‘I could never live anywhere else’

For years, Linda Stern yearned to make Israel her home

vets 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
vets 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘I’ve wanted to live here in Israel since I was 11,” says Linda Stern, who made aliya first in 1973 and again in 1980, and has lived most of that time in Safed with her Israeli-born husband, Dr. Yitzchak Stern.
After the first visit and her announcement that one day she would move to Israel, her enlightened parents immediately arranged for her to have Hebrew lessons, and a private tutor made regular visits to the home in Stamford Hill, London.
“Within a year I was speaking Hebrew well and could communicate with my Israeli cousins,” she says.
Always a member of Bnei Akiva, Stern spent a preparatory year in Israel in 1970- 1971 at Kibbutz Lavi, then returned to England to qualify as a secretary with a view to continuing her studies at the Hebrew University.
When the Yom Kippur War broke out, she was working as an aliya receptionist at the Jewish Agency in London, and immediately volunteered to come to Israel.
Her future husband, who was studying medicine in Dublin and working as an aliya emissary, interrupted his studies to come back and rejoin his unit. They had already met through Bnei Akiva and she was impressed by his enthusiasm.
“He invited me to be a counselor in a summer camp and he was very influential bringing a lot of uncommitted Jewish youth back to Judaism,” Stern says.
The war over, they began to correspond, she met his family and within three months they were married and returned to Dublin, where he continued his work.
“We came back as a family,” she says. They chose Safed as their destination so that Yitzchak could do his internship at the hospital there. In 1980 they settled there, intending to spend a few years and then return to Jerusalem where Yitzchak was born.
“We’ve been there 33 years,” says Stern with a smile.
In those several decades, many things have happened in the Stern family.
Yitzchak became a general practitioner and five years ago ran for mayor of the town.
Stern has held a variety of jobs and raised five children. She is especially active in trying to raise awareness of Safed as a great place for Anglos to settle, and wants to help realize the potential of the ancient holy town.
“At one time I worked for the organization Livnot U’Lehibanot (To Build and Be Built), which was established in Safed in 1980 and aims to raise the spiritual awareness of unaffiliated young Jews from abroad.”
A talk she went to given by the late Miriam Schlesinger, a very prestigious and internationally known translator, started her on a new track.
“She opened my eyes to the joys of translation,” says Stern. “As a translator, you can be a storyteller without creating the story itself.”
She decided she wanted to be a translator and enrolled in a course at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba in 1994. It was a long way from Safed, but Stern was determined.
“Once a week, on Wednesday night, I would fly from Mahanayim to Sde Dov, take a bus to Ra’anana and stay overnight with a friend so that on Thursday I could attend the course,” she says.
She did this for two years until she gained her translator’s qualification and met, she says, wonderful people and teachers.
One of these was Edyth Geiger, Miriam’s mother and a resident of Safed herself.
This remarkable woman founded the English library that bears her name 30 years ago in her own small apartment, crammed with English books of every description as well as her 2,000-plus collection of giraffes. Eventually, the library was rehoused in another apartment, and today Stern is a regular volunteer in this popular English enclave in Safed.
Besides her own work translating and editing, she does all the administrative work in her husband’s practice. For the last 20 years, he has been a general practitioner in Safed and surroundings. With his good English and fluent Yiddish, he is popular with the many Anglos who live in the neighborhood and the Russians who joined them later.
Being the wife of a busy country doctor also keeps her busy. Although her husband hasn’t yet been paid in chickens, they once received a crate of pomegranates in lieu of a fee, and Stern remembers getting a sack of fennel years ago and not knowing what it was.
Although he wasn’t elected mayor, they both feel a need to work to promote the town and show a side of Safed that visitors often don’t see.
“Safed has such potential, which hasn’t yet been realized,” Stern says. “Promoting the English library is very important and we are also active in our synagogue, where Yitzchak is president of the community. We volunteer as much as we can and aim to get the town cleaned up and show what a beautiful place it is.”
Stern goes back to England every year to visit family, and can’t wait to get back to her home in Safed.
With her five children settled and 13 grandchildren, who often need a hands-on grandmother, she is busy but content.
“I could never live anywhere else,” she says.