JEWISH WOMAN NEXT DOOR: Repairing the World One Step at a Time

JEWISH WOMAN NEXT DOOR: Repairing the World One Step at a Time
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    JEWISH WOMAN NEXT DOOR: Repairing the World One Step at a Time

    by Debby Flancbaum

    Hardcover, 135 pages
    Urim Publications, 2007 
    ISBN 13: 978-965-710-895-6

    The Jewish Woman Next Door: Repairing the World One Step at a Time is a collection of absorbing essays about contemporary Jewish women -- some known throughout the world, others known only in their own communities -- who engage in extraordinary acts of kindness.

    Although the women featured in this book come from all walks of Jewish life -- religious, secular and everything in between -- they are all linked together by a common thread: each of them contributes something meaningful to the world to make it a better place. Moreover, their commitment to Judaism provides them with the motivation to do the wonderful things that they do. 
    Women such as Ruth Gruber, who helped hundreds of Jewish refugees to escape from war-torn Europe, or Wendy Kay, who invites a constant stream of teenagers to her home for Shabbat, can inspire young Jewish women to reach greater heights. The Jewish Woman Next Door provides contemporary role models to admire and to emulate.

    The Jewish Woman Next Door was written by a Jewish woman, a wife and mother, who wanted to show the beauty and courage that she saw all around her. She did not need to go far to find Jewish women engaged in selfless acts of kindness; very often, all she had to do was to look right next door. The author, Debby Flancbaum, brings modern Jewish history to a more personal level in The Jewish Woman Next Door. For example, the story of Alice Sardell, who was instrumental in the rescue of Syrian Jews during the 1980s, will share information about important events that many have not heard about before.

    About the Author:
    Debby Flancbaum's writings have been featured in Olam Magazine, Modern Bride, the Jewish Press, the Jewish Week and the Forward. She has an MA degree in communication disorders and worked for many years as a speech therapist providing services to developmentally disabled adults. Together with her husband, Louis Flancbaum, MD, Debby is the co-author of The Doctor's Guide to Weight Loss Surgery: How to Make the Decision that Could Save Your Life (Bantam). She has been an active volunteer for her Jewish community school and synagogue throughout her adult life. The mother of two daughters and the stepmother of three, Debby resides with her husband in Teaneck, New Jersey.

    Women profiled in The Jewish Woman Next Door:
    Marla Berkowitz
    Judith Darsky
    Naomi Eisenberger
    Zella Goldfinger
    Claire Ginsburg Goldstein
    Barbara Ribacove Gordon
    Ruth Gruber
    Myriam Gummerman
    Judith Helfand
    Jenny Kaplan, z"l
    Wendy Kay
    Rena Halpern Kieval
    Maureen Kushner
    Sarah Labkowski
    Rachel Bess Levine
    Bessie Fishman Newell, z"l
    Letty Cotton Pogrebin
    Joan Posnick
    Leatrice Rabinsky
    Paula Rackoff
    Chava Rose
    Sylvia Ruskin
    Barbara Sarah
    Alice Sardell
    Ronnie Shonzeit
    Eileen Sklaroff
    Stanlee Stahl
    Stephanie Stein
    Eve Stern
    Linda Storfer
    Maxine Uttal
    Toni Wortman

    Praise for The Jewish Woman Next Door:
    Debby Flancbaum, whose book The Jewish Woman Next Door: Repairing the World One Step at a Time (Urim Publications, 2007) will be out in time for Passover, can still picture the pivotal moment when the idea for her project took hold. It was 1999, and Flancbaum was becoming angrier and angrier as she observed her daughter, then 15, laughing at an episode of "The Nanny" on television. (The title character was portrayed as a gold-digging Jewish employee of a widowed WASP millionaire clearly smitten by her Yiddishisms.) "I thought, 'What message is she getting from this?'" recalled Flancbaum, a Teaneck resident who lived in Albany at the time. "I had never written before in my life, but just decided to write about real Jewish women. I decided to start with my own grandmother because it was something I knew about." Flancbaum submitted her essay to Olam Magazine, a supplement to The New York Times, which, to her surprise and delight, published it.

    "I was flying high, and that inspired me to continue with the project," she said of the volume of essays about contemporary Jewish women engaged in extraordinary acts of kindness. Some of the 32 women featured will be familiar to the average reader; others are obscure, their impact restricted to their own communities.

    Flancbaum knew she wanted to create a book that was authentically Jewish, as opposed to a book about women who do good deeds who just happen to be Jewish. That's when she got the idea of organizing it around the theme of mitzvot. She selected 10 mitzvot, which introduce each of the book's 10 chapters, and then searched for women who were fulfilling them. Also, nervous about flying, without much experience traveling solo, and with a limited budget, Flancbaum chose to interview people from cities she could easily reach.

    She quickly was swamped with potential subjects. "The more I did, the more I wanted to do," she said. "One woman would lead me to another." Not only was Flancbaum blown away by their stories, she was touched by their warmth and generosity. "People were incredibly gracious to me. They'd offer to have me sleep at their house, feed me, pick me up, and drive me back to the airport." At a hotel in Nashville, she was greeted by a whole goody bag of food; in Pittsburgh, a Lubavitch woman treated her to lunch at a kosher deli without knowing if the book would ever be published. "It made me want to move forward. Each time I would hear a story, I felt such a responsibility to pass it along."

    Among the local women whose tales Flancbaum relates is Linda Storfer of Teaneck. Watching television one night, Storfer caught a show about Romanian orphanages. She told Flancbaum that afterward, she turned to her husband and said, "We've got to go get one of those children." Undaunted by the bureaucratic maze, the couple eventually adopted a little boy, David, who has graduated from the Solomon Schechter School of Bergen County in New Milford and now attends Teaneck High School. Storfer, said Flancbaum, feels grateful not only to have saved one child, but also to "have had the privilege of raising him as a Jew."

    Another, Jenny Kaplan, has been profiled posthumously, after Flancbaum was overwhelmed by what she learned of the young woman's persistence in raising funds to build Young Israel of Teaneck as she fought a losing battle against Hodgkin's disease.

    Many of her interview subjects, she noted, had overcome terrible adversity. "They have such incredible strength," she observed. Rabbi Rena Kieval, whom Flancbaum has known for years, is emblematic. The mother of a multiply-handicapped child who died suddenly at the age of 10, Kieval at first retreated into her grief. But she emerged stronger and transformed, as Flancbaum chronicled.

    Kieval turned her devastating loss into a project, Yad Yonaton (meaning hand of Jonathan), named for her son. She organizes volunteers to provide material and emotional support to the bereaved and those battling illness in her synagogue community. They cook, set up the shiva house, remain in the house during a funeral, sit with a body overnight or prepare a body for burial -- in short, take care of all the tasks associated with mourning. "She just took what was the most nightmarish experience a person could have and changed it into something that honored her son's life and memory. Most people would want to put their head in an oven," said Flancbaum.

    Flancbaum was also gratified to discover that each woman, regardless of her level of religious observance, consciously tied her endeavor to a Jewish source. In deliberately selecting women from diverse religious backgrounds, Flancbaum intended to highlight the fact that observance is not a defining characteristic when it comes to acts of chesed and sense of Jewish connection. "I wanted to dispel myths and stereotypes," she explained.
    - Jane Calem Rosen, The Jewish Standard

    "Urim Publications (Israel) excels in producing wonderful intellectual content to the reading world and The Jewish Woman Next Door is another example of such excellence.
    The introduction to Debby Flancbaum's book underscores a terrible injustice in mainstream media: the subtle anti-Semitism of portraying Jewish women in vulgar, unflattering manner and then cashing in on the canard. Flancbaum explains that she wants to set the reality record straight "...and positively showcase Jewish women as they are, not as they appear in the media." The author succeeds with a compelling cross-section of heroics by Jewish women from various streams of Jewish life.

    Each chapter in this 135-page hardcover describes how specific Jewish females saved one person or many people. Holocaust refugees or Syrian Jews trapped behind governmental lies and machinations found safe haven in the USA due to specific Jewish women who simply decided to save them and figured out how to do so.

    One woman taught the IDF how to help bereaved fiance's deal with the pain of losing a soldier to whom they'd been engaged to marry. Other Jewish women around the globe, represented in this book, made additionally impressive contributions to society. Bereaved parents heal the pain of loneliness of similarly affected adults by sponsoring Pregnancy Loss workshops and social outings in which participants understand each other though they are strangers at first meeting.

    Other women teach the public how to psychologically help someone going through ext