Veterans: Overcoming a state of flux

A 10 year odyssey of moving and life changes has led to contentment in a permanent home with her family around her.

Fluss 311 (photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
Fluss 311
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
Ruth Fluss describes herself as conservative.
She has lived with her husband, Barry, in the same comfortable apartment on the Carmel for more than 45 years and stayed in the same job as a social worker for 30.
However, hearing the story of Ruth’s childhood, an odyssey of 10 years of moving and life changes that would be enough for most people for a lifetime, it is not surprising that she has found contentment in a permanent home with her family around her.
Fluss was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1937. The day her mother discovered she was pregnant, she and her husband were arrested – not for being Jews but for their Communist Party activity. Her brother had persuaded her to join a cell where they organized minor subversive activities. They were betrayed to the Nazis and were imprisoned.
A sympathetic prison guard managed to postpone her trial until after she gave birth. After her release, she and Ruth went to the grandparents’ home in Orsoy; but after Kristallnacht the family pressured them to leave. Her mother got a position in domestic service in England.
Ruth’s father had been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, but letters continued to arrive from him until 1942. After the war was it discovered that he had been sent to Auschwitz and perished there.
Her mother also discovered that she had lost her parents and three siblings.
Her mother got a job as secretary with Colibri Lighters in London. The owner, Julius Lowenthal, had left Germany in 1933 and was able to rebuild his factory in England. In 1947 he and Ruth’s mother got married. “I had a new family, a stepfather and two new stepbrothers.”
Julius was a key worker in the Jewish National Fund, so they became part of the social scene of the northwest London Jewish community. Ruth thrived in her new environment and enjoyed her Hebrew and Jewish studies. She did well in school and was accepted to the prestigious North London Collegiate School for Girls.
“In spite of all the tragedy and hardship in her life, my mother was always optimistic.” says Fluss, who persuaded her to make aliya at 97 so she could look after her. “She almost got to her 100th birthday” but died just over a year ago.
When Fluss was 17, she made her first visit to Israel with Habonim. “That changed my life,” she says. “They were just my kind of people.”
When she returned to London she joined Habonim, and her desire to make aliya increased.
She graduated in modern languages at Edinburgh University, but she realized that she wanted to study social work.
“I knew nobody in Edinburgh, but I soon made friends with five other religious students who were also planning aliya.” She went to lodge with a Jewish family, whose son Barry would later become her husband.
During her term as president of the Jewish Society at Edinburgh, she met an Israeli social worker who told her that the Hebrew University was starting a master’s program in social work. So at 22, she made aliya alone.
She settled in the Jewish Agency hostel in Jerusalem and studied at ulpan for two months before starting university.
Meanwhile, she had been corresponding with Barry.
When he came to visit, they went touring together. On a moonlit night in the Negev, he proposed. They were married in 1961.
Barry worked in the Hadera Paper Mills. They moved to Haifa when he started studying accounting and was apprenticed to a Haifa company. Ruth did fieldwork at Beit Loewenstein in Ra’anana for a year and in her third year was given fieldwork at Youth Aliya in Haifa, traveling by train to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to finish her studies.
Her first son was born while she was studying for her final exam.
“I took 10 years out while the children were small and then got into a field of social work that interested me until I retired.”
Fluss explains that at that time, autistic children were institutionalized. A psychologist interested in helping autistic and other children with developmental problems set up a network of area kindergartens for children who could not fit into the regular educational framework.
“It was a complete rethink on education in this field,” she says. “The centers were regional so that they were local for the families; the therapists did the traveling. I loved the close-knit communities outside the city and counseling the families.”
She stayed in that job for 30 years, completing her MA when she was in her 50s.
Apart from the large extended family in England and other countries, Ruth and Barry’s family has expanded.
They have four sons and 12 grandchildren. Their four sons live and work in Israel.
Although their Hebrew is perfect and they have Sabra friends, Ruth and Barry have a close circle of modern Orthodox English-speakers. They also maintain contact with their university and Habonim friends, many of whom now live here.
She volunteers for Women at Risk, a project of Hadassah Israel in Haifa, and takes art and bridge classes.
“No regrets,” she says. “Israel is the best place I know to bring up children. All our family have grown up with good values from the school system and from Bnei Akiva.”
The two-year-old refugee who made the lonely journey with her mother from Germany is now fully occupied planning celebrations and holidays for her children and grandchildren.
Like her mother, who was her mentor and her role model, Fluss is always optimistic and positive and ready to lend a helping hand.