammunition. The UN was called in and eventually we made our way up,” she
recounts, the sheer fright still fresh in her mind. All alone, she walked
through the university buildings and Hadassah Hospital, where she noticed
abandoned experiments in the labs. “It was absolutely eerie because it had been
neglected since 1948.”
Today, she takes classes at that completely
revitalized campus and often thinks of that time.MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Ruth was not meeting suitable men in Jerusalem, so she transferred her credits
in Jewish history to the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, and in 1960
married William (Zev) Frank, a promising young physicist educated at Yeshiva
University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Franks honeymooned
in Israel before moving to Washington, DC.
Daughters Naava, Avital (Tali)
and Debra were born between 1961 and 1966. For two years during that period, the
family lived here. “My husband had a Fulbright fellowship at the Weizmann
Institute, and then he taught at Bar-Ilan,” Ruth relates. They figured on making
aliya after building up their savings.
But the plan got derailed
tragically, when Ruth’s husband developed multiple sclerosis. He died in 1976 at
44. In 1982, Ruth married Martin Zlotnick and created a blended family including
his children Hila, Cheri, Adam and Daniel. Martin shared her passion for Israel,
and they almost made aliya in 1997. Their shipment was in the port waiting to go
when Martin suddenly died.
Despite her grief, Ruth was not deterred for
long. “I decided since aliya was something I had always wanted to do, I came at
the end of 2001 by myself.”LIFE IN JERUSALEM
Regardless of the sad
circumstances delaying her move, Ruth counts herself as fortunate.
could not have had an easier time than I did,” she says. “I’m fluent in Hebrew,
and I had friends and my daughter Tali, stepdaughter Hila and many grandchildren
were here when I arrived.” Recently, Cheri also made aliya.
worked in four different careers in the States.
With a master’s degree in
library science from Catholic University, she worked in the DC area’s two day
schools. Later she served as director of the Jewish Book Council, which led her
into public relations for authors and publishers.
Finally, she directed
the Foundation for Jewish Studies in Washington, where she brought educational
programs to local synagogues.
“When I came to Jerusalem, I imagined I
would guide at a museum and do volunteer work. Then I heard about an 18-month
tour guide course, where you could learn about the country and about Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.
Nobody told me there were exams and papers, so I
After passing all those exams easily, Ruth is a licensed tour
guide (www.ruthfrank.com) and also a volunteer guide at local
“It’s career No. 5, but I found the right one at the age of 70,”
she says. “It combines my love and interest in Jewish history with my love of
the outdoors, so it’s brought everything together and is both rewarding and
Though she will take her clients anywhere they wish, her
specialty is walking tours and archeology in Jerusalem. “I always begin with an
overview at the Mount of Olives,” she says. “You get a ‘wow’ when people first
step out and see the city at their feet.”EDUCATIONAL PURSUITS
blessed to have a lot of energy at 75, Ruth is not done learning. She recently
taught a course on ancient Jerusalem at the Association for Americans and
Canadians in Israel, and she continues to study archeology and Jewish
Ruth names her two role models as Rabbi
Joshua Haberman, the Reform founder of the Foundation for Jewish Studies, and
the Orthodox feminist author Blu Greenberg. “They taught me the value of
persistence and that if you want to get something done you just have to keep
trying from a different angle or approach.”ADVICE
“I believe one has to
be able to move on and accept changes.
Often, if one is not held back by
fear of the unknown, things can work out well and for the best.”