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Following Her Inner Compass

Yocheved Engel

Her life spanned continents and cultures, but her rich inner values remained the same throughout. A few short weeks after her sudden passing on Chol Hamoed Pesach, Family First pays tribute to Rebbetzin Shulamit Bitton Blau, a woman whose humor and courage lit up the hearts of all who knew her.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Born in 1938 in Djerba, the legendary island of Kohanim with ochre sunsets and indigo nights, Shulamit Cohen was the blessing to her parents after over a decade of childlessness. Her father was the community’s chazzan, shochet, and melamed. Yet the tumult of the 20th century had invaded even the timelessness of Shulamit’s hometown. Ignorance of Yiddishkeit led to apathy; eventually some of Shulamit’s childhood friends stood on the brink of conversion to Christianity. Invoking her personal heroines — Rus, mother of kingship, and Esther, stalwart in her silent courage — Shulamit used her charisma and idealism to influence her childhood friends and return them to their heritage. Thankful for their daughter’s strength and yet dissatisfied with her lack of education, her father dreamed of Bais Yaakov. He had read in periodicals he received from Eretz Yisrael about the network of schools established by Sarah Schenirer and he told his daughter: “One day, you are going to have to go to a place like this so Yiddishkeit will be instilled in you.” In a clear demonstration of Hashgachah pratis, Shulamit’s father was sent by the community to Eretz Yisrael, to further his expertise as a melamed. On the long voyage, he met the Zeligmans of Gateshead. He told them of his 13-year-old daughter and his dreams for her — and they told him of Gateshead Seminary. A correspondence between Shulamit’s father andMr.Kohn, principal of the seminary, followed, and three years later, in 1954, Shulamit sailed to England.

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