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Selma Is Going to Make Aliyah

By Louise Laurence-Israëls

After my husband Sidney came home from the Gulf War, we decided that we wanted to be together with our family as much as possible. This would not be an easy task, as we lived at West Point in New York, Jordana was in school in Boston, and Judith and Naomi lived in Germany, where their respective husbands were stationed. We decided to meet in Holland, during Jordana’s winter break, in February of 1992.

We had a special reason for the trip: my friend Selma was going to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel) in the spring of 1992. Selma’s husband had died the year before, and she was going to do what she had dreamed of since the State of Israel was created in 1948. Selma had met our daughters, but not their husbands or our granddaughter, Miriam. We wanted her to meet our family and wish her Godspeed on her big adventure.

We arrived in Scheveningen earlier than the time we were supposed to visit her. I had visited Selma every summer in Scheveningen when I was young. The weather was brisk, but it was a sunny day, and we decided to take a walk on the beach, until it was time for our visit.

We all had rosy cheeks when we arrived. The doorbell chimed the same tune as always, and there was Selma; she was so happy to see us. It was just before her big move, but most of her living room was as it had always been. The red leather couch, the marble coffee table, her beautiful mahogany desk with all the photographs of her loved ones: they were all murdered in the camps. During my summer stays I was allowed to dust the desk and the photo frames—I always considered it such an honor.

We all found a place to sit. Miriam walked over to the table and looked at the sweets that Selma had prepared to serve us with tea. The silver basket with chocolates had Miriam’s special attention. Selma saw it and said to all of us: “I will not offer you a sweet, you can take what you like.” She had always done this, and I follow it now in our own house with our children and grandchildren.

Selma served tea and spoke to everyone, in English. She was interested in everybody’s story. Our family was at ease with her. Sidney and I missed Selma’s husband, Jo. I told Selma that we missed him, and she answered that he was there with all of us.

Jo had collected about 5,000 books on all different subjects. Selma took the whole family to the top floor of the house, and everybody was allowed to find a book to take home. I took a book about Venice, the city that we loved so much. Selma wrote in each chosen book; “From Jo and Selma with love.”

After one more cup of tea, Selma had another special treat for me. She gave me a Dutch silver snuffbox that had belonged to her mom. It was the second snuffbox that I received from her; she gave me the first one when she visited me at the hospital when Judith was born in 1967 in Amsterdam.

Just after the war, Selma had given my mom a filigree silver box that was used by her family every Saturday during the Havdalah (the end of Shabbat) ceremony. My mom gave it to me on my wedding day.

We all gave Selma big hugs and wished her a wonderful new life in the country of her dreams. We could see her wave to us until we turned the corner.


Two early 19th-century Dutch snuffboxes and one (middle) besamim (or Havdalah) spice box, which is used during the end of Shabbat at sundown on Saturday. —Courtesy of Louise Lawrence-Israëls

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