Finding the light, in the darkest of places

From a difficult childhood to a traumatic marriage, Tova Goldfine realized she didn’t want to be a victim of circumstances.

RABBI NACHMAN KAHANA once told Goldfine something she now knows to be true: ‘You don’t make aliya – aliya makes you.’ (photo credit: DOVID DAVID)
RABBI NACHMAN KAHANA once told Goldfine something she now knows to be true: ‘You don’t make aliya – aliya makes you.’
(photo credit: DOVID DAVID)
It was not a carefree childhood for Terri Fern Goldfine of Philadelphia. Among other difficulties, she witnessed her mother’s slow death from multiple sclerosis.
In high school, she followed a guru and dabbled in other religions, knowing little about her Jewishness.
Yet after college in 1978, she took a backpack and set out for Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi in the Galilee.
“I had four amazing months of experiencing different things, though I wasn’t outwardly affected by the kedusha [holiness] of Israel,” she says. “I came to Israel a lot in the years that followed, but never in a million years did I think I would come here permanently. I was intimidated by the people and the lifestyle here...
Years later, I was able to overcome my inhibitions.”
Twice divorced and the mother of a daughter from each marriage, she came to live in Jerusalem in 2009, bearing the new name of Tova Goldfine, a chiropractic doctor.
“Two things made me want to make aliya,” she relates.
“First, I wanted to raise my younger daughter, Daniella, in a country where she would grow up independent and have a strong Jewish identity. Second, my dad had passed away and I experienced his death in a way that was a paradigm shift. I felt its finality and that I needed to start living my life, using my fears to motivate me rather than stifle me.”
She left behind a 26-year-old chiropractic practice that she had built and run with her first ex-husband.
“I was close with my ex, and although he wasn’t interested in Judaism and I was slowly getting more religious, we continued to raise our daughter Dara in a joint custody agreement, and still worked together for 20 years after divorcing.”
Dara, her husband and two-year-old daughter made aliya on March 18, and are living in Pardess Hanna. “I love being a savta [grandmother],” Goldfine says with a laugh.
Holistic health Goldfine says she has found professional success in Israel, even beyond what she experienced in Philadelphia.
She’s one of a handful of female chiropractors in Jerusalem, and the only woman chiropractor working for the Leumit Health Fund. She specializes in many types of rehabilitation and teaches five classes a week in a warm therapy pool at Teddy Sports Center, plus a weekly class on posture, balance and osteoporosis prevention at the OU Israel Center. She maintains a private practice in her home office in Nahlaot, and also works in a private medical clinic in Mekor Baruch.
“I am fortunate that Jerusalemites are more open to holistic health, and many of the religious communities prefer preventative medicine,” she says.
Goldfine offers free treatment to Israeli soldiers. and would like to find a way to work more formally for the IDF.
“Coming to Israel, I feel I am now part of the bigger solution; now, I’m living and dying for a reason. I didn’t feel that way in America,” she says. “Stressful as it is here, and corrupt as some things are, I’d rather deal with the stress here than in the USA. My dark past and what seemed to be a road with many wrong turns led me to live in Israel. So who’s to say it wasn’t meant to be?” That rocky road included some highlights – such as several trips to Israel with women’s Aish HaTorah missions and the Jewish Federation.
Then there was her eight-year second marriage, to a Frenchman who had served in an IDF special forces unit. “He was very Zionist and not religious,” says Goldfine. “We came to Israel every summer and I got to see Israel through his eyes.”
But he disappeared when their child was very young, and Goldfine eventually obtained a rare annulment in Israel. She was supported by a rabbinical court advocate, Rachel Levmore, whom Goldfine now helps to promote a universally acceptable halachic prenuptial agreement.
A great test Her decision to take the aliya plunge came during a Passover 2008 visit to her daughter Dara, who was finishing a gap year in Jerusalem. Halfway through her visit, she knew she had to move her family here, and started filling out her Nefesh B’Nefesh application.
There were bureaucratic problems with her younger daughter’s Israeli passport renewal; the application needed the signature of both parents, so she had to hire a lawyer and go to family court to be declared the sole parent of Daniella. In spite of the delay, she still boarded the airplane in August 2009, though wasn’t able to make aliya officially until December 13 of that year.
“God would challenge me left and right, and the rewards would come as well,” Goldfine says. “I had a difficult childhood and a traumatic marriage, and it was all a great test. I realized I had a choice; I could be a victim of circumstances or an architect of my life.
“I kept looking for the light in those dark places, and I was obviously given a gift to always try and see the good. I am very grateful and feel even more blessed.”
Daniella, 15, attends Yerushalayim Torah Academy for Girls. “She loves her life here, and has adapted very well,” says her mother.
As for Goldfine herself, she has a few modest goals.
“I want to travel around and see the entire country of Israel, I want to help soldiers, I want to learn Hebrew fluently and study Torah, and I want to meet my bashert [intended], age gracefully and raise our grandkids together.”
Two of the people she most admires are Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz and Rabbi Nachman Kahana. Leibowitz, originally of Berkeley, California, lives in her Nahlaot neighborhood and is active in local movements toward developing alternative kashrut standards and defusing tension between the city’s haredi and secular populations. Kahana – who helped her choose Tova as her Hebrew name – is an author and rabbi of Chazon Yechezkel Synagogue – Young Israel of the Old City of Jerusalem.