At 97, Helene Iberall has trekked across Europe, broken a world
record and done her part to keep the Hebrew language of Yiddish alive in
Laguna Woods Village.
Iberall, who said she still worries she hasn't followed her own
motto, "Do something important with yourself," will be honored in
January by the Historical Society of Laguna Woods for her contributions
and achievements in the community.
Laguna Woods Village resident Helene Iberall, 97, has been named
Honoree of the Month by the Historical Society of Laguna Woods for
her contributions to the community.
CLAIRE WEBB, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Iberall, originally from New York City after her parents emigrated
from Eastern Europe, said one of her passions as an adult was to keep
the spoken Yiddish words alive in the Jewish community.
Iberall took a trip to Russia in 1974 to visit Refuseniks, a group of
Soviet Jews who were refused visas by the government to leave the
country. When Iberall visited Moscow to bring some of the family's
money, books and gifts, she was asked to speak Yiddish to an elderly
Russian woman who had not heard the language in years.
Tears form in Iberall's eyes at her home in Laguna Woods as she
remembers how thrilled the woman was to hear the few phrases – such as
where she was from and why she came to Russia – she could remember.
"Prejudice is the worst thing in this world," Iberall said. "Dwell on
Several years later, Iberall heard a group of Jewish women speaking
Yiddish on a bus from Sherman Oaks, where she lived at the time, to the
Fairfax district of Los Angeles. She knew she wanted to start an
organization that would perpetuate the language among Jewish people.
After arriving in Laguna Woods Village in 1991, Iberall, as a member
of the Brandeis University National Women's Committee, started a monthly
group where women could come and practice speaking Yiddish to one
another. The groups met in residents' homes, and later at Clubhouse 5,
and members chose everyday topics of conversation and would often change
the lyrics of English songs to Yiddish to practice.
Iberall still attends the monthly sessions.
Iberall broke a senior swimming world record in 2003 as a part of the
Coast Master's Swim team in the Southwest Masters regional competition
in Mission Viejo. It was Iberall's first swimming competition at the age
of 90, although she had been a regular swimmer at the Clubhouse 5 pool
since she moved to the retirement community with her husband, Arthur
Iberall looked to the end of the Olympic-size pool before the race,
"Oh my god, I'm not going to slow down," she said.
She swam in the mixed 200 meter freestyle relay with her three other
teammates to take home the gold that year with a time of 5:26.80.
Iberall said although she no longer swims, the secret to keeping
healthy at her age is staying active. She regularly plays virtual Wii
bowling on the television with her live-in daughter Thea. Iberall has a
high score of 225.
Iberall said in light of all her life experiences, the best one has
been the opportunity to raise her four daughters. Two have become
scientists and the other two have followed their passions to creating
art and painting.
"They're just amazing women," Iberall said.
Iberall will be honored at a ceremony on Jan. 5 at Clubhouse 6 at
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