For three decades, the London-based charitable organisation the Spiro Ark has stood out as a pioneering example of Jewish education done right.
The charity, which teaches all things Jewish history and culture, infuses its wide range of students with a real enthusiasm and passion for their heritage – and its founders, Nitza and Robin Spiro, aged 81 and 88, are showing no signs of slowing down.
I met the couple at their home in Hampstead, where I was keen to hear from Nitza about their latest adventure: a trip to Athens with the International Christian Consulate to work with a group of Christian refugees, both adults and children, from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran.
Nitza is full of verve, offering me cakes, tea and coffee, showing me photos of her eight children and 16 grandchildren, and recounting the day she met her husband as if it were the previous week.
She tells her story with humour, without missing a beat, and remembers every detail, each personality quirk and the individual stories of each refugee she met in Athens.
Her experience there had clearly been more than an educational one, but one of sharing and developing lasting friendships.
“To be a Christian in their countries is dangerous, so they didn’t know much about Christianity, but what they did know is that Jesus was an Israelite and that his culture was the culture of the bible,” Nitza tells me. “They felt that to make contact with the land before they
are allowed to go there is to learn the language and feel part of Jesus’ culture.”
Nitza shows me photographs and recounts stories of her sessions with the refugees: lessons full of smiles, songs, dances, the Hebrew language, and the fascination with her background as an Israeli women. After initially worrying about the challenge of inspiring the group, it soon became apparent that there was nothing to worry about.
“They were warm, friendly, and helpful, and immediately felt a deep connection with me,” says Nitza, who got them to choose Hebrew names based on their personalities and knowledge of the bible.
“In just two weeks, they got an impressive grasp of the language, even writing beautiful poems in Hebrew. Being taught and inspired by a Jewish person like myself and born in Jerusalem was a source of spiritual uplift. To feel that someone from the land of Jesus could be interested in them and give their time as a gift was unbelievable to them.”
One woman, named Fatemah, who chose the Hebrew name Nediva, meaning generous, wrote
a poem for the Spiros, signed “I love you.” It reads: “Today is good. The heavens and my heart are laughing. The miracle is on its way. All of us declared – tomorrow morning is white (bright).”
Nitza says: “As a Jew teaching Jewish history, and someone whose near-entire family was wiped out in the Holocaust, I have empathy to any displaced people and a sensitivity to their faith.
“Showing refugees individual concern and sympathy is a gesture towards building a small hope that the world is not entirely bleak and hopeless.”
The couple’s work in Greece has carried on now they are back in London: one of their grandchildren, Sunny Raphaeli, is currently selling T-shirts for a student-led charity, Solidaritee, and obtaining legal aid for refugees in Greece, after becoming inspired by her grandmother’s work.
As Nitza says: “Inspiration crosses the borders of the generation gap.”
Read more of the Life Magazine here:
- Six sumptuous restaurant openings!
- Where to get the best afternoon tea in London!
- The chef who makes Israeli cooking a healthy option
- Your Tel Aviv Pride guide 2019!
- Meet the force behind Fauda: ‘It’s very honest and based on people we know’
- Shtisel star Michael Aloni: ‘It’s not like any other hit show and it isn’t sexy’
- A brush with Shtisel’s art master Alex Tubis
- Food for all the senses at Kitchen Theory
- Doggie does Devon!