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People in My Neighborhood: Meet Celia

It was a little difficult to write about Celia Ulanovsky.  I knew her as a neighbor—as a lovely, modest, always pleasant, incredibly kind woman. But when I spoke to her, to get a bit of background, a little more of who she was, I was met with “Oh, there’s really nothing to say about me. Me? I do nothing. What do I do that’s worth talking about?” So I started talking to her friends and they were not surprised that this was the reaction I received from Celia, but they themselves were bursting with the need to tell me how truly special she is.

When I mentioned to one friend that I knew Celia was a person involved with charitable deeds, she answered in an interesting way. “The whole Karnei Shomron is a community of good deed doers. But Celia practices loving kindness in such a quiet, unassuming way, that it rises to a whole different level.  Her kindness oozes out of her in a fountain of benevolence and then she claims she does nothing.”

I would meet Celia on family trips to our Karnei Shomron library.  Celia was librarian when our library consisted of a pair of mobile homes joined together with a rickety metal staircase leading up to the door.  Now, we have a big, beautiful community library. But always, I was impressed with how soft-spoken she was, how she related to the children.  It came from the simple desire that she truly wanted them to love to read.  She firmly believed that narrow-mindedness was not acceptable and wanted to infuse culture and knowledge into her neighbors’ lives and minds.  You can see how she feels privileged to be in a position to meet and greet young and old from the whole community. She even gets to meet CFOIC groups and appreciates their friendship.  She believes we all have an obligation to be true to ourselves and feels that it gives her a chance to be a “light unto the nations”.

Sometimes, my kids would be uncomfortable about bringing back long overdue books, or showing up after months of not visiting the library, but Celia was always gracious and treated them like honored guests and would say, “Come in, come in. Just read. That’s what’s important!”  My friend told me that her daughter was a real bookworm, and therefore a regular buddy of Celia’s, as she would check out half a dozen book a week from the library. One time, Celia stopped by late in the evening, on her way home from work, because the book the young girl wanted had just been returned and Celia wanted to get it in her hands as soon as possible.

I also know Celia as the attendant of our local ritual bath house.  The ritual bath is a special place in every Jewish city, community or village, a place, by definition of extreme modesty.   Married women go there, once a month, at the end of their menstrual cycle to dip in the bath’s waters. Only then can they resume relations with their husbands. Celia is the perfect person for this job.  Her innate, overwhelming modesty and her simple purity fit the role.  She deals with young brides, there for the first time and with women at all stages of their lives, with appropriate sensitivity.  She says she likes being there for the women and feels attached to them, and as they utter the blessing after the purifying waters cover them, she likes to bless them silently herself, as she wishes the best for them in their marriages.

I also see Celia since we are both part of Karnei Shomron’s Burial Society.  Before a Jewish person is buried, he or she undergoes a Sanctification Process, the final preparation for the deceased for burial. This is done modestly — men perform the rites for men, women for women.  The only people who ever view the body are the four or five people who take part in the purifying process.  There is no undertaker; no one puts makeup on the deceased, no one dresses the body.   There is no embalming, and no viewing.  There is cleansing.  There is water.  She is really my ideal of a person who deals with, what is called in Judaism, “chessed shel emmet”—a righteous deed, because it has no chance of being repaid; it is the highest form of goodness.  We were once on a team of women performing the sanctification process on a very elderly woman whose body was gaping with terrible sores.  We all were saddened and mildly horrified at how someone can be left so long without care. Celia jumped in and said we must stop even thinking that! She was absolutely sure that this woman’s family had cared for her, and she made sure we all realized that bedsores can appear even with the gentlest, most compassionate and steady care.  But that’s Celia. Never judging, always giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

She is there for everybody and her dedication and care for others is boundless. Her forte is for visiting the elderly and the infirmed… quietly finding out where there is need and then showing up, consistently and regularly.  She unfailingly finds the aged man whose wife fell and broke a collarbone.  She shows up, with a gentle kind word, a meal… and she comes back, never publicizing, never asking for a thanks.

Celia was born in 1944.  Her family, then, was still living in India but by the time she was three years old, they moved to England.  Her family was not very observant but had great faith and strong feelings of Zionism.  She received a university degree and in 1967, right after the 6 Day War, she moved to Israel. At first she volunteered, living in the old nursing quarters on the site of Mount Scopus, where a contingent of soldiers had been for 19 years. She spent months trying to make order, going through the shambles of boxes… broken glass.  She wanted to do something and felt privileged to be there. She joined an Ulpan  in Arad to improve her Hebrew language skills and then got a job in social working in Kiryat Gat. She can’t believe, now, how she had the nerve to push herself into the position! She then moved to Tel Aviv where she turned to English teaching and in 1970 got married.  In 1985 their family arrived in Karnei Shomron, one of the first residents of this very special community.

Celia is a self-taught woman in Jewish subjects and everything she studies just adds to her beautiful, strong faith. She avails herself of holy texts, reading and learning, always advancing herself.  She goes to several weekly Bible classes, during the week and on Shabbat. She has attended the Rabbi’s in-depth Bible class on Sunday nights since its inception 20 years ago! They began with Genesis and are now only in the middle of Leviticus!  She is a great thinker.  We both are part of the Women for Women Bible Portion- of-the-Week class and I always perk up when Celia has something to say, because it’s always well-thought-out, sincere and interesting.

Friends describe her as always putting herself last.  You would think that would invite people to take advantage. To tell yourself it would simply be so easy to let her do for you. “But”, as one friend says, “her personality makes you want to show her even more respect because you so cherish her values, so you find yourself not asking her for as much as she is willing to give.” Isn’t that the ultimate righteous person?  Someone, who just by being herself, somehow demands the best in those around her.