Jewish history teacher moves to Israel, becomes children's author

Her life as a grandmother to Yiddish-speaking haredi kids prompted her to release two children’s books and maintain a blog for children’s stories that are acceptable to parents from all backgrounds.

 KAREN & husband Eric show off her books. (photo credit: Courtesy Karen Guth)
KAREN & husband Eric show off her books.
(photo credit: Courtesy Karen Guth)

Karen Guth has carved out a good life for herself and her family as an educator and now as a children’s author.

She left Denver and moved to Efrat with her husband and two sons in 2000, right before the second Intifada.

An educator at private Jewish schools in Denver for years, she finally fulfilled her dream of moving to the Jewish state. “I said to my students one day, ‘You know, I’ve been teaching Jewish history and now it’s time for my family and me to make Jewish history.’”

It took them about a year, including making a pilot trip, to find the right community and schools for their two sons, ages 11 and 15 at the time.

Now those two boys, raised in a modern Orthodox religious-Zionist community, have fully integrated into Israeli society, but on different paths. One is married with children living as a haredi Jew in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood. The other is an accomplished musician living in the secular, hip, young scene in Tel Aviv.

‘BUBIE’S IN Bidud’ depicts a grandmother unable to make her weekly visits to see her grandchildren. (credit: MEITAL MAOR)‘BUBIE’S IN Bidud’ depicts a grandmother unable to make her weekly visits to see her grandchildren. (credit: MEITAL MAOR)

Her life as a grandmother to Yiddish-speaking haredi kids prompted her to release two children’s books and maintain a blog for children’s stories that are acceptable to parents from both orthodox and secular backgrounds. (www.tellmeastorybubie.com/)

The first, released last year is called Bubie’s in Bidud, about a grandmother who must explain why she cannot come visit due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

The latest, released in December 2021, is called Wow: A Child’s Prayer of Wonder and Gratitude. Both are in English and Hebrew.

The book introduces the wonder of nature from a non-denominational perspective that both celebrates the earth and its creatures, while acknowledging a Higher Power.

“We had the opportunity to take our grandchildren to the zoo in Jerusalem for the first time,” Karen said of the inspiration for the book. “To see their faces and experience their excitement – everything was ‘wow, wow.’ Children naturally have a curiosity and they are awed by what they see, especially when it’s new,” she explained. “As we get older, we take things for granted and children help us renew that excitement and awe.”

The book, as her previous one, is illustrated by Meital Maor who as a seventh grader, worked with Karen on two books in a series for the Gush Etzion Foundation entitled Courage and Hope  – Inspirational writings by Youth of Gush Etzion. Now Maor is a professional illustrator.

After moving to Israel, Karen found work as a teacher and eventually became the English coordinator at Yeshivat Makor Chaim, the high school founded by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in Kfar Etzion. She also teaches at Ulpana Rosh Tzurim Girls’ High School, jobs she has held now for over 20 years. In addition, she has worked as a literature counselor for the Education Ministry. In 2016 Karen earned a doctorate in education.

Karen’s mother was very active in the Hadassah organization. Her grandfather was born in Medzhybizh, hometown of the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the hassidic movement. In the US, he became secular, much to the chagrin of his own father, but was an ardent Zionist, founding a local Colorado Zionist organization. A lawyer by profession, his true love was teaching Jewish children in afternoon Hebrew schools. Karen’s first teaching job was assisting him.

HER EDUCATIONAL career in Israel initially involved teaching local kids English. But a chance meeting at a local swimming pool led her to a permanent job in the school system.

“Someone approached me and asked if I would like to teach English in the high schools here,” she said, recalling that she was initially reluctant. “I said, ‘I’m kind of afraid to teach in an Israeli high school. I hear the discipline isn’t so great.’” 

But Karen found her new ninth grade class to be appreciative. “They were fabulous and I loved them and I’ve been teaching there ever since.”

Back in the early 2000s, Efrat was much smaller and the Guths have enjoyed watching the community, which is estimated to have about 10% English speakers, add more neighborhoods over the years.

“The schools were quite good and that was really what drew us here, in addition to the beautiful views. When you’re not stuck in traffic, it’s only about 15 to 20 minutes away from Jerusalem.”

As far as her sons, she is proud of both of them. The Tel Aviv-based son has found success in the music world performing as Trubdr. Adam Road. The other is busy raising his six children with a yeshiva worldview.

“They both took different directions, but they’re both here,” Karen related. “That’s important to us. You raise your children, but just like my husband and I chose a different path from our parents, we have to expect that our children will grow up and choose their own paths.

“There is a place for everyone in Israel, whether you’re secular or Orthodox,” she continued. “When corona hit, our youngest son was in New York, and he called us and said, ‘please bring me back to Israel’, and he’s been here ever since.”

When the family initially made aliyah, she told her boys they were going on an adventure. “We would be remiss if we didn’t give our children the opportunity to experience life as citizens in the State of Israel.”

Her haredi grandchildren are tri-lingual: Hebrew, English and Yiddish, and the Guths have worked to instill positive values in them. The children’s books are designed to be both acceptable in a strictly observant home but also appropriate for kids of any background.

Karen’s husband, Eric, initially worked for an Israeli company traveling back and forth from the US to Israel in the early days of their aliyah. He eventually started his own computer consulting company, Precision Solutions, Ltd. and hosts a podcast called QSO Today, which features interviews with amateur radio enthusiasts from around the world. In addition, he is the creator of the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo.

All in all, the Guths are happy they made the move, and with patience and a sense of humor they made a good life for themselves.

“We were supportive of Israel in Denver, but we decided, rather than be fans in the stands, it was time to be out on the playing field.” ■

Karen Guth’s books are available at Pomeranz Booksellers, Mintzer’s Books and on Amazon.

KAREN GUTHFrom Denver to Efrat, 2000