Rivka. Riva. Reviva.
Three versions of her name, each reflecting the progress my mother made in her rich, events-filled, and creative life. She never stood still; there was always a development to the next stage.
You’ve all known my mother as an artist whose tiny brushes created magnificent concerts of colors, shapes, emotions and movements in paintings that often jumped at the viewer with stories crying to be told. She’s sold literary thousands of paintings in her life. She remembered each one of them as one remembers each child.
But most people may not know that my mother’s life’s adventures began when, right out of high school, she was recruited into the first graduating class of Wingate Institute! There, she was trained not only as a gym teacher, but also as a Haganah commander. The latter included Kapap—krav panim el panim—and crossing a zip line over a wadi. Years later, when my family was a member of the Country Club, she still performed headstands on a high beam.
When economic necessity and fashion conjoint in the 1950s, she wove hundreds of straw handbags and hats in one summer, making them the latest fashion in Tel-Aviv—the first manifestation of her artistic talent and incredible innate marketing savvy.
At her time, the only acceptable office position for a woman was to be a secretary. Yet her efficiency and cut-to-the-chase approach vaulted her to become the de facto manager of a branch of Shell Oil and Appliances. Several years later, with entrepreneurial spirit, she left her job to open a collection agency for this same former employer. The Tel-Aviv courthouse became my mother’s oyster. She knew her way around dark, long corridors and dusty filerooms. Everyone, from judges to file clerks, was her friend. In the evenings, she handed papers for my attorney father to sign.
Some time in between those early careers, my mother and I went through a horrific trauma that sealed our bond and brought out my mother’s hidden talent as a detective: During her divorce from my biological father, he kidnapped me and my sister Odelia and hid us for a very long time. With resourcefulness and courage my mother scouted Israel from north to south, checking every second-grade classroom—until she found me. For the rest of her life my mother pursued detective work to face adversity. Street-smart, she was unafraid to take on the president of a bank who had made a mistake but refused to correct it, or to challenge the DMV for a speeding ticket was wrongfully attributed to my sister.
She was strong and courageous, and was undeterred by either closed doors or bureaucracy or high fences hiding the leaves of a mulberry tree that provided nourishment to her growing colony of silk worms.
When most Tel-Aviv apartments were painted beige or drab gray, my mother had our walls in Rothschild Blvd. painted in bright red, pulsating blue, and lemon yellow.
She was vain and sensuous when she danced around the house wearing wide, billowing skirts. She loved flowers, especially tulips, and in my youth took me on long nature walks to admire them, never forgetting the crickets or the frogs. A good story-teller, over a lifetime she regaled me with stories of her youth until our last days and hours together.
My mother was unlike any woman I knew, her presence strong and ever-lasting. Luckily, what will remain for future generations are her many paintings to testify to the vibrant, resourceful, intelligent, engaging, and life-affirming woman that she had been.
I was blessed to be the daughter of a multi-talented and energetic Riva.