Naomi Adir at 95th Birthday Party (Image credit: Judah S. Harris)
Who could it possibly be? The guest speaker presented a positively mesmerizing account of the philanthropist who had endowed another school with her largesse. A world-class benefactor in his own right, the speaker’s words were unmistakably coming from a place of deep reverence and awe.
I scanned the audience looking for the woman that he was talking about. I was consumed with curiosity wondering who she might be. I just could not wait until she was introduced to the audience. Naturally, I was looking for a bejeweled, sophisticated, and perfectly attired woman. As I scanned the audience there just was no woman who fit the speaker’s description.
One women in the audience seemed to luxuriate with every word that the speaker uttered. A momentary glow seemed to escape from her face and lit up her visage, like a sudden sparkle of sunshine splitting through a cloudy sky. But of course she could not possibly be the benefactress that the speaker was talking about.
Still, this simply attired lady radiated an unmistakable joy every time another of the philanthropist's contributions was enumerated. The glow emanating from her soul lit up the entire room. She seemed to delight in the speaker's praise - not as an act of self-absorbed conceit, but with renewed appreciation and gratefulness for what she had done.
My presumptions were wrong. Of course I couldn't pick her out; I was looking for the royal through peasant eyes.
And that is how I had the great privilege to meet Naomi Adir z”l.
The list of major philanthropic dedications that Naomi created over the years was truly astounding. Her contributions bestowed upon institutions in Israel and in the United States have enriched and uplifted generations. She financed playgrounds, kindergartens, a low vision clinic in an Israeli hospital, advanced Rabbinical studies, a high school science laboratory, institutional kitchens, an elementary school for the underprivileged, and study halls. She also co-sponsored large-print Bibles and prayer books for the visually impaired.
And how did she do it? The mere extent of Naomi's dedications would be impressive if they were financed by an entire corporation. But her contributions were all the more astonishing because they came from the heart and pocket of just one person.
The “castle” that Naomi lived in all her life was the simplest outdated walk-up apartment, whose furnishings were decades old. She allowed herself to exist with the bare minimum for her personal use so that she could invest her modest salary as a teacher into what mattered most - her philanthropy. She categorically refused offers of any personal gifts because she felt that she did not need anything for herself. The one gift she could have used was another wall on which to put her amazing collection of plaques of appreciation.
Though Naomi was legally blind from a young age, she persisted in teaching as well as introducing innovative techniques and extra curricular activities that greatly enhanced the level of education for decades.
Among the many admirers who had the good fortune to come to know Naomi were Tzipy and Gail, themselves paragons of round-the-clock do-gooders. They met Naomi when they started to visit her as part of their Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick) activities. It didn't take too long before they both realized that Naomi was the true giver and they the receivers in their cherished encounters with her. Naomi, who quickly turned into a precious friend, became the highlight of their week. Their visits ceased to be an obligation and turned into a mutually enjoyable delightful tango of kindred souls.
Naomi asked them to repeat the Torah they had learned that week and was intensely interested and elevated by hearing what they told her. And as true givers will tell you, "They always felt that they came away receiving more than they gave."
Our tradition teaches that the order of the Resurrection of the Dead will begin first with the greatest leaders of all the generations throughout history, followed immediately by the humble. Because humility is such a precious trait it follows that the greatest. Naomi, who passed away four weeks ago on the Sabbath Day, will most certainly be among the first in this humble group.
If you never understood what a difference even one person could make, then you did not have the great pleasure and honor to have known Naomi Adir; and certainly you never witnessed true majesty. Naomi's glow came not from the glitter of stately diamonds or a royal crown, but from the irradiant joy that suffused her soul when she gave Tzedakah (charity).
Why couldn't I pick Naomi out of the crowd at the meeting where I first met her? I was disarrayed seeking out the obvious trappings of royalty. It was simple - I was looking for a true royal through peasant eyes.