As I thought about people who should have been honored and haven’t been, I thought about a teacher, Elsie Chomsky, I had in Hebrew college. She taught education and her ideas were brilliant and eye-opening! She was a household name because she had also taught my mother!! She was married to a man who became very famous (at least in Philadelphia) but my perception was that she was overlooked.
In thinking about her, I decided to do a google search and see if there was anything at all written about her. What a surprise! There was a whole 38 page article.
But that is not the whole surprise.
You see, on page 11 was the following:
Here we come to a dramatic break in Elsie Simonofsky’s story. Sometime in
l926-27, she left her job, family, peer-group, and friends to move to Philadelphia.
An air of mystery surrounds this period in her life. Her file in the Office of the
Registrar at JTS contains a “To Whom it May Concern” letter dated December
10, l926–a strange time for Hebrew teacher to be job-hunting– affirming that she
has satisfactorily completed her teacher’s diploma and is “entitled to teach in
Jewish religious schools.”
Why might she have decided to relocate? One source attributes her departure to
an unrequited romantic attachment; she felt she simply had to leave New York.
In 1965, I was engaged to be married. Four weeks before the planned wedding, with guests already RSVP’d, the apartment already carpeted, and a final fitting of my wedding gown, my fiance decided that he didn’t want to marry me. I was an emotional wreck. I had such difficulty believing it that I didn’t call any of my friends to tell them, but on the following Sunday, when I showed up at Hebrew college, there was no way of avoiding it. I told my friends and I burst into tears. I couldn’t remain in class, and so I went and sat in the student lounge.
A couple of minutes later, Mrs. Chomsky appeared. She and I had never had a personal conversation. She was my teacher. She sat on the sofa next to me. I don’t remember the exact words she said , but it was something like this.
“I just heard what happened. I know how hard it is because I went through it too. Believe me, your future is going to turn out better than you ever dreamed.”
So yes, I know what happened to her in 1926.
But there’s more.
My parents sent me to Israel and Europe for the summer, just a few weeks later. When I came down to the hotel lobby at the President Hotel in Jerusalem my first morning, Mrs. Chomsky was there. Together we walked to the Wizo shop on Jaffa Road so that I could buy an embroidered blouse for my sister. Having her show up there so unexpectedly, I thought it was as if she were my guardian angel.
Oh, and about my future… she was right.