Hebrew school teacher Ruth Frankel dedicated her life to Jewish education and the welfare of the Jewish people. Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1916, she grew up in a close modern Orthodox home, attending Hebrew school from kindergarten until high school. Together with her sister, Lisbeth, Ruth emigrated to the U.S. in June 1938. Despite all their endeavors, Ruth and Lisbeth were unsuccessful in rescuing their parents, who had remained behind and eventually perished in Auschwitz. Ruth’s future husband, Joseph Frankel, apprehended during Kristallnacht, spent four months in Buchenwald before reaching England and then immigrating to the U.S. in 1940. Joseph and Ruth married that same year and in 1943, Joseph was inducted into the U.S. Army. After the war, the Frankels and their daughter moved to Seattle where Joseph was instrumental in starting a Religious School at Herzl Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue, serving as its principal and cantor. Ruth became active in the synagogue Sisterhood, voluntarily kept all school records, and taught second and third grade for 30 years in Seattle public schools. The Frankels regularly invited students for Shabbat at their home, part of Ruth’s “total devotion to” and “total immersion in Judaism.” She died on October 6, 2012 at the age of 96.
“Leaving Germany was a most traumatic experience for both my sister and myself. To leave my parents at the railroad station. Leaving and never knowing if you would ever see them again. And, of course, my Mom had such great words of wisdom always to impart on us. She would say, before she left, she said, ‘Children, never go to bed angry, even if you get married. Give lots of tzedakah [charity]. Be charitable. Be kind. Don’t criticize anybody’s children if you have your own.’ She was just a very ethical person. That was a moment I will never forget.
“I taught Hebrew to fourth grade children. Children are eager to learn new things. So it was a real pleasure and satisfaction. When you teach, you really have to have the personal commitment in order to have any kind of influence. We did beautiful things with them. Twice a month Hebrew school children in my class would come for dinner Friday nights. And we invited the parents for dessert. They could hardly wait. They would say, ‘Mrs. Frankel, when can we come for dinner?’ They still talk about it. I see parents coming up to me, today, and say, ‘I'll never forget you.’”
Her husband was ill for several years before his death in 2008. Ruth served as his primary caregiver.
“When you get married you say, ‘In sickness and in health,’ you know? But this is so natural. If you love somebody, you don’t even think about it. It came. We had such a perfect marriage. So it’s a natural thing.
“My grandchildren, of course, learned from this experience, tremendously. They have been tremendously supportive. And the only thing I can tell them-advise them to have a beautiful marriage. Bring their children up in a Jewish way. And lead a happy, healthy, ethical, charitable life. Mainly, keep their marriage together. And, be respectful to everyone.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.