Posted on May 23, 2023 by David Gutbezahl
Featured Pardes Alumna of the
The Marilyn and Sigi z”l Ziering Pardes Community Education Omer Program Author Series 2023
In 1975, I was so fortunate to be in exactly the same position as you guys are today. I had the opportunity to come on a program and experience a year here. Like you, I was able to experience something out of the box that was not readily available in Australia.
Like you, I had been given the golden opportunity to come and live, experiencing life here in our promised land that G-d gave us. From the minute, I arrived I felt a connection with the vibes, flow, and rhythm of the land. It was speaking to me, and as they say, I went with the flow.
I fit in so well with my new community of young people. We were all liked-minded individuals with the same goals, values and beliefs. We shared the same interests and dreams of being here and making the most of learning about our country and heritage in many different ways.
The religion and Judaism, to which I had not been exposed to for a number of different reasons, was at my fingertips. My eyes had been opened a whole new world. On top of all of that, I was able to be experience, learn, and develop what was in my soul.
I was on such a roll. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was growing in so many ways, just like you all. I remember being so driven, focused, and motivated to experience it all. There were nights when I couldn’t fall asleep enough, eager to wake up and start a new day.
What was so good was that I’d come here and left my past behind. I had been able to start my life with a clean slate.
I had left behind my learning difficulty. I had gone through school without being able to succeed. I had receptive, expressive, and phonological issues, and the list goes on. Back in the 60s, nothing was known about these issues. I believed I was a nobody because I wasn’t succeeding. I compared myself to my peers in class and my community. I simply accepted that I was a nobody and a complete failure.
I had taken IQ tests, and I was told that had above-average intelligence. So, there was no idea why I wasn’t learning. “It must be my fault for not trying hard enough.” Personally, I could not have tried any harder.
It came to a crisis when I was 16, in year 11. I went through the year and failed every subject, and alarm bells rang. I then went another round of testing, and once again it was found that I had above-average intelligence but a reading and writing ability of a 9-year old, which put me 7 years behind my peers. How had I gotten so far behind? That’s still a mystery to me. I repeated year 11.
After that, I enrolled in a college and completed a Certificate of Business Studies, which I found to be great, especially as math came so easily to me.
As if that wasn’t challenging enough, before I proceed any further, I should fill you in on an event that happened to me when I was 7 and a half that had a significant impact on my life. While walking home from school, I ran across the road to reach my anxiously waiting mum on the other side of the road. I dashed out from the footpath without looking, I crossed noticing the truck to my right. I was hit – I ended up with a broken right arm with several complications, a broken hip, a broken leg, and head injuries.
My bones mended. However, I was left with no movement in my right hand and my left ankle paralyzed.
I had to learn to fit into my everyday life with disabilities from the accident, with effects which still impact me in all aspects of my everyday life. At the same time, I also had to juggle my learning disabilities. In those days, there were no provisions for holistic care, looking after the person as a person – no clown doctors, no social workers, and no chaplains to provide emotional support for me and my family.
After some time, I wanted to stay and live here in Israel. I enrolled in a primary teaching program at Hebrew University, and I was ready to begin. However, something happened. I found myself under immense pressure, which ultimately led to my returning to Australia.
I was forced to fit straight back into the same unsupportive, umotivating and ununderstanding community I had left behind. The sad bit is that quickly I lost all that I had experienced and gained during my time here… I had nobody who I could share the growth, passion for life, and valuable experience with.
I did the expected of me: I completed my degree in primary teaching, got married, and had a child. I was merely trying to keep my head above water.
Lots of water went under the bridge. I had lost all passion for life and believed that I wasn’t entitled to any joy. Just before turning 60, I began to see life through different eyes, and made a life-changing decision. I left the marriage, as my husband had bullied and abused me for years. My daughter had stopped talking to me for various reasons, and I had enough of teaching. I planned to retire and call it a day.
Soon after that, 8 and a half years ago, I bought a return ticket to come to Israel for 3 months. I organized to volunteer at a WIZO afternoon school drop-in centre and enrolled in a 6-week summer course at Pardes, which would take care of all the learning I needed to do.
Well, things didn’t work out like that. The volunteering went well and the study had my name on it, but I wanted more. I can’t imagine how I thought that a 5-week course would quench my thirst for knowledge.
I then planned to come to Pardes and live here for a year. I quickly fell into the rhythm of life here. The studies, exploration of my Jewish identity, and discovery of communities where I truly belonged all led to me finding my home here.
I went back to Australia, packed everything up into storage, and ventured off for the year. However, as they say, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”
Halfway through that year, I knew that I was meant to stay and make my home here in Israel. The return ticket to Australia was no longer for going back, but rather to clear out all my stuff and arrange my Aliyah papers.
I came back to Jerusalem and began my life as an Israeli citizen. I never looked back. I belonged for the first time in my life.
Today, I belong in so many communities – Pardes, my shul, my gym, and the list goes on.
This is my Judaism. Not only have I learnt my history, heritage, and culture, but I have learnt that G-d has always been with me in every part of my journey.
My book about my journey costs 60 nis. I am donating all proceeds of my book sales to Pardes as a way of thanking them for the important role they have played in my life. So please consider making a purchase. To do so reach out to Joanne Barth at email@example.com.
Find out more about the The Marilyn and Sigi z”l Ziering Pardes Community Education Omer Program at pardes.org.il/ce and rewatch this exciting author series Zoom session here.