Ruth Peizer’s love affair with Yiddish began when her parents, Riva and Abraham Immerman, sent their only child to Chicago’s Arbeiter Ring [Workmen’s Circle] school at age nine, and then to the Sholem Aleichem Institute where she graduated valedictorian at age 18. Since moving to (West) Seattle in 1949, Ruth has become Seattle’s preeminent Yiddish instructor, teaching at the University of Washington in the 1980s and through the Jewish Federation today. Ruth’s knowledge of Yiddish has impacted her entire life through Yiddish culture including her adoration of Yiddish theatre, literature and music. Yiddish has also opened many doors all over the world for Ruth and her husband, Dr. Samuel Peizer, from her sponsorship of Russian refusniks seeking asylum in Seattle to her sending humanitarian aid to the Baltics since 1992.
“I think I was almost nine years old when my folks enrolled me in the Arbeter Ring shule. I was taught the Hebrew alphabet and I was taught to read and write. But I progressed so quickly because we spoke Yiddish at home... I honestly feel that my life has been enriched by my Yiddish education because number one, it’s opened so many doors for me. Wherever I’ve traveled I was able to use my Yiddish, whether it was to Mexico, to Israel, to the Baltics, to South America. I think Yiddish should be a living language and we should certainly try to perpetuate something that has been so beautiful and has been around for a thousand years.”
“In 1977, my relative in Tel Aviv wrote to me and said, ‘Ruth, you’ve been so involved with the Russians and with the refusniks. I have a Russian friend whose son wants to come to the United States to get his Ph.D. in chemistry. Would you help him?’ So I got on the telephone and I called the Jewish Family Service and said, ‘Since our city is adopting families, is it possible for you to adopt this young man?’ They said to me, ‘We really like to adopt families. We don’t think that Seattle would be an appropriate place for a single man because he may not be socially happy here.’ So I said, ‘If that is the only thing that is keeping you from bringing this young man to Seattle, I will guarantee his social happiness.’ So, she said, ‘Well, I'll take your word for that.’ The social worker called me, ‘He will be here Friday.’ I shall never forget this. Well, he became one of our family. Frankly, I think I’m the richer for it. Not only is he brilliant in his chemistry but he’s also an accomplished artist. I remember him saying, ‘Little by little I’m becoming a free man.’ That was 25 years ago. Now I see him as a 48-year-old, very sophisticated man with very fashionable glasses, well-dressed. Brought me a whole bunch of those lovely pink carnations when he visited recently and a gift for each of the grandchildren. He’s a real mensch.”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.