The Longest-Running Torah Class

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

Shalom, my name is Reuven Ben-Porat and I feel compelled to share the story of my grandmother, Esther.  63 years ago, in 1956, grandma Esther was asked to conduct a Torah class on Shabbat for women who were living in a transit camp for new immigrants near Haifa.  The class was originally taught in French for the benefit of immigrants from North Africa, but later was taught in Hebrew for immigrants who came from Yemen, Persia, France, the Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and from other countries, too.  Esther walked to the class every Shabbat, without ever taking a break. During the Gulf War, for example, the class was not interrupted, but conducted in a bomb shelter.

This year, grandma Esther celebrated her 100th birthday and, lately, has declined in health and become weakest. This Shabbat, for the first time, she will not be conducting the class. This is what she wrote to class attendees, both past and present:

G-d gave me two great gifts of love: love for the Torah and love for the Jewish people. These two wonderful gifts I have tried to utilize for the benefit of us all. We learned Torah together, but we also learned about our many different customs and traditions, out of deep respect for each person in attendance. With sad regret, because of my health, I am forced at the present time to retire from my role as the teacher of the class. Thank you for all the ‘together’ moments created during more than 60 years. May we merit to see the coming redemption very soon.

This is my grandmother and I do not believe there is another Torah class in the whole world that has endured so many years, conducted by the same teacher. In an age when governments rise and fall in quick succession, and the subjects of arguments and protests continuously change – I want people to know about grandma Esther and her class. And, appropriately, in these days of Chanukah, all of us, like Esther, light little flames, one day after the next, with persistence, a demonstration of our connection to eternal values.

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סיון רהב-מאיר

Sivan Rahav-Meir is a media personality and lecturer. Married to Yedidya, the mother of five. Lives in Jerusalem. She works for Israel TV news, writes a column for Yediot Aharonot newspaper, and hosts a weekly radio show on Galei Zahal (Army Radio). Her lectures on the weekly Torah portion are attended by hundreds and the live broadcast attracts thousands more listeners throughout the world.
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