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Zelia Goldberg

Zelia Goldberg

ESL Volunteer

Born: Panama
Heritage: Sephardic Jew

The advice I am going to give you is what your parents and teacher probably tell you. If you want to get along in the world you have to get a good education. No one can give you an education. They can help you get it. It’s up to you to work at it. My greatest wish for all of you is to really find something you want to do and learn how to do it well. You have to study. You have to work for it.

Zelia Goldberg

ESL Volunteer

My name is Zelia Goldberg. My last name when I was born was Fidanque. I was born in 1921. I was born to a family where my mother had 10 sisters and brothers and a father with 10 sisters and brothers. I grew up with a lot of cousins and a lot of friends. I was born in Panama, a little, tiny, narrow piece of land that connects two large pieces of land. Panama is close to the equator. It is very hot and is rainy for nine months and dry for three months.

My family’s history is interesting. The Sephardic are a group of Jewish people who lived in Spain many years ago. The Jewish people lived in Spain at the same time as the Muslims and they got along very well. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand became the rulers of Spain and didn’t like the Jewish people and made them convert to another religion against their will. We are the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who left Spain during the Inquisition in 1491. We went from Portugal, to Holland, to Curaçao, and then to St. Thomas. Finally, we went to Panama during the time that the canal was to be built in 1855. They owned ships and traded with the colonies. They had to learn English for business reasons. My father and mother both spoke English when growing up. I learned Spanish first but also learned English at the same time. I have been bilingual my whole life. Makes it easier to get along in this world.

The most important thing in the Jewish religion is Tikkun Olam, which means to repair he world. The basic Jewish belief is that God put us here to do his work, to do the good. God has given us the will to be either good or bad and it’s up to us to choose the right way.

My mother taught me how to read before going to school. I went to 2nd grade right away. First four years of school I went to an American school. When I was 15 years old I was sent to the States to a boarding school. All the years I spent in the states studying I never went home but three months of the year. In those days the airplanes didn’t fly like now. I had to sail on a ship for six days to get from the States to Panama.

I went to college at Northwestern University. I went there for four years. Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. I was in college when I heard the news. I went back to Panama while World War II was going on. During WWII they had a lot of American soldiers in Panama. I met a young man who was a Major in the Army. We fell in love and got married.

When the war was over, we came back to the States. I’ve lived in Boston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minneapolis and even Florida. Here in Minneapolis I love to get outdoors. I love to walk around the lakes.

I have four kids, 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. I’ve buried two husbands and married three times. My first husband died at 63 and I was 57. I remarried at 61 and he lived eleven years. At 74 I remarried again. Now I’m 85.

Now I volunteer at the school. I have been very fortunate my whole life. I have not gone out and done great things in the community. This is one thing I can do. New immigrant children they should be in a different school system. I’ve learned this system is wrong because it pushes them into the next grade level so they’ll know less than the year before. Some of these kids won’t be able to read enough to get a job, if they can even make it through high school.

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Honoring Zelia Goldberg

Tikkun Olam

We must do what we can to repair this world
We must do what we can to repair this world
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam

My name is Zelia
I am Sephardic
Born in Panama
A little tiny piece of land
South of Mexico
When I was born
I spoke Spanish
But later on
I learned English
At my school
In a world where I
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam
From Portugal, Spain
Into Holland
In 1491
Either convert
We were told
Or else put on the run
King Ferdinand
Queen Isabella
The rulers of Spain
Didn’t like Jews
Nor Muslims, too
We had to change our names
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam
When they built
The canal
In 1855
In Panama
My ancestors came
Leaving their old world behind
Father and mother
Ten sisters and brothers
Family and friends
At grandmother’s house
On Shabbat
To do good is to live
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam
From the U.S. of A.
Soldiers came
To Panama in World War II
A young G.I.
Caught my eye
What else could I do
But marry him
We had four kids
Eleven grandchildren, too
Plus five great grandkids
Who all now live
In America with you
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam
Now I volunteer
Year after year
For children who can barely speak
To somebody else
In need of help
To understand English
I have not done
Great things in my life
But this is one thing
I can do
God put us here
To do His work
With a free will to choose
Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam

Words by LARRY LONG with Mrs. Belvedere’s & Mrs. Frondell’s 3rd grade class of Eisenhower Elementary School
(Hopkins, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2007 / BMI

Listen: Tikkun Olam