By Doreen Wachmann
GEULA Twersky was given her name, meaning redemption, because she was born a year after the miraculous Six-Day War.
Religious Zionism is deeply in her blood.
Her maternal great-grandfather was Rabbi Zev Gold, one of the leaders of the religious Zionist Mizrachi movement, who was one of the signatories of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Mother-of-10, grandmother-of- eight and a prolific writer, lecturer and artist, Geula told me: “The figure of my great-grandfather looms very large in my consciousness.
“I grew up in the post Six-Day War era. I was named Geula because of the Six-Day War victory. It was part of my personal history and how I saw myself.
“I have experienced a feeling of redemption and the hand of God.”
Now living and working in Israel, Geula says: “I believe that we are living in the most exciting period in Jewish history. But being in the middle of it makes it very hard to see it sometimes.
“There is more Torah learned in Israel than ever before. And more Jews are living in Israel than ever before. Almost the majority of Jews in the world are in Israel.
“Being part of the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles is the most powerful feeling of connecting to the promises and prophecies of the Torah.
“There is a tremendous amount to be thankful for and hopeful for. I am grateful to be part of it.”
She is also very proud of the fact that two of her children are currently serving in the Israeli army.
Not only did Geula inherit a deep love for religious Zionism but also an acute awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Her father, Isaac Sigman, was born in Belgium after his parents had escaped from Germany at the rise of Hitler.
When the Nazis moved into Belgium, Isaac spent years as a young boy running with his family to and from various hiding places throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
The family even fled across the Dunkirk battlefield after they had been turfed out of a barn hiding place by a farmer.
They eventually made their way to Algiers, from where the family managed to take the last boat to America before the US entered the war. Isaac was eight at the time.
Geula said: “My father did not talk very much about it. But it was very much part of my growing up. It was always there even though he didn’t discuss it.
“There was always this mix of the two worlds in how I saw my coming into this world. The story of the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel go hand in hand.
“In my personal history, they are very connected.”
Geula married Rabbi Yitzchak Twersky when she was only 18 while she was studying Jewish education and Jewish studies at colleges attached to New York’s Yeshiva University.
Her first career was as a Jewish studies teacher at an open school in Riverdale, New York, a 15-year experience about which she is still ecstatic.
She told me: “The theory of open education had a profound impact on my educational philosophy. Open education is education without boundaries.
“It is based on the needs of children and the community. Teachers do not look at children as members of a class, but as members of a community.
“They strive to create a sense of community, love of learning and a desire to be really creative and learn what’s going on around them.”
That is achieved, she said, partly by “the absence of walls”.
Riverdale’s spacious SAR Academy has few internal walls.
Geula said: “It is a philosophy for life. The school had a tremendous amount of resources, ample space, a very beautiful building and environment. It was a wonderful, nurturing environment.
“It is where I learned to think in a very different way than most people.”
The experience had such a profound effect on her that when, 12 years ago, she made aliya with her husband and large family, she built their home in a very similar style, with as few walls as possible.
She said: “There is a feeling of openness. I wanted to create a feeling of excitement.”
Currently lecturing in Jewish studies in several Israeli seminaries and colleges, as well as private tutoring, Geula’s teaching and Torah learning is still affected by the open education philosophy.
Having her first child while she was still studying, Geula says that her 10 children were “a natural addition to whatever I was doing”.
She said: “I started to build our family and I continued to take on different responsibilities.”
One of the ways in which Geula expressed her pain at the Holocaust and elation at Israel’s successes was through her painting, which at first she did not attempt to sell.
It was when they were beginning to plan their aliya that Geula decided to take up art professionally.
She told me how it happened: “My husband always decorated our house with my paintings. When we put the house up for sale, the estate agent joked that she was not sure if she could sell the house, but if I kept the paintings up she was sure she could sell it.
“That made me consider painting more professionally. The year before we made aliya, I started to sell my artwork. It was a very successful year. I earned enough to cover our entire aliya.
“I realised that art was something I should do not just for the love of it but that I should invest in it professionally.”
As soon as she made aliya, Geula shared a studio in Jerusalem with other artists. Some of her works were chosen to be displayed in the Knesset in an exhibition of the works of new olim.
Today her paintings are sold in a variety of venues, in particular in a gallery in King David Street, Jerusalem.
Geula has just published the book Song of Riddles, in which she attempts to reconcile the sexually explicit language of the Song of Songs with traditional rabbinic interpretations.
She told me: “The Song of Songs is different from every book of the Bible. It is part of a genre of literature we did not even know of, which we assumed to be lost to the Bible.
“It is different in nature from standard poetry. It needs a different methodology to develop a profound understanding of it. I felt a need to get that message out.”
She felt that some rabbinic interpretations were like “a puritanical garment thrust upon a raunchy text in a desire to apologise for what would otherwise be considered to be uncomfortable”.
In the book, Geula, who has personal experience of bridging the twin worlds of the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel, is attempting to bridge the worlds of academia and more traditional Torah study.
* Song of Riddles is published by Gefen.