Pioneers with words

Yisrael Medad, 70; Batya Medad, 68 From New York to Shiloh, 1970

YISRAEL AND BATYA Medad on a hill overlooking Tel Shiloh and the Shiloh vineyards (photo credit: MIRIAM FEYGA BUNIMOVICH)
YISRAEL AND BATYA Medad on a hill overlooking Tel Shiloh and the Shiloh vineyards
Yisrael Medad and Batya (Beth) Spiegelman met at a 1967 Tisha Be’av “fast-in” for Soviet Jewry in Manhattan. They arrived in Israel by boat on September 5, 1970, as newlyweds.
Since that moment, the Medads have barely paused for breath in their nation-building labors. While earlier pioneers used plows, the Medads’ tools are words. Both are prolific bloggers in addition to other media- related patriotic pursuits. The passage of time has neither slowed nor jaded them.
Yisrael co-authors a regular column for The Jerusalem Post with Eli Pollak on behalf of Israel’s Media Watch, which works to ensure fairness, transparency and ethics in the Israeli media.
“My aspiration today is the same as what my classmates wrote of me in our high school yearbook: ‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet’ (Isaiah 62:1),” says Yisrael. “I was only 17, but even then I decided I was going to fight for Zion in words and other forms.”
Having recently retired from his 17-year career as director of educational programming and information resources at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Yisrael spends most days blogging and leaving comments on Israel-related posts from all over the world, including campus newspapers. “I come back from Shaharit [morning prayers] each morning and hit the computer.”
Even people with views diametrically opposed to his own appreciate that he states his case without losing his cool – a style he honed while working in the Knesset from 1981 to 1994 as a political and legislative aide and adviser, mainly to former MK Geula Cohen.
Yisrael is willing to join in formal discussions with, as he puts it, “people who don’t like me,” because he sees the effect of his input.
“I try to keep it up because, in my experience, there are few of us who can quote historical sources, who remember what happened and tell it like it is,” he says. “If I’m the person who’s able to do it, I’ll do it.”
As students in New York, the Medads were active in their respective youth movements: Mizrachi Hatzair and then the Revisionist Zionist group Betar (Yisrael) and the Orthodox Union’s NCSY and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (Batya). They both attended Yeshiva University, which has separate campuses for men (Yeshiva College) and women (Stern College) in Manhattan.
Yisrael’s mother was eager for her son to be a doctor, so she transferred him from public school in Queens to the black-hat Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva at age 13, figuring it would be a stepping-stone toward admittance to Yeshiva University and its Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“The only problem is, I didn’t like chemistry or biology,” Yisrael says with a chuckle. “My first real job in Israel was in the public relations department of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, so I told my mother, ‘See? I work in a hospital!’”
During his junior year of college in 1966-67, Yisrael went to Israel on the five-month Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz leadership program, learning everything from Israeli folk dancing to Zionist ideology and – more unexpectedly – how to survive in a foxhole.
“I was on Moshav Amatzya outside Lachish on the border. On the night of Independence Day in 1967, we had one of our houses blown up by an infiltrator,” Yisrael relates.
The Six Day War came three weeks later, coinciding with Beth Spiegelman’s high-school graduation in Great Neck, New York. Like the future husband she was soon to meet, she began planning to live in Israel as soon as possible.
“I had decided on aliya because I never felt fully American. It was very clear that the United States was a Christian country, and in the Sixties we were looking for an uncompromising purity,” she relates.
“Once I heard about a thing called aliya, it felt right. When I started Stern College in 1967, the Jewish Agency had started American Volunteers for Israel; and although I was the only one in the group who hadn’t been to Israel, I felt completely at home. In 1969, I left to spend my junior year in Israel.”
Her stay was cut short because she and Yisrael had gotten engaged before her departure, and she had to come back to prepare for the wedding. The couple made aliya shortly afterward. Many years later she finished college by earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism through Empire State College’s Jerusalem branch.
Initially, the Medads lived in Jerusalem’s Old City as the house parents for Betar Students’ Hostel (now the dorm for Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh). Yisrael attended an Arabic ulpan, as his Hebrew was already good.
In 1975, with two children in tow, they departed for two years as Betar emissaries in England. “Our third daughter was born there, so she has three passports,” says Yisrael.
Upon returning to Israel, they lived in Jerusalem until 1981, when they moved to Shiloh, the modern town built near the spot where, according to the Bible, the Tabernacle stood for 369 years following Joshua’s conquest.
“Very early on, we were committed to making sure Judea and Samaria remain part of the State of Israel, and to do that you have to have people living there,” says Yisrael. “When we came back from England, we decided it was time. We chose Shiloh because it was a place where no one could tell us we don’t belong. It resonates with Jewish history. Also, we wanted a place where we could make a contribution, and they needed us in Shiloh.”
Among Batya’s blogs are “Shiloh Musings” and “A Jewish Grandmother.” In addition to writing, she attends Bible classes at Matan and in Ofra, learns crafts and tutors English and computer skills.
“I never planned on working, but I’ve had a gazillion jobs,” says Batya, who has been organizing women’s Rosh Hodesh prayers at Tel Shiloh for more than a decade.
One of the first creative dance teachers in Jerusalem, Batya later taught women’s fitness classes in Jerusalem and in Shiloh, and physical education at the Shiloh elementary school. She was a remedial English teacher at Beit El’s yeshiva high school for 11 years and also has worked in public relations and retail stores. She has cooked professionally and sold her photographs of the Tel Shiloh archeological site.
The Medads’ five children, ranging in age from 34 to 46, all live in Israel.