by Thea Iberall, Ph.D.
~I have a picture of my mother Helene with Heidi Klum, the blonde supermodel and TV star. We were in Heidi’s trailer on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank watching her prep for a commercial shoot. Heidi and her makeup entourage gathered around my mother who was wearing her “Kiss Me I’m 100” T-shirt. They wanted to know her secret to aging well. My mom laughed and told Heidi about the gin-soaked raisins she eats every morning to ward off arthritis. Then she talked about the raw apple cider vinegar she takes before every meal to overcome gas. And the walnuts and blueberries and probiotics. The classes and crossword puzzles. How she plays bridge and Scrabble. And how she set a world record in swimming when she turned 90 years old.
My mom has lived a life of service, from the Campfire Girls to the National Council of Jewish Women. She tutored Russian immigrants in English as a second language. In 1974, at great risk to herself, she smuggled letters and money to Russian Refusenik Jews in the Soviet Russia. In the middle of the night, she managed to avoid the KGB and find their homes. She met with the scientist Alexander Lerner and also a young Natan Sharansky before he was imprisoned. At one of the apartments she visited, she was asked if she could speak Yiddish to an elderly Russian woman who had not heard the language in years. My mother agreed and they woke the woman up. She was thrilled as my mother asked her where she was from and why she came to Russia in Yiddish.
On left, Helene Iberall with Heidi Klum; on right, Helene with Natan Sharansky when they remet in 2013
My mom died at the age of 102 at personal peace, but not at peace because of the world. To her, the only life worth living is one steeped in community and family. “Prejudice is the worst thing in this world,” she told me. Her mantra was, “Dwell on human kindness.” As an Orthodox Jew, this was what Judaism meant to her. She said it to the young and the old, to everyone she met. She also told them about her secret of aging well: about the gin-soaked raisins, the raw apple cider vinegar. About being with the Earth, not against it. And she lived her teshuvah by asking the same question each day of her life, a question from a Thomas Carlyle poem that she had memorized in the 4th grade: So here hath been dawning another blue day. Think wilt thou let it slip useless away?
Photo by Penni Rubin
Thea Iberall is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network. As head of the JCAN interfaith group, she works with other organizations such as the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Parish UU Church Medfield, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light, and 350MA.org. Dr. Iberall is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale. In this visionary fiction novel, she uses today’s world of climate change as a backdrop to help awaken people, reminding us that the visions of Gandhi, religious mysticism, and Native Americans are a more sustainable solution than the patriarchal system under which we live. Learn more at www.theaiberall.com.