A Jerusalem Yankee in the King of Sweden’s Court

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via www.cross-currents.com.

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5 Responses

  1. Joshua Nathan says:

    Its nice that something can be written here that doesn’t knock anyone or the State of
    Israel. Keep up the good work.


  2. Moshe Hillson says:

    “Luckily for Jews, Alfred Nobel passed away on December 10 and not during the summer over a century ago”
    When December 10th falls on a Friday, it’s unlucky for Jews, for the exact same reason ….

  3. Shira Schmidt says:

    12 b Kislev
    Moshe Hillson,you are absolutely right. I should have written:

    Luckly for Jews, the December 10 yahrzeit of Alfred Nobel, did not fall on Friday this year. It fell on Shabbat, and that was difficult enough. The Nobel Prizes are awarded yearly late in the afternoon on Dec. 10th in Stockholm, In the winter Shabbat begins there about 2:30 pm Friday and ends Saturday about 4 pm. So this year, the Orthodox Jewish Prize winner from Israel, Professor Robert Israel Aumann, could just about make it to the ceremony that started at 4:30. In fact, he and his 35 children, grandchildren and colleagues walked over to the ceremony and made it only minutes before the arrival of the King. Had the Dec. 10 ceremony fallen on Friday late afternoon, Professor Aumann might not have been able to attend.

  4. MP says:

    Particularly moving and original is his short banquet speech in the presence of the king on that site.
    You can also learn which 3 brachot to recite in case you become a laureate, by reading the delightful Nobel speech of S.Y. Agnon.

    NB that Aumann didn’t follow in the steps of Agnon’s “And now that I have come so far, I will recite one blessing more, as enjoined upon him who beholds a monarch: «Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who hast given of Thy glory to a king of flesh and blood.»” The reason, as quoted from a message sent by an e-mail acquaintance, was that “Dr. Aumann asked Rav Aaron Lichtenstein whether he was mechuyav to recite the bracha «she’natan michvodo l’basar va’dam» when he shakes the hand of the Swedish king but was told «no» since the king had no formal powers.”

    As another e-mail acquaintance said in response, “This is reminiscent of ROY’s [Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s] psak to the person attending the Aqaba summit in 1994 where he saw at the same time Bill Clinton, King Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin. He asked whether he needed to make the berakha of «asher halak m’kvodo» upon seeing any or all of these leaders. R. Ovadia paskened as follows: Clinton – No; Rabin – No; Hussein – Yes. Reason: Of the three, only Hussein
    had the power to summarily execute any of his citizens without due process.”

  5. Charles B. Hall says:

    For a really inspiring take on this I recommend Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo’s essay which was just added to his web site:


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