Esther Streit-Wortzel – My connection to Israel

My acclimation to life in Israel after I made aliya in 1984 was softer, in part, due to Streit-Wortzel’s wonderful books.

Esther Streit-Wortzel book (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Streit-Wortzel book
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 adolescence.
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.
The first 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.
Streit-Wortzel’s book 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.
Streit-Wortzel, 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 Literature.
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.
May her memory be for a blessing.Translated by Hannah Hochner.