I feel humbled and honored to talk about Ita Weiner who passed away a few months ago. Thank you for this privilege.
Ita was a beautiful human being. She found her way to ESRA and soon into our hearts after she and Motti made aliyah in 1988. Her “career” with us started as a volunteer and later as a worker, albeit on a minimal salary, in charge of our activities at Beit Fisher which she ran for over ten years, from January 1993 to June 2003.
In the period that Ita volunteered, Beit Fisher was run by Channi Hurwitz. In Channi’s words: “Ita used to come into Beit Fisher and always seemed to be around at those moments when I needed help. She was my ‘guardian angel’, flitting in and out in her light ethereal manner, always caring, always available, always willing. She was the volunteer at Beit Fisher on whom I relied most. And it was natural”, said Channi, “that I suggested that Ita take over from me when I left the job.”
It was Ita, together with Channi, who had the vision and energies to start the ESRA bookshop, collecting, sorting and selling books, in 1991.
And it was Ita, who was Channi’s right hand volunteer organizing the Friday bazaars they started at Beit Fisher. As Channi said, and as we all learned to know about Ita, she was a marvel at organization and excelled in efficiency.
It was also in Channi’s time at Beit Fisher that we opened the Nearly New Shop in Raanana, spearheaded by our illustrious Motti. If I had listened to Ita, by the way, Motti would not be with the shops, because when I told Ita that I wanted to ask Motti to start the shop, she said he was far too busy and I should leave him alone. Fortunately, on that occasion, I didn’t heed her advice. Ita worked behind the scenes for the shop, turning Beit Fisher into a collection depot for goods, doing the daily banking of the moneys raised in the shop, and giving Motti full support and help in any way he needed.
Ita captivated us all with her spirit and her warmth. Meira Applebaum wrote in an article published in the ESRA MAGAZINE Sept-Oct 2004, after Ita’s retirement:
“All of us who entered Beit Fisher…over the past 10 years have been greeted by a whirling bundle of energy with sparkling brown eyes and a pixie smile crowned by a silver head”.
Leah Esterson was testimony to this human warmth and acceptance. In her obituary to Ita, in the ESRA MAGAZINE Sept-Nov 2006 writes Leah, who had just come to live in Raanana after having lived for 20 years in Jerusalem:
“The greeting I received on the very first meeting sealed my fate for the next 10 years. Ita immediately understood what I was asking and knew how to make me feel comfortable without pressure. One of her regular volunteers was going on holiday and she asked if I would substitute for her. And thus I became one of Ita’s “girls”.
Ita had this uncanny knack of mobilizing volunteers – no one could refuse her, and she believed utterly in the value and work of volunteers. Her volunteers loved her although she ruled them strictly.
And Linda Schlosberg, also one of Ita’s girls who volunteered at Beit Fisher, wrote in her farewell note to Ita of that humanity that Ita had:
“… For me, coming into the ESRA office at Beit Fisher is my salvation, making me feel like a human being once again.” “The life inside an office is not my forte” continued Linda, but “nevertheless the small contribution I made, you Ita valued. Ita, you gave me the warmth and friendship which I shall always value”.
It was her personality that made people - new immigrants, unemployed looking for jobs, people in distress or just lonely – drop into the office for a book, a chat, or answers to problems. Ita knew everybody’s name, who they were, and what we could do to be helpful to them.
Her co-workers in ESRA offices too felt, in their words, “envious of Ita’s approach to life. From where does she draw such patience, find a smile to greet everyone, to be always cheerful and know how to say just the right words to make you feel good.”
I, too was always encouraged, praised and made to feel good by Ita, on every occasion. I remember each year on the eve of Pesach and New Year, with my hands dirty with cooking, Ita would call me with her warm wishes and blessings and always had beautiful things to say to me, even after she retired.
Ita excelled in team work. No greater compliment can be given to a person than by colleagues who say: “We feel privileged to work in the same team as Ita. Team work and helping out whenever and wherever are second nature to Ita. She has never been territorial over her work but has developed Beit Fisher to become a king pin in the life of ESRA. Always encouraging, praising and offering only positive criticism, we respect and rely on Ita’s opinion.”
I too can attest to how I relied on Ita. She was always there for me and my work. She was the first to volunteer to help at every function we organized, whether fundraisers or social, and at all the ESRA volunteer parties at my home. She was a whiz at catering and organizing the catering, making a list of the food we needed and getting volunteers to make each and every dish. And on the day of the party, always the first to arrive to help and always the last to leave making sure everything, tables and all, had been cleared away.
Ita and her “girls” became renowned as expert caterers. Everything was so beautiful and so delicious, and prepared and served with such grace and elegance. They catered at Beit Fisher, at functions outside of Beit Fisher, in fact anywhere. Just great and a great asset to ESRA.
Nothing was ever too much for Ita. She took on more and more, and all in her stride. As Leah wrote: “Ita was a tiny dynamo who could never say ‘no’ to any request. She approached every task with all her energy and her many talents. She created many programs and activities that drew Raananites and others into the ESRA fold.”
To name just a few more of her projects that she housed in Beit Fisher in addition to those I have already mentioned:
- Esta Azouz’s Knitting Circle of old and very old ladies. Ita was like their “mother”, who welcomed them with her warm embrace and caring for older people, and encouragement of volunteers. She became their helper and advisor for everything – collecting wool, hosting them, finding worthy causes for their hundreds of items they knitted. Esta, then in her late 90’s would always calm me by saying: “Don’t worry Merle – Ita will help us find a good place to distribute our wares”.
- When Ita moved to Protea Village, she started there an ESRA knitting group. And in her worst pain, her hands crippled with arthritis, she too would knit the most wonderful garments.
- Ita created the “Open House” at Beit Fisher, every second Friday of the month, which lasted for years. In an annual report for the ESRA MAGAZINE, she wrote on some of their activities: an Indian morning, a quilting demonstration, a talk on Ireland, a brunch for mothers and daughters, a flower demonstration, and it goes on and on.
- Bazaars abounded during Ita’s reign at Beit Fisher. She was always looking for ways to raise moneys for ESRA’s coffers. And the bazaars had the added advantage of selling surplus stocks from the Nearly New Shop and the Book Shop. She was a very practical woman.
- Have you ever seen the ESRA Directories? Well, much of the laborious checking of hundreds and hundreds of data was done by Ita’s “girls” and her man Motti. Wonderful and invaluable work with the encouragement and under the baton of Ita.
- First aid courses, cooking classes, bookings for all ESRA events, and more and more.
Another of Ita’s fundraising endeavors for ESRA was the creation of the Ita and Motti Weiner Fund. Raanana residents in need used to come into Beit Fisher with requests for help and it tore at Ita’s heart that she couldn’t help each and everyone. And so to be able to help them, she created the Weiner Fund to which her friends and family have always given generously. We launched the fund at a dinner-dance we organized with Ita’s “girls” in honor of the outstanding contribution Ita and Motti were making to ESRA.
We had something in common, Ita and I, not only our love of ESRA, but “The Young and the Restless”. Yes, we both used to watch it at 7pm every night and chat about happenings and try to predict the future. You could never talk to Ita during these 40 precious minutes, and Motti would just have to wait for his dinner.
Ita was seriously ill for many long years. Wrote Leah: “Ita bore her multiple and serious physical problems silently, with dignity and good humor… She inspired those of us around her not to use our aging bodies as an excuse to opt out of life, or to make a career of our aches and pains. And this helped to keep our spirits and our minds young.” And Ita bore them alone – even when she was dying she did not know how to ask for help. She knew how to give but did not know how to accept.
To return to Ita and ESRA:
In Leah’s words: “As I became familiar with ESRA ….I also became familiar with the very special person from whom I was learning. Not only did Ita epitomize the ethos of ESRA….but she was able to help those of us who worked with her to apply it in our contacts with other members. I learned that ESRA’s success was based on the principle that if one did for others, one was doing for oneself. And for those of us with a less than good grasp of Hebrew, we could serve the Israeli community even in English.”
Tonight, an evening in honor of you our volunteers, this is what I believe ESRA offers English speakers, a home where you can volunteer, be active, give and get back in return, a place “to feel good, to grow and to realize your potential.
Indeed, Ita symbolized what ESRA is all about – caring, giving of yourself, doing. She loved ESRA and we loved Ita. She raised the standards for us all as everything she did was at an amazing level – a superwoman. Modest, unassuming and undemanding. In Zeev Bielski, former mayor of Raanana, word’s: “Ita’s selfless and giving nature touched the lives of so many people in need as she fulfilled on a daily basis, together with Motti, the mitzvah of Tikun Olam. Through her work, she made this world a better place with the sunshine she brought to all our lives.”
Her warmth and compassion, her zeal, her integrity, her enthusiasm, her utter dedication and involvement, added a dimension to ESRA that is unforgettable and unequalled. Ita embodied the spirit of voluntarism and humanness and inspired us all.