Barbara Kaufman Pributsky: Expanding her Jewish tent

by | Apr 23, 2012 | Uncategorized

By using a map and AAA travel books, Barbara Pributsky navigates the route that she and Gerry, her husband of almost 56 years, take as they tent across North America. They have travelled by car from the Bay of Fundy to the Florida Keys; from Mexico to Washington State and Canada and across the country twice, seeing every state in the United States including Alaska and Hawaii. When their children were young, they bought a tent camper and introduced all five of them to the magnificence of the country. With Pributsky’s retirement in 1990, her husband convinced her to sleep outdoors in a tent.
“One of the first things that I did when we entered an area, was leaf through the local phone book for Jewish names and synagogues,” says Pributsky. “I wanted to know if there was a Jewish population in the vicinity. In the grocery stores, I felt lucky if I found kosher hotdogs as a source of protein for the week.”
With her inquisitive nature and conversational acumen, Pributsky consistently transformed the ordinary into an adventure of Jewish identity. In a small gift shop in Valdez, Alaska, for example, while waiting to board a boat to see the puffins, whales and glaciers, she spotted a metal sculpture of a rabbi on an inconspicuous shelf. She was thrilled to discover the owner’s familial history and that of the town’s only other Jewish family.
For their 50th wedding anniversary, their five children and their spouses gave she and Gerry a vacation to Italy. Attending Orthodox services in Rome on Friday evening, Gerry met a young Israeli man on his honeymoon. Standing outside the synagogue, the older couple invited the newlyweds to dinner.
While visiting Israel, the Pributskys lived there as if they were residents, renting a room in a condominium in the French Hill section of Jerusalem. Touring with friends who had made aliyah, they were driven to some of the remote areas of the country. On their own, however, they took public transportation like the locals.
Pributsky’s younger sister, Harriet, who also learned to love the outdoors from her father, looked forward to the adventures of tenting just as much as her sister. The Pributskys enjoyed travelling with others as well as on their own. Exploring the Florida Keys with their friends of 55 years, Honey and Maurice Spivak, they adorned the exterior of their campers with Chanukah decorations and exchanged gifts. While camping with Sarita and Bert Sachs in Florida, they celebrated Shabbat under the stars. Together, they lit candles, ate Challah, and drank wine. In Canada with Orthodox friends, they created an eruv so that belongings could be carried between tents from Friday evening until Saturday night at sunset.
Born in 1932 to American parents during the Depression, Pributsky lived during her earliest years in a huge house that dated to the 1890s with her parents, her younger sister and six extended family members. She has fond memories of many of the traditional Jewish dishes, especially watching her father chop the fish in a wooden bowl for her mother’s delicious gefilte fish. Her maternal grandmother owned an antique store where Pributsky spent much of her time.
On Sundays, she went to Tifereth Israel’s Reform Sunday school in Malden, Mass. and was confirmed at age 16. Although she always felt Jewish, the significance of the traditions and holidays were not apparent to her. As a young girl, the one thing she knew with certainty was that her parents expected her to marry a Jewish man.
From the moment the Pributskys were married in October, 1956, they made the decision to always belong to a synagogue. Gerry had grown up in an Orthodox schul in Fall River near New Bedford, Mass., where sermons were delivered in Yiddish. Together, they decided to keep a kosher home. She was happy to learn the laws of kashrut from her mother-in-law. Yom Kippur came quickly after they married, and Pributsky’s curiosity led her to further exploration. That “Yontiv” was the first she ever fasted.
Supportive of his wife’s interests, Gerry came home every day by 5 pm so that Pributsky could take night classes in Hebrew, sewing and/or painting. Living in Springfield for eight years, the couple had four girls: Beth, Caren, Debby and Lisa. Although she worked from the time she was 12 years old, the couple decided that she would be a “stay at home mom.”
After moving for a year to Charleston, S. C., the family settled in Baltimore, Md. Their last child, David, was born there.
No matter where they lived or travelled, on Friday night, candles were lit and wine was served. As an active member of a Baltimore Orthodox congregation, Pributsky wrote some of the plays with the rabbi’s wife. One of her favorites was How To Succeed In Simchas Without Really Crying.
She juggled life’s demands between classes, hobbies, volunteer work and carpooling. Her three older daughters went to the Orthodox Hebrew school and were confirmed. Moving to Tidewater, they became members of BBYO. Lisa and David had their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs at Temple Israel. David was a member of NCSY, the Orthodox youth group. Pributsky became a member of Hadassah, Brandeis Women, ORT, Hebrew Ladies Charity, and B’nai Brith.
In 1976, she had her college credits transferred from a Baltimore school to Tidewater Community College. Her major had been early childhood education, until Pributsky switched to therapeutic recreation because of her desire to help others.
In 1977, after her graduation ceremony at Scope, she took a job as program director with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation. Pributsky organized and ran programs for adults and children with special needs including the hearing impaired, the mentally challenged, and the physically disabled.
Two years after Beth Sholom Home opened in 1980, Alan Funk, executive director, hired her. “Within a month, I was orchestrating the Seder, accommodating the 60 residents, their guests, and the wheelchairs,” Pributsky reports. “The personnel were passionate about their jobs, committed to each other and the residents,” she says. “We always felt as if we were working for people in their own home. Work never felt like employment.”
In 1990, when she retired as Beth Sholom Village’s community relations director, Pributsky moved her parents from Boston to the BSV complex. She served on the agency’s board for six years. When Pam Synder needed help baking Shabbat challah to be sold in the gift shop, she volunteered her services, ultimately taking over. Now, once a week, Pributsky works in the gift shop. She has remained a life time member of the Beth Sholom Auxiliary, serving as recording secretary for six years and now a member-at-large.
A member of Congregation Beth El, she helps Nancy Kantor in the kitchen when needed. Pributsky also assists with the annual summer rummage sale and in recent years, has prepared the Purim Shalach Manot bags. As a longtime sisterhood member, a member of the board in years past and now part of the book club, she enjoys her synagogue community.
Today, she and Gerry frequent the Simon Family Jewish Community Center. While he uses the fitness center, she goes to water aerobics and yoga three times a week. They often participate in activities organized by the Seniors Club. On Mondays, Pributsky has a Mahjongg game with a group of women she met there.
Many Chanukahs ago, her son David gave her the two-set volume of The Jewish Book of Why. Always curious, the one thing she has never questioned is her love for her children, and their families. She adds, “I also feel so fortunate that all five of my children are married to wonderful people who come from caring, loving homes.”
Among the Pributsky traditions is her family’s gathering for the second Passover Seder. For years, the wine stained Haggadahs have been set at the table for at least 22 people, 10 of them her grandchildren. Barbara Pributsky is full, even before the meal begins. During her lifetime, she has known great abundance. She has experienced great joy from her family, her friends and the adventures that she and Gerry have shared. “Her cup runneth over.”

by Karen Lombart