The road not taken

Raised with a strong sense of initiative, Miriam Frankel tackled the challenges in her life head-on.

Miriam Frankel, 60 From Perth, Australia, to Ra’anana, 1970 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Miriam Frankel, 60 From Perth, Australia, to Ra’anana, 1970
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Miriam Frankel is the deputy executive director of Reuth, one of the country’s leading elder-care, rehabilitation and social-welfare nonprofits. Her fulltime job began with working on a Reuth fund-raising dinner 20 years ago, and today, she reflects that the organization “is the culmination of everything I was brought up to do.”
Raised in Perth, Australia, she is the eldest of three daughters of Edward (Isaac) and Val Pachtman.
One of the few Orthodox couples in town, the Pachtmans began a Jewish kindergarten for her when she was three, and helped establish the Carmel School when she was ready for first grade.
“Much of the fund-raising was done in our living room,” she recalls.
In that same living room, the Pachtmans hosted visiting Israeli dignitaries such as president Chaim Herzog and chief rabbi Shlomo Goren. Their home was the go-to address for kosher food and a proper Shabbat atmosphere.
Frankel has only fond memories of growing up in Perth, but it was always clear that the family’s future lay in Israel.
“In a community like Perth – vibrant but small – my parents looked at us three girls in a house where Jewish identity was such a staple of daily life, and realized if they wanted us to marry Jewish boys, they would have to make the move.”
Frankel was ready at 17, as soon as she finished her matriculation exams. Her parents agreed to let her study at Machon Gold in Jerusalem, and not only escorted her there but came back three weeks later, after a European holiday, to see how she was faring.
In truth, her adjustment was not smooth. In Perth, her level of Jewish knowledge and spoken Hebrew had been superior to her peers’, but it paled in comparison to that of the students at Machon Gold, many of whom had been educated in Jewish schools in New York.
“So it wasn’t easy for me,” she says.
After six months, she entered Bar-Ilan University.
“I wanted to study law or economics, but my Hebrew was deemed not good enough, so I learned English literature and political science. I loved the lectures, and I thrived there.”
LAST SUMMER OF INNOCENCE Things really began looking up when her parents and sisters made aliya a year later. Then, in her second year, she fell in love with fellow student Itchie Frankel, who had immigrated from New York. They married in the summer of 1973.
Looking back, she sees that time as “the last summer of innocence.”
“We had both grown up under the shadow of the Holocaust and witnessed the rebuilding of the State of Israel,” she explains. “We had stood in Jerusalem on Yom Ha’atzmaut in 1973 and felt invincible, full of hope. We were in love, and everything was right in the world.”
They put money down on an apartment under construction in the first elevator building in Ra’anana, then a very new community.
And then came the Yom Kippur War.
“It was a world-stopping experience for us as young people,” she says. “My husband lost his first cousin in that war, and a relative of mine was killed, too. The toll it took was major.”
Their reaction, however, was life-affirming.
“We decided not to wait to have kids,” she says.
When their firstborn son arrived in 1975, they named him Netanel (Tani) after her relative.
When Tani was three weeks old, Frankel took him to university with her so she could nurse him during her final exams. Fittingly, Tani later met his own wife at Bar-Ilan.
The couple’s second son, Motti, was born in October 1977. Frankel was pursuing a master’s degree in international relations, but she took a year off when it became clear that Motti had developmental disabilities and would need her full attention.
“At that time, there was so little understanding of the difficulties involved in raising a child like Motti,” she says. “There weren’t special facilities and schools available then.”
Aware of the huge challenges that lay ahead, the Frankels nevertheless had another child – Eli, born on Seder night 1980 – and Miriam says she is forever grateful for having made that choice.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN Nor does she regret her decision not to return to her master’s program. Instead she became active in the field of special-needs children.
“It was a ‘road not taken’ decision,” she says, “and this is what eventually brought me to Reuth. The credit goes to Motti. I don’t think anyone would choose to have a special-needs child, but I honestly believe you can learn so much and take so much from the experience. It changed our outlooks and our priorities.”
When Motti was 16, shortly before Eli’s bar mitzva and Tani’s induction into the army, the Frankels took the difficult step of placing him in residential care.
“We had given him all the love and care we could,” his mother explains. “But on the day he left, we were immediately impacted with grief and guilt we never had before.”
Today, Motti lives in a facility in Rosh Ha’ayin and enjoys frequent visits from his parents, brothers, sisters- in-law, nieces and nephews. Tani lives in Petah Tikva with his wife and four children; Eli and his wife are raising their two kids in Ramat Gan.
The week of Eli’s bar mitzva, someone from Reuth called Frankel to offer her a fund-raising and public relations position. She was hesitant.
“I told her I had just gotten my life back and didn’t know what I wanted to do next,” she recalls.
PUTTING VALUES INTO ACTION A week later, a friend persuaded her to visit Reuth’s Tel Aviv headquarters, located in its sheltered housing complex for indigent seniors and a few blocks from the Reuth Medical Center for rehabilitation. Several women had begun the nonprofit in 1937 as a soup kitchen on the beach for refugees arriving from Europe.
Frankel was so impressed by the organization that she agreed. Three years later, she was offered her present position.
“I am blessed that my work allows me to put into action the values of hessed and tzedaka [kindness and charity] that I was brought up with,” she says.
“The greatest resource any organization can have is the people who work for it, both staff and volunteers,” she continues. “Over the past 20 years, we have nurtured that resource and found a way of working with an amazingly devoted volunteer board while developing a highly professional staff of professionals. You can only really succeed if you have that partnership.”
When she started her job, she mentioned to her parents that the chairwoman at that time was Rebbetzin Gerda Ochs. Her father replied excitedly, “The wife of Herr Dr. Rabbi Ochs? They were leaders of the community in Leipzig!” His reaction was remarkable, because he had left Leipzig at age 13 and recalled little of his childhood years during the Holocaust that had left him orphaned.
“For me, that was amazing, because it was a connection between my family history and my new career,” Frankel says. “I realized it was not just a nine-to-five job, but it illustrated the rebirth of the Jewish people.”