From strength to strength

From strength to strength

Carrying on my parents’ generosity in the Jewish homeland

The bomb shelter  Miriam Seiden built to honor her parents and reduce the fear that children feel as they respond to air-raid warnings.
The bomb shelter Miriam Seiden built to honor her parents and reduce the fear that children feel as they respond to air-raid warnings.

Like many of my Jewish friends, I was raised in a secular New Jersey home that had strong Jewish core values, but not much religious connection.

For my parents, so much of the spirit of Judaism was wrapped up in their commitment to giving back and paying it forward: tikkun olam.  For reasons I’ll never understand, even at a young age, my heart called me home to Israel. I eventually lived there for nearly four years. And now, living in my chosen Greater MetroWest community of West Orange, I feel comforted and uplifted to be part of our beautiful and vibrant local Jewish  mosaic.

I’ve been contemplating a way to honor my deceased parents, Iris and Leonard, to thank them for giving me these strong Jewish values, and to celebrate my personal connection to Israel. When I announced upon university graduation in 1972 that I was going to volunteer at Kibbutz Gat, they supported me. When I stayed an extra unplanned three months, they supported me. When I finally moved to Israel in 1975 and lived there for three years, they supported me. I returned only to help my mother as her health began to fail in 1978.

How could I possibly pay adequate tribute to the unconditional parental love I received? It was in a conversation with Celine Leeds, director of the Central New Jersey division of the Jewish National Fund-USA, that the idea of donating and beautifying a bomb shelter first came to me. As soon as I thought of it, I immediately knew it was the perfect legacy, the perfect gift for the existing and future generations in the Negev.

The bomb shelter beautification effort spearheaded by Jewish National Fund-USA addresses two critical problems in Israel’s Negev communities known as the Gaza Envelope. When conflict flares up, bomb shelters are a necessary safety infrastructure to protect civilians and save lives. In the Gaza Envelope, a red alert will sound when a missile is incoming; there are only 15 seconds of warning, and then everyone within earshot must have entered a protected space.

These concrete bomb shelter structures can be imposing and frightening for local children. Donating and painting a bomb shelter with happy, colorful scenes can help ease the children’s fears while providing safety.

My hope for the shelter in Kfar Maimon is twofold: I hope that it will tell the story of my parents’ love and spirit through the cheerful flowers — an iris, my mother’s name, and my favorite, a sunflower with my parents’ names inscribed on the leaves. A mural depicts a pair of happy children playing in the sunshine, with birds and butterflies, and a tree of life.

I also pray that this bomb shelter will never be needed, and that soon it can be repurposed for other community uses.

As an active and proud donating member of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community, I am inspired by the vibrant philanthropy and the beautiful connection to Israel and the local community that we have. It is important for me to share my experience honoring my parents in the hopes of inspiring others to think creatively as well. There is nothing more beautiful than spreading the light of our loved ones’ memories.

I hope their spirit infuses Kfar Maimon with as much love and warmth as they gave me.

Miriam Seiden of West Orange is a published writer, photographer and ESL instructor.  Her ESL program,, provides weekly professional classes and volunteer mentors. She blogs at

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