Rabbanit Esther Rivka Wagner with her daughter Malky,
and her grandchildren,
Rabbi Shalom Weisberg (current MMY faculty), and Michal
On the 17th of Iyar, May 25th, 2016, I paid a visit to Mrs. Malky Weisberg, who graciously invited me to her office on the Yad Vashem campus. Little did I know the significance of that date.
Rabbanit Esther Rivka Wagner (nee Willig) A”H, Malky’s mother, had passed away just two months prior at the age of 92. Rabbanit Wagner, a holocaust survivor and an impressive woman of her own right, had been a long-time MMY witness on our annual Heritage trip to Poland. Her passing was a tremendous loss for all of us too. Just two weeks after her passing, MMY 5776 embarked on yet another voyage, attempting a glimpse at a horror that was. With all this happening in succession, one after the other, I reached out to her daughter to try and connect with the history and memories that much of the MMY family feel so intimately a part of. I sat with Malky, and asked her to give me a taste of the inspiring life of her mother, and the legacy that she left behind.
When Malky spoke, there was no pomp or ceremony. She spoke simply, yet poignantly, and I began to get an idea about the woman who raised her. She started at the very beginning of Rabbanit Wagner’s story, providing me with background and painting a picture of the piety of her mother’s origins. Forty-five minutes later, we were both crying.
Katie Matanky, MMY 5769-5770
Throughout my year and half at MMY, I did exactly what Rabbi Katz predicted - I got more confused than I ever expected. (Does he still say that on the first Shabbat?) Somehow I not only learned more than I ever had in my life, I learned how much MORE there was to learn, way more than anything that would be confined to the classroom. During my year and a half, the classroom magically expanded to include my whole world. I learned from my teachers, from my tour guides, from bus drivers, grieving mothers on Yom Hazikaron, makolet owners and those third cousins of my father’s great-aunt's neighbor's brother's wife who I obviously went to for Shabbat - because we were “family”. This was Israel, and for whatever reason, it became home for me. Over the course of my time at MMY, I began to envision my life here in Israel.
Making Aliyah became fact - not a question of "if," rather a whole bunch of questions of "when" and "how". I vividly remember a time in high school, after a short but amazing summer program in Israel, coming back home to Chicago and writing down (so I even have proof!) "I can be a real Zionist and live in America." And I might still believe that (a whole long discussion that I'm sure would be fascinating and intellectually stimulating to discuss in an MMY classroom) but it changed for me after MMY. I remember writing it and feeling it at the time, and then I came to Israel for more than just a summer program and I changed. I wanted to be here for good – l’ad – as Rav Kook would say.
And so the journey began.