Bethany (center, sitting with a grandchild) and Moshe Roditi (standing to her right) with family.

HONORABLE MENSCHION: Bethany Roditi

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HONORABLE MENSCHION: Bethany Roditi

Bethany (center, sitting with a grandchild) and Moshe Roditi (standing to her right) with family.

Bethany Roditi grew up in Swampscott, Winthrop, and Peabody. She has been married for 47 years to Moshe Roditi, who grew up in Cairo. Bethany worked as a public school teacher, earned her doctorate, and cofounded the Institute for Learning and Development, which offers psychological and educational services. Several years ago, Bethany and Moshe returned to live in Swampscott. Since then, she has been an active member of Congregation Shirat Hayam, and helped start its Shir Chesed group, which supports those who are sick or grieving. Bethany and Moshe are the parents of Michelle Mendal and Dr. Rachel Roditi, and have three grandchildren.

You began your life in Swampscott and returned after almost 60 years away.  Can you share your story?

I have wonderful memories of growing up in Swampscott: Hadley School, Fisherman’s Beach, 10 cent ice creams at Eaton’s drugstore, Camp Simchah at the JCC, and neighborhood friends. Imagine returning 60 years later, when I walked into Congregation Shirat Hayam for the first time and saw this beautiful redhead who I hadn’t seen since first grade! Ruthie Estrich. When I retired, I wanted to “return again” to Swampscott for many reasons. My dad (98) and my mother (95) live in Brooksby Village, so I wanted to be nearby. Lifelong friends of mine, Alan and Sonia Kalikow and Amy and Mark Farber, lived on the North Shore. I love the beaches; walking them is good for my soul. Most importantly, my husband Moshe and I wanted to live in a robust Jewish community.

Growing up, what did your Jewish life look like?

Growing up, I remember Jewish life was at the center, visiting relatives, serving up Jewish delicacies, celebrating all the holidays together. We moved to Winthrop, then a thriving Jewish community. Playing in the street with all the Jewish neighborhood kids, attending synagogue on all the Jewish holidays, not just the High Holidays, Hebrew school, and roller skating one floor above the Hebrew school. I also had a Friday night Bat Mitzvah in Winthrop.

Then we moved to Peabody, where my family was active in Temple Ner Tamid. I belonged to the Jewish youth groups. My father attended Congregation Sons of Israel every Shabbat, we kept a kosher home, and we were involved in Hadassah and social action.

How did you meet your husband, Moshe?

We met at MIT International folk dancing. He was playing Ping-Pong and took a break to talk to his friends. I noticed him in the back of the room, dressed like a nerd but there was something about him that drew me toward him. I guess our meeting was beshert. He made his way over to “rescue” me from his friend who was quizzing me about math, so we sat together when the group went for ice cream. When he told me he was from Egypt, I totally didn’t believe him. Why? Every year at Passover, I learned that the Jewish people were exiled out of Egypt, so I thought he was giving me a line. I realized he was serious when I met his family, all from Cairo, and I ate all his mother’s delicious delicacies. Moshe and I shared our Jewish values, but neither of us realized that we were considered a mixed married couple until we went to a movie about the subject at the Copley Square cinema. We found that we had a lot in common, despite our different backgrounds. We embrace our Ashkenazi-Sephardic union, and our daughters do as well.

Can you describe your varied professional life?

I began my career as a geometry teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School, where I immediately wondered why so many intelligent kids were in the low-level classes. I became interested in getting to know their stories that taught me a lot about how students feel if they have a learning disability. I pursued a master’s degree in special education to learn how to teach students according to their varied learning styles. This all happened when the state and federal laws were enacted to protect special needs students. I created special inclusion programs within the math department that better met these students’ needs. During a sabbatical at Children’s Hospital, I learned about psychological and educational assessment.

Next, I wanted to know more about “normal development,” so I focused on applied child development at Tufts, with a focus on math learning at the doctoral level. With my PhD in hand, I cofounded a new organization, the Institute for Learning and Development, that offered psychological and educational services. During that time, I also cofounded a sister research organization, ResearchILD. Not only did we lead cutting-edge research in the field, but we also published books, articles, and presented at conferences and held workshops for teachers.

Were you involved in community and temple life while you were working and raising your family?

In Westford, we created and were active in the Westford Jewish Community, WJC. We started a Jewish camp for the Jewish kids in the area at the 4-H grounds. Our family attended the conservative temple in Lowell, kept kosher, and celebrated Shabbat and holidays. In Lexington, we were always part of the Jewish community through Temple Emunah. Though I was not one to attend weekly Shabbat services like my husband, I was active in the youth group. I also attended a book club through the temple. We attended various sisterhood and brotherhood programs as well.

Can you tell us how you went about imagining and creating Shir Chesed at Congregation Shirat Hayam?

When I retired and moved back to the North Shore, we joined Shirat Hayam. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed there was no active caring community at the time because every person I met was so caring and helpful. I met with Rabbi Michael [Ragozin], who was very supportive of my desire to create a chesed community. Where to begin? I set up shop at Panera and invited congregants to meet me for coffee to get to know them and ask them about chesed committees of the past. With the rabbi’s help, I sent a needs assessment survey to our congregants to learn what people had appreciated in the past and what they would like in the future. I realized that this new venture had to be more than a few people cooking and giving chesed. Thank goodness I met Karen Madorsky, who agreed to be my cochair. We developed a mission, a strategy, name, and logo.

In 2018, Shir Chesed, meaning “our song of loving kindness,” was born. We created an opening program and asked the rabbi to lead the meeting as we saw Shir Chesed as an extension of the rabbi’s pastoral duties. “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” [The World is Built on Kindness”] was our theme song. Participants indicated their various interests in the areas of meals, checking in, writing cards, etc. Then we met Jerry and Patricia Kreitzer. They brought their expertise in community-building that helped develop the idea of “caring teams” and maintaining records of our activities.

How have the services provided by Shir Chesed helped the community?

Our 10 caring teams and 88 members currently provide a variety of services to many families:
In times of bereavement, we reach out personally to the congregant or close relative. We send a card, deliver a chesed bag with challah, candles, a beautiful poem, and chicken soup. We offer to help set up for shiva, and to address other needs as best as we can. We also wrote a bereavement booklet to explain the process a family goes through when a loved one passes, the traditions and the reasons for them, and local resources to contact.

When a congregant comes home from the hospital or rehab, we call them or the caregiver to see how we can help. We deliver a gift bag with chicken soup and offer meals in two forms depending on the situation. Chesed Kitchen volunteers deliver a meal or two that they have made in our temple’s kosher kitchen and frozen. In some cases, we set up a meal train so congregants’ friends and family can also provide meals for an extended time. Thanks to Sue Weiss, who coordinates Chesed Kitchen, and to Karen Madorsky and Jan Gattoni, who help me with meal trains.

We knit baby gifts for Shir Chesed, thanks to Sheila Rich who coordinates this effort and offers to give instruction. This is a nice way to celebrate newborns in congregants’ families. We partnered with Temple Sinai recently and meet on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. to knit together for Shir Chesed and other causes.

What are your interests outside the temple?

I love to “just be” with my family and friends. Celebrating Shabbat, whether it is going to the renewal service at CSH or sharing Shabbat dinners is always special to me. Music is one of my passions – whether listening to all kinds of music, singing in Purim schpiels, Zumba dancing to wonderful Latin music, playing classical piano and learning to play jazz piano, or playing ukulele with Swampscott’s very own ukulele club, Red Rock Ramblers. I love to travel, always have. Since I was a young adult, I went to Amsterdam, Paris, and Brussels on $5 a day, and now my husband and I explore the world together and have begun going on small group trips. One of our favorites was the Eastern European trip offered by the JCCNS, and we just signed up for the JCC’S Jewish Heritage trip to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. I also belong to Becky’s Book Club and the Swampscott library book club, knit for my grandkids, and now I am learning to play pickleball.

Tell us a little about your family life today.

I am so blessed! My husband Moshe and I have been happily married for 47 years. Our youngest daughter, Michelle Mendal, is married to a North Shore native, Jayme Mendal, and they gave us two adorable miracles, our 5 1/2 year old granddaughter Dani Anna, and our 3 1/2 year old grandson Max. Our oldest, Rachel married Elan Witkowski and they gave us Asher, our two-year-old grandson who is one of the absolute joys of our life. We are lucky to have them so close so we can take care and play with them every week. In addition, my parents live at Brooksby Village. My dad, who is 98 years old, taught me how to play billiards, and we played in a tournament. My brother Barry lives in Salem close to Vinnin Square, and my sister Debbie lives in New Jersey. They have sons, and I love my 6 nephews or boychickles, my name for them. My husband’s family live close by, and we typically get together for all the Jewish holidays and eat all that delicious Middle Eastern food.

How has Shir Chesed changed your life?

I have made wonderful friends through Shir Chesed. This has led to feeling, for the first time since I was a little girl in Swampscott, that I am truly part of a Jewish community; one that really cares about each other. I am glad that I was able to utilize some of my past experiences and skills in my professional life to create Shir Chesed along with the other 88 members. Without them, and a special shout-out to our team leaders, this would not be possible. I have also learned a lot about gratitude. Helping others and knowing how they appreciate the chesed that we offer from our hearts makes me feel so happy and fulfilled that we, as a community, can perform this mitzvah over and over again. Shir Chesed is not just a caring community, it builds our Jewish community through acts of loving kindness.

5 Responses

  1. Bethany is an inspiration to all of us at CSH. She’s the queen of outreach to those in need of a caring hand. I feel so fortunate not only to know her through our synagogue, but also because we’re neighbors in our condo complex! The world would be a better place with more people sharing her values. Thank you for printing her story!

  2. What a great article about our amazing friend! After reading this I know even more about you, dear Bethany! Thank you for sharing this!!!

  3. Bethany, I loved reading this interview and learning about your successful community outreach programs through Shir Chased. Thank you for sharing so many interesting and inspiring stories of your personal and professional life.

  4. This was an “Eye Opener” for me! Bethany is truly a humble, loving, and caring friend to so many. I knew very little about her past, or her accomplishments, because she would never brag about these. I’m honored to be her friend. She and Moshe are treasured by many, for good reasons!

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